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Obscured American: Shane the Fighter, Heroin Chipper and Ghetto Teacher
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Point Breeze, Philadelphia, 2015

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In the early 90’s, I sometimes worked the door at McGlinchey’s. Lurching in, 6-9 Lloyd Lunz guffawed, “Yo, heavy duty bouncer action tonight!” I was only paid $30 for five hours of carding baby-faced carousers, and it was torture to be sober while everybody got trashed. One night, there was some commotion outside, so I ran out and saw Shane wailing on some suited dude on the asphalt, right in the middle of 15th Street. The dude’s girlfriend was hovering above them, screaming.

Shane had been inside, drinking. That day, he discovered his out-of-state sister had gotten pregnant, then given the kid away for adoption. This really pissed Shane off, so he was in a punching mood when the suited dude asked, “Yo, is this a gay bar?”

A good answer would have been, “It is now,” but Shane wasn’t trying to be witty.

Not long after, Shane got into another fight, this time with him swinging a nunchucks, and no, Shane’s no Chinese kung fu sifu, but an Irish cold beverage enthusiast born in North Camden. Cops had Shane surrounded, but he was too juiced up to drop his weapon on command, so an officer whacked Shane’s head real good with a night stick, before six or seven of them jumped on him. “For the next month, dude, I couldn’t fuckin’ open my eyes in the morning without seeing the ceiling spin. My head was like a balloon.”

Charged with assault, weapon possession, public disorder and resisting arrest, Shane never bothered to show up in court, yet nothing came of it.

McGlinchey’s rock bottom prices attracted the dregs of Center City, so there were plenty of screwups and weirdos there. Among its bartenders, though, one man has managed to lift himself up quite nicely. In the 80’s, Fergie arrived from Ireland with just $500. Carless, he walked down the side of a Houston freeway, entered a bar and got hired. Now, Fergie has four Philly taverns, with three quite upscale. All are smartly decorated, with no televisions. I’ve never been to Ireland, but most pubs I’ve seen in England and Scotland have more character, warmth and sense of history than your average American bar. Not just flitting across this earth, they accumulate associations and gravity.

Not everyone can have Fergie’s Horatio Alger resume. With no head for ledgers, some folks can barely run a lemonade stand, and I only have to look at a mirror to spot one. Shane’s no businessman either and, frankly, the odds of him surviving to his 50’s, free or behind bars, weren’t terribly high. Miraculously, I ran into the trouble magnet three days ago.

In my neighborhood for pho, Shane got sidetracked by Friendly Lounge, and that’s where I found the dude. We hadn’t talked in over two decades. Though Shane said he wasn’t supposed to get too sloshed, I could see that he was way gone. After a while, I suggested he grab a slice of pepperoni to soak up the suds, then weave home before sundown, but Shane simply could not extricate himself from that vice-like barstool. I ended up scrawling a note to his wife, “I DRANK WITH SHANE AT FRIENDLY LOUNGE TODAY. HE IS EXCUSED. HE SAID YOU ARE A WONDERFUL WIFE. LINH DINH.” The entire bar got a big laugh out of it.

In his late 30’s, Shane got a degree in education from ArcadiaCollege. He graduated with honors and hasn’t been in a fight in years. Shane also quit heroin. This is how it happened:

You really want me to tell you this story? Me and John went way back. A long time. Fuckin’… everything. He got addicted to heroin, then I started doing a little bit. What they call chipping. You don’t really get too addicted.

I was hanging out. My wife was out of town. I was doing heroin and she didn’t even fuckin’ know it. I called John up, because he was my guy, and he was the one who was addicted. He got the dope.

I had been out all motherfuckin’ day, drinking like a motherfucker, in McGlinchey’s. It was right around Halloween time. They had all the decorations. I must have had, fuckin’, twelve pints of beer.

You’re not supposed to have heroin with alcohol, you know what I mean?

John lived around there. There’s an old saying, “I buy, you fly.” John didn’t care how fucked up I was. Actually, he might have, but he wanted the dope.

Every once in a while, you snort drugs and you sneeze. John was like, “Dude, man, you’re sneezing up all the drugs!”

After I sneezed up two bags of heroin and 14 pints, I went…

When you overdose, you turn different colors, right? First you turn red because you can’t breathe, then you turn white, then you turn purple.

I woke up with about four EMTs all around me, on the middle of John’s floor. They were like, “How much heroin did you do?! What much heroin did you do?!”

John had called 911, and he actually gave me mouth to mouth. I was actually, kind of, in a way, touched, because John could have gotten in trouble, you know what I mean? When his girlfriend overdosed in his apartment before that, he called me up, “What should I do?!” I was like, “John, you should call the cops.” At least he learnt a lesson. He knew what to do when I overdosed. He helped me out.

It’s ER stuff. If you don’t have insurance, too bad!

What I told them was, I was drunk, and I smoked a joint that somebody might have laced with heroin. I’m always trying to get out of shit, you know what I mean? How are you going to get out of shit unless you think?


Weird thing was, John kept doing heroin for a long time after that, but I stopped, dude. You know what, I found two bags of heroin on the street, and I still have them. I don’t want to sell them because… if I ever want to off myself, you know what I mean?

If you do two dime bags a day, that’s 60 bucks, but I’ve been sitting here since 10:30, and it’s, what, four O’clock already? Beer ain’t cheap either. If you smoke pot, that’s the smart fuckin’ thing. Except I smoked pot the other day for the first time in a while, and it made me totally insane, dude. I was crying! I went psychotic!

The last time I smoked pot before that was two years ago, when my wife was away. When my wife goes away, dude, all the handles fall off. It was around Saint Paddy’s Day. I smoked pot because I had some in the house. A friend gave it to me. I smoked pot, then I went to Ten Stone, that bar at 20th and South. Last thing I remember. When I woke up, I was in the ER, again! They must have found me on the street.

They said, “You know where you are?” All of a sudden, you wake up and you don’t know where you are. When in the hospital, that’s the first thing they ask you, when you open your eyes, “Do you know where you are?”

I was like, “Look, am I under arrest? If I’m not under arrest, I want to leave. Now!”

I shouldn’t drink. I know I shouldn’t drink. I’ve been married going on 30 years. I can’t stop myself, sometimes. My wife won’t drink with me any more, man. I’ve got no kids. I’ve got four cats. I love those cats like kids, though. Good cats, man. Anyone messing with my cats, I’d kill the person that mess with my cats. You think it’s funny but it ain’t.

I don’t even drink whiskey, I don’t drink bourbon, I don’t do drugs any more, I don’t snort coke any more, I don’t do nothing.

Blacking out is sad. Sex was never my issue. It was more violence, and it’s not even that. I’ve never had a problem with anybody. Somebody fuckin’ had a problem with me, that’s all.

The cops kicked my ass. You get your ass kicked. People kick your ass. It’s not anything I asked for. You ever seen the movie, Cool Hand Luke? It’s a classic movie about somebody that never did nothing to anybody. My middle name is Luke.

Normally, I teach school, but I need to have shoulder surgery because I tore my rotator cuff, and I’m depressed, and I have, ah, anxiety.

I taught nine-year-olds in Point Breeze. I taught all kinds of subjects. I had 29 kids. I taught for 13 years, with six years in Point Breeze. I can’t do that any more.

Your spirit goes out, you know what I mean? You can’t fuckin’ do it any more… and nothing helps. You go in there the next day, and it’s the same shit. It’s a hard-assed environment. It eats your heart. I’m done, man. I can’t do it any more.

I taught in North Philly, West Philly. It’s the same shit.

You go into it. Obviously, you’re an idealistic person, you want to make a…

You can’t even imagine. My issue is, Where is the entity that created you? Where is the nebulous something that spawned this fuckin’ monster or whatever it is that burst out of the pod? It’s like sci-fi, man. It’s like science fiction craziness. I’m not the monster’s parent. I’m not the elephant man’s parent.

If you’re working in that situation, day after day, you’ll start to feel, The people who spawned this person that I’m dealing with don’t care, and if they don’t care, how am I supposed to solve anything? If you have no respect for the life that you fuckin’ gave, that responsibility is gonna fall on me? I’m sorry, dude, that ain’t right.

When I was in North Philly, there was a guy I was working with. His name was Van. He told me before he came to the US, they had a hundred kids in the classroom, and the teacher had a bamboo stick or something, and you could hear a pin drop.

Something works, right? Something doesn’t work.

It’s a breeding ground. Forget reading and writing, you’ve got people whose asshole parents can’t even put on their pants right. Fuck, man, their grandparents can’t even put on their pants right, and the more kids you have, the more money you’ll get, and if you call your kids retarded, you’ll get even more money. That is truly psychotic. You want your kids to be as dumb as fuckin’ possible so you can get the most money from the government. You want eight retarded kids. Do you want your kids to be stupid?

If you go to Point Breeze, the only bar I’d recommend is Sit On It, at 19th and Miflin. Ask for Miss Mary. She’s all right.

Back in the old days, you wouldn’t have to make an excuse and say to your wife, “Oh, I’m drunk!”

My grandfather’s grandfather was a coal miner up in friggin Hazelton. He had 11 kids, friggin smashed up furniture when he felt like it.

You know Willem DeKooning? That guy used to get so drunk, he passed out in the gutter!

I don’t go to church much, but the other day, I passed by Saint Patrick and I thought, Why the fuck do people build these buildings for nothing that’s not there? People build these monuments for something that’s not there!


Aryans went all the way down to India. After Jesus died, you had all these people proselytizing, all the way to the bottom of India. There are all these churches in Karala, India. It’s a hotbed of Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, but what if all these places of worship, what if all of it is just a bunch of fuckin’ bullshit!

Pride is one of the seven deadly sins. You can’t have pride!

The Shakers’ motto is, “We will put our hands to work, and our hearts to God,” so they would make the most beautiful shit, you know, the simplest crap.

You know what my therapist said to me? He said, “Stop whining! Stop being a baby! Stop complaining about this and that,” so you know what? I’m going to do whatever the fuck I want to do! What the hell do you have to explain yourself for?

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America.

• Category: Economics • Tags: Obscured American, Poverty 
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  1. I don’t know about other readers but the thought that this man was allowed in a classroom to “teach” young children appalls me. That he’s managed to weasel out of this job and onto a disability pension appalls me only slightly less. Maybe for some people the old Bolshevik and Maoist re-education camps are a good idea. At least they’d give this guy a chance to dry out and briefly contribute to society in a positive way.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
    , @Michelle
  2. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Jus' Sayin'...

    The philadelphia public school system is a non-option for anyone with a real job. People between the $35k – $100k salary range are forced out of the city if they want to have kids.

    I’m going to assume Shane is one of the better teachers. At least he recognizes how bad the school system is and it drove him to leave. Others are just there to get the checks

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  3. I get robo calls from the Philadelphia school system every day about “my child.” “She” is retarded and always late. “She” has a bizarre ebonic name. She also doesn’t exist. The school system has my telephone number and refuses to stop calling. I got tired of trying to get these third world imbeciles to recognize that they are in fact not in communication with a parent, but someone who lives one county over and couldn’t possibly have a child in their system. I just blocked the number.

    This is the level of function we all expect from Afro-urban America.

  4. Merema says:
    @Thomas O. Meehan

    oh my god i can’t stop laughing.

  5. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Sounds as if this person has anger and substance abuse issues. It’s probably only a matter of time before he’ll go off yet again on someone. I don’t suppose the issue of the type of teaching he did is of much concern at this point since it appears to have been a case of the stupid leading the retarded. Seems like a good person to avoid.

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Two inspiring comments in a row. One, the standard “he’s on disability” accusation that seems to mean he should just die somewhere because he’s “getting over easy.”

    Two, the standard attack on teachers that goes back years that claims they are just showing up to score checks – they too are “getting over easy”.

  7. fish says:

    “I’ve never been to Ireland, but most pubs I’ve seen in England and Scotland have more character, warmth and sense of history than your average American bar.”

    Having seen you write essentially the same piece every week for a year I might take this moment to suggest that you decamp for one of these “earthier” more “authentic” establishments and let a more talented writer waste my time.

    • Replies: @5371
  8. 5371 says:

    It’s not the same piece. Go munch on a hook.

    • Replies: @fish
  9. fish says:

    It’s not the same piece. Go munch on a hook.

    The interesting downtrodden meet author at a local bar. They discuss their travails and just how much the system has screwed them.

    Stay tuned… next weeks episode the interesting downtrodden meet author at a local bar. They discuss their travails and just how much the system has screwed them.

    • Replies: @animalogic
  10. epebble says:

    If Linh Dinh is writing these stories about real Americans, I think he is doing a valuable service as an amateur sociologist. Just as students read about Alexis de Tocqueville and his writings about 19th century America, some day in future his collected writings may act as fossils of a decaying America.

    A lot of people (like Trump) keep complaining that America is in a toilet. Linh’s articles tell us why. When a nation is increasingly filled with turds, it has to turn into a latrine. We hear a lot about the latrine from other media; Linh serves the valuable purpose of focusing on the turds.

  11. @fish

    Dear Fish, it’s basically implied in your comments — you will not be reading anymore Linh Dinh articles. Therefore, no more comments either….

  12. 2/1 Doc says:

    Mr Linh
    I was in Philadelphia last weekend visiting my daughter .She lives near U-Penn.
    Didn’t make it down to the “Friendly” as I hoped.Too much misery per block in that town for me.
    A diminutive young black woman came down the subway car begging .She looked physically as well as emotionally exhausted, fully dressed for winter with knit cap. Getting nothing from anyone i gave her a twenty and the look on her face will haunt me till i die. I said to her that she should rest today thinking I’d given her enough to get by for a day or so. She promptly sat down then laid down in the seat and fell into a deep sleep. I was so un-nerved by this that I went to a bar near my daughters place down the block from a big mosque with a green roof only to be confronted
    by a pretty young woman ordering a Pabst and a shot of “old crow”. I remarked at this and she said it was now “chic” in her circles. There is a great line from an old twilight zone episode”Night of the Meek” where the main character says about all the misery he sees an feels. “I can drink or I can weep, and I much prefer to drink.

    • Replies: @Linh Dinh
  13. Linh Dinh says: • Website
    @2/1 Doc

    Hi 2/1 Doc,

    If you ever want to come down to the Italian Market, my neighborhood, just email me, [email protected] , and I’ll give you a quick tour that can start and/or end up at the Friendly Lounge.


  14. bigal says:

    As someone who grew up at 16th and Moore in the neighborhood (mainly just referred to as “South Philly” back then), I find your stories about streets, dives, and neighborhood hangers-on fascinating. Keep it up.

    I haven’t lived in Philly since 1998 when we sold the family home on 16th Street for the incredible sum of $50,ooo (talk about declining property values!). The house was impeccable, the product of 3 generations of South Philly Italians painting, scrubbing, and polishing the wonderful hardwood moldings that these “working-man’s row houses” almost all had. But by the time it was sold, the neighborhood was on its last legs. Almost all the old corner bars, owned and operated for years by local families — father behind the bar, mom in the kitchen, children running throughout after coming home from parochial school — were gone, as were most of the bread bakeries, delis and pork stores, etc.

    I find it ironic that 20 years after we left, having lived through the gradual creeping decay that seemed to descend block by block from the north (we would measure it year by year through the late-80’s and 90’s by cross-street name, as in, “well, I see ‘they’ (meaning, of course Blacks and Vietnamese) have moved south of Wharton or Dickinson or Tasker”, gentrification seems to be coming from the same direction as the decay. Interesting.

    Of course we were still young then and didn’t think through what was happening in all of its socio-economic roots: the absentee landlords, the poverty of the newer arrivals and the massive transformation of what had been a neighborhood of private, family owned homes, into chopped up rental units with their avaricious slum landlords and the almost complete lack of upkeep (rent extraction). All we knew is that our world, intact since the 50’s and even before my time, was going to be as extinct as the do-do bird in a few more years. By 1998, when we left, we were one of the last old families to depart, although, down around Snyder and below, the “old world” was still trying to hold on (in fact many who left Point Breeze simply moved further south, trying to retain what, alas, was a dying world.

    I don’t think it is simply old(er) age that motivates me to say that the world of South Philly in those days, right up through the 1970’s and even into the early 80’s, was in many ways almost idyllic, at least for those of us who loved the close-knit, semi-European feel and flavor of the neighborhood. the front door was always left unlocked so that friends and family, almost all of whom lived within walking distance, could drop by unannounced. The corner bars were true neighborhood “great good places” (in Ray Oldenburg’s meaning), civil, vibrant, family watering holes. And the place where you could bet the “numbers” with the local bartender. Remember the separate entrances for women on the side that led to the rear where the bar area could be bypassed and a wonderful home-cooked bracciole or sausage dinner could be had for a few bucks at one of the 4 or 5 tables, nicely set and presided over by Mama or Nona?

    The world that Linh seems to dimly perceive and yearns for existed, and lasted for several generations. It was a good time in which to have lived. Take my word for it.

  15. Linh Dinh says: • Website

    Hi Bigal,

    My landlord is Pasquale Nestico, from Calabria. You might know him. The doctor is still practicing on Oregon Avenue. Doctor Nestico was one of the two men who founded the Italian Cultural Center, now called the History of Italian Immigration Museum. In 2004, I had just returned to the US after nearly 5 years away. Without recent work or rental references, I was nervous the doctor wouldn’t rent to me, so I made sure to mention I had spent two years in Italy. I drop all these place names, and the doctor was quite impressed, except for the fact that I had never gotten further south than Napoli. For the doctor, Napoli barely counts as il meridionale. When one of my books was translated into Italian, I gave the doctor a copy of Elvis Phong è morto!, with a dedication in Italian.


  16. Agent76 says:

    Treatment and help would be cheaper than caging everybody like they were from Hanoi.

    Jul 19, 2012 What Happened When Portugal Decriminalized *ALL* Drugs?

    “The government in Portugal has no plans to back down. Although the Netherlands is the European country most associated with liberal drug laws, it has already been ten years since Portugal became the first European nation to take the brave step of decriminalizing possession of all drugs within its borders—from marijuana to heroin, and everything in between.

    7/05/2011 Ten Years After Decriminalization, Drug Abuse Down by Half in Portugal

  17. @Thomas O. Meehan

    Can you monetize that? “Send me a check fo LaBonita new shoes!”

  18. Gyalist says:
    @Thomas O. Meehan

    I live in Ireland and have never been to Utah.. For the past four and a half years I have been receiving an unending stream of emails from the Nebo School District updating me on the progress of the three daughters that I apparently have in Utah. I have tried unsubscribing from the mailing lists, contacted some of the senders of the emails who have all promised to look into the matter, but the flow of email continues unabated. Somewhere in the Nebo School District there is a father missing parent-teacher conferences, information on AP classes and summer drama and band camps, missives from school counselors, etc.
    I have now resorted to filtering any email originating from the domain straight to the bin.

    I guess that this is the level of function you all expect from Mormon America.

  19. Michelle says:
    @Jus' Sayin'...

    I dunno, he seems a sensible, reasonable sort. He is dead right on just about every subject that he waxes lyrical upon. All the crap that he witnesses drives him to drink. Not surprising! I’d trust him with any kid of mine way more than I would that clueless bartender chick, Manon.

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