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Obscured American: Benny the Landlord, Casanova and Covert Operator
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Donna's Bar regulars, 2018

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Last Saturday, five eternally misunderstood and oppressed gentlemen fired 41 shots at a crowd at 20th and Susquehanna, killing one and injuring four others, including a 5-year-old boy. The TV news reported that the deceased was a “standout basketball player.”

North Philly is generally not good for your health and happiness. Though neighborhoods have cute, idyllic names like Nicetown, Hunting Park and Fairhill, they’re mostly postindustrial, trash strewn, drugged up ghettos with plenty of dead businesses, dilapidated churches, boarded up homes, caged porches and corner bodegas with signs forbidding hoodies, guns and knives. Chinese takeouts dish up beef lo mein, moo shoo pork and fried chicken from behind bullet-proof plexiglass. Graffiti mar just about every flat surface, including, sometimes, beautiful murals celebrating prominent black figures in art, science, politics and civil rights.

The northeast corner of North Philly, though, is generally spared from this mayhem and squalor. Composed primarily of Poles, Irish, Ukrainians and Italians, Port Richmond and Bridesburg retain their dignity and orderliness through half a century of economic decline.

On Allegheny, there’s the magnificent St. Aldabert Church, with perhaps the most beautiful altarpiece in the entire city. Founded in 1903, it has masses in both English and Polish. Popular eateries The Dinner House and Syrenka are just down the street, as well as cozy Donna’s Bar, where I’ve had cheap bottles of Okocim, Zywiec and Lech, plus tasty bigos and perogies. Their golabki is also wonderful, I’ve been told. I must get that the next time.

Half of one wall is taken up by a wallpaper Manhattan, at night, as seen from Brooklyn. The Twin Towers have not been imploded.

A guy in his mid-50’s said, “I had no problems paying child support. In fact, I gave my kids twice as much, because they’re my kids. This one guy told me, a black guy, he said, ‘After they arrest you six times for nonpayment, they’ll stop bothering you.’”

“That’s ridiculous,” I laughed. “Why would anyone want to be arrested six times for anything?!”

“Even if there was no law, I would still pay, because they’re my kids! Their mom tried to turn them against me, you know, but I’ve never said a bad word about her, because she’s my kids’ mom. As they get older, they can judge me for themselves, see if I was an asshole or not.”

Sunday at Donna’s, I met two intriguing characters, Rick and Benny. Bar regulars, they’re good friends.

An American-born Colombian in his mid-30’s, Rick said he had just been chased from another neighborhood tavern, after his very first beer there, “At first, I didn’t even know what he was talking about, so he said it again, ‘I think it’s time for you get out of here, buddy. Beat it!’ I was so shocked, man, I felt like crying. I had never been treated like that.”

“That is outrageous.”

“And I don’t even look that Hispanic. It was unreal.”

“So what did you do?”

“I just left, man. I couldn’t process it. I just got off work. I just wanted a beer, that’s all.”

This night, Rick had another unpleasant encounter. Talking to me, he reached for what he thought was Benny’s pack of cigarettes, but it belonged to the woman next to him. After she snatched it away, Rick explained his misunderstanding and apologized repeatedly, but the middle-aged lady never lightened up. Stern, she pointed to her pack and blurted several times, “This! You go! Wawa!”

Looking hurt, Rick turned to me, “See how quickly that shit comes out?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, man. It doesn’t look like she speaks much English. She can’t understand you, dude!”

“And I’ve eaten at her restaurant too. Once. I will never go back there.” Shaking his head, Rick went outside to calm down.

Later, Rick told me about his sister. American born, she went to Colombia, ended up working as an escort, then was raped and murdered by two Polish tourists, “But don’t you believe all this shit about Colombia. They make it out like it’s the most dangerous place on earth, but it’s perfectly safe for foreigners. The people are so nice and friendly, and Colombian women are the most beautiful. You’re constantly looking at this one, and this one. It’s like, you’re constantly walking around with a hard-on, man. Ain’t that right, Benny?”

“He’s right,” Benny turned to me, “they are the most beautiful.”

“You’ve been there?”

“I’ve been everywhere,” Benny smiled.

In his mid-60’s, Benny has done just about everything and wants you to know about it. Familiar with this proclivity, the bartender kept asking me, “Is he bothering you?” as Benny went on about himself.

Outside, the intermitten downpour had paused, and we were only interrupted once by some vapid disco, blaring from the jukebox.

I’m a Tartar, from the Crimea. I’m a part of the Yellow Horde, like you. We’re brothers!

My father was ugly, like you, with slanted eyes. Ha, ha!

My mother is Polish.

The Crimea was its own country, then the Russians came. I hate Russians. They should all be castrated!

Look what they did to your country. The Russians and Americans used Vietnam as an experiment. They caused so many people so much pain. They don’t give a shit.

Communism is so evil because it destroys your entire culture. It destroys your mind.

Ninety percent of the Jews in the world were in Poland, because no one else wanted them. They destroy everything. I hate Jews.


The first time I was in Auschwitz, I saw a plaque that said three million Jews were killed there. Ten years later, I came back and it said 1.8 million Jews were killed in Auschwitz. The last time I was there, the plaque said 800,000, so what the fuck is it? It’s greatly exaggerated. There was no Final Solution.

I had a good Jewish friend, Jacob. One morning, he called and asked if he could borrow 4,000 bucks. I was still in bed. This guy had millions, and here he was asking to borrow 4,000 bucks, but he was a good friend, so I went to the bank to get him the money. Two hours later, he paid me back! He was just testing me, you see.

Just before he died, he would sometimes give me a hundred bucks and said, “Go get yourself a whore, Benny. I can’t fuck anymore!”

His own son didn’t go to his funeral, because he had to close out a business deal that day. That’s the kind of asshole he was. Jacob said to me, “I’m a Jew, but my son, he’s an Israeli!”

I speak eight languages. I speak Tartar, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, some English. When I went to Bulgaria, I could make myself understood. All the Slavic languages are very similar. I speak Spanish.

By the time I was 19, I had been to 40 countries. I have been to 150 countries.

I sold and bought contracts. I did import, export. I own properties.

Have you heard of Radio Free Europe? I worked for it. During the Solidarity movement, I went to Poland with a Swiss passport. I brought them ink, paper, printing equipment. Once I was stopped by the police, so I yelled at them, “Do you know who the fuck I am?! I’m glad you stopped me, because now, you can hold my dick while I take a piss!” They backed off. I bluffed my way out of trouble.

I was in Afghanistan a couple of weeks before the Soviets invaded.

I was in Vietnam, but only for the pussy!

I was in the Special Force, in Grenada. I killed a guy. It’s something I think about every day. I feel so horrible, guilty and ashamed, but it was either me or him. He pointed, I pointed, so I shot him.

Nobody should have to kill anybody.

I was in this cheap hotel in El Paso, and there was a door between my room and the next. There were all these little holes in the door, you know, eaten away by bugs. I looked into one of these holes and could see, in the next room, a guy who was completely naked, except for his cowboy hat and boots, and there was a senorita, you know, sucking him. He smoked a cigarette while she was doing it. He didn’t say anything, didn’t make a noise. When it was over, he said to her, “Same time, next week.”

I’ve been with two thousand women, maybe three thousand. I don’t like to sleep with women. I just like the sex.

I haven’t slept with her [the bartender]. I knew her before she had genital hair.

Once in Turkey, I saw a guy fuck a chicken. It was in 1994, near Ankara. I haven’t had chicken since.

I just bought a house for $30,000 in Costa Rica. It’s a peaceful place. They’re the only country on earth without an army. When my mother passes away, I will move down there. May she live forever.

Once I was in Vanuatu, in this tiny place that had no running water, no electricity, but everyone was so relaxed and happy. They cooked with firewood, on the beach. It’s so wonderful.

Life should be like that, everywhere.

Linh Dinh’s latest books are Postcards from the End of America (non-fiction) and A Mere Rica (poetry). He maintains a regularly updated photo blog.

• Category: Culture/Society • Tags: Poverty 
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  1. “Once in Turkey, I saw a guy fuck a chicken. It was in 1994, near Ankara. I haven’t had chicken since.”

    What about Turkey?

    • Replies: @art guerrilla
  2. The first time I was in Auschwitz… Ten years later, I came back… The last time I was there…

    Benny goes to Auschwitz like most people go to Disney World.

    I was in the Special Force, in Grenada.

    It is amazing that elite forces throughout the world, Navy Seals, MI6, KGB, etc., all recruit wind bags who love to run their mouths in bars.

    I just bought a house for $30,000 in Costa Rica.

    I did a quick internet search and was able to find plots of land in Costa Rica for $30,000, but none came with a house. Benny got a great deal.

    • LOL: eah
  3. @The Alarmist

    once you’ve had turducken, you won’t want any other fuckin’…

  4. I know you’re hanging out among lowlifes there Linh, but based on your photos, I’ve come to the conclusion that Philadelphia is populated almost entirely by ugly people.

    • Replies: @JMcG
  5. Da Wei says:

    Linh Dinh,

    Benny like Walter Mitty running his mouf

    Reading your stuff like having a beer with you

    Maybe 2 or 3

    • Replies: @Truth
  6. anonymous[276] • Disclaimer says:

    Every dive bar has some barfly claiming to have been in the special forces with all kinds of adventures in their background. Not only that this Benny character was also some sort of clandestine operative. Usually people with these career trajectories go from straightforward military actions to covert operations as they get older and climb the government career ladder. In this case it seems to be the reverse of this or at least he did both simultaneously, a rather unusual co-mingling of disparate career paths. Rather James Bond-ian. Of course, there’s no way to check out his claims so we’ll just have to take his word for it.

    • Replies: @njguy73
  7. Anonymous[680] • Disclaimer says:

    How come you’re back in USA, Linh? Holiday? Going back to Vietnam after?

  8. Truth says:
    @Da Wei

    Benny like Walter Mitty running his mouf

    “Runnin’ his mouf”, Sport.

    Go big or go home.

    • Replies: @Da Wei
  9. I dispute the assertion that Bridesburg and Port Richmond are parts of North Philadelphia – they’re “river wards” and part of Northeast Philadelphia.

    Disputed territory might be somewhere like Feltonville or Lawncrest, not Bridesburg or Port Richmond.

    • Replies: @denk
  10. JMcG says:
    @Johnny Smoggins

    It is. I used to win bets picking out which airport gates had the people waiting to fly to Philly. Ugly, fat, and wearing sweatpants.

    • Agree: RadicalCenter
  11. denk says:
    @Alec Leamas


    but it was either me or him. He pointed, I pointed, so I shot him.

    An invader claiming the right of self defence,
    typical mukkan B.S.

    • Replies: @denk
  12. denk says:

    Thats meant to be a post,
    not a reply to Alec

  13. Duncan says:

    Mr. Dinh,
    I usually enjoy your writings from the bottom of America. They offer me a glimpse at an America I am not a part of nor have much experience with. However, a lot of writers can do that. Your works are different because you intersperse your experiences with keen insight and atypical humor.
    Not so much in this one. Still a good article. Better than an a newspaper op/ed.
    Based on your photos I have to believe Philadelphia is almost entirely populated by very ugly people. Though I guess your looking for the sex appeal here.

  14. Truth says:

    . The TV news reported that the deceased was a “standout basketball player.”

    LMFAO! (Wink)

    Hey Dinhjo, I think this dog whistle might have been a bit subtle for the Lunzpenproletariat.

    • Replies: @Linh Dinh
    , @manorchurch
  15. Linh Dinh says: • Website

    Hi Truth,

    Hopefully, one of these days, you can squeeze one more thought into your tiny head, beyond, “I am a black man.”

    Good luck,


    • LOL: TelfoedJohn
    • Replies: @daniel le mouche
    , @Truth
  16. njguy73 says:

    Usually people with these career trajectories go from straightforward military actions to covert operations as they get older and climb the government career ladder.

    “Yeah, I could have gotten some cushy job in Langley if I kissed the right asses. But I wouldn’t play by The Man’s rules, I play by my own.”

    I mean, this guy’s like Neil Breen, except instead of making bad movies where he plays totally awesome Marty Stu characters, he just sits in bars and makes up stories. He knows eight langauges? Is no one hiring translators? Or teachers? Is there no need for Spanish-speaking supervisors?

  17. @Linh Dinh

    Hahahahahaha!!!! Yea, Troof! Yea boyyy!!!

  18. Da Wei says:

    It’s called code shifting, Troof, nothing to do with going big. It’s done in fun, Sport.

    • Replies: @Truth
  19. Truth says:
    @Linh Dinh


    I’ll try big Dawg, but I don’t think I’ve lost enough brain cells drinking and Friendly’s yet to clear up the space.

    Besides, I didn’t say nuthin’ about color or race.

  20. Truth says:
    @Da Wei

    I’m sayin’ (saying); you code shifted halfway. IF you’re going to do it, go from Java to C++.

    • Replies: @Anon
  21. Anon[298] • Disclaimer says:

    Go from Java to Forth– go big or go home.

    • Replies: @manorchurch
  22. @Truth


    Automatic 10-point deduction: “Trying too hard.”

  23. @Anon

    Go from Java to Forth– go big or go home.

    Pish. Forth … a pile of macros “this” high.

    • Replies: @Anon
  24. The TV news reported that the deceased was a “standout basketball player.”

    That victim, 21-year-old Kameron Gilfillian was the intended target of the shooting, police say. …

    “He was a US Postal worker. He was a good boy; he played ball, he did average men things. He wasn’t a bad kid,” said Gilfillian’s mother, Kelly Thompson.;-multiple-suspects-sought/3590795/

    Mr. Gilfillian played basketball for High School of the Future during the 2014-2015 season.

    The US Postal Service hires seasonal workers at the end of the year, for as little as 21 days, to help with the Christmas rush. Seasonal hires do not take the postal exam.

  25. we’ve all met benny..more then once..another great article..

  26. @Biff

    The Hank Snow version is superior. 😉

  27. I love the gritty reality. Great writing. Sort of been following you on truthseeker website. Keep going in America. Really interesting.

  28. Anon[298] • Disclaimer says:

    No, it’s as much of a cult as a language, but it’s actually pretty logical to imagine going from Java to embedded Forth given the peculiarities of the JVM. Perhaps I should have used something more outre like APL.

    • Replies: @manorchurch
  29. @Anon

    No, it’s as much of a cult as a language, but it’s actually pretty logical to imagine going from Java to embedded Forth given the peculiarities of the JVM.

    Very much so. I have some vague memory of, years past, some max-geek astronomer giving a telescope a Forth “operating system”. Oh, gawd.

    On a related note, many years ago, there was a computer-scientist by the name of David Dunfield, who developed a compiler for embedded systems, called “Micro-C”. It compiled directly to rommable code (versions for specific microprocessors). Useful stuff, accepted a subset of full K&R. I used it in the late 90s for pump circulation control for a large snow-melt system. Easy on me, because I did not have to invest in expensive CNC equipment.

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