Postcards from the End of [the] America[n Empire]

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Obscured American: Peter the Food Service Worker

As published at Unz Review, 1/20/17:






An American president has become a cartoon hero or villain. Like Obama, Trump is an inconsequential yet lurid target for worshippers and detractors to unload emotions. As we rejoice or rage at this figurehead, the Military Banking Complex will continue to serve the elites at our expense.

Our economy will keep cratering, and our poor won’t stop killing and dying in foreign lands on phony pretexts. Trumping Trump, Obama promised such a sane and peaceful future, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As he cynically presided over eight years of continuous war on multiple fronts, killing hundreds of thousands, Obama’s fans never flinched. Though no servant of Israel can ever deliver peace, Trump will really stop war, the Trumpians insist.

Trump’s inauguration is merely hours away. Wearing a hoodie to keep warm, I sit at my kitchen table typing this. Should I be finished by dawn, I may reward myself with a trip to Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar, just down the street. It opens at 7AM to serve those who have worked all night. Walking in, I may see hospital, restaurant and factory workers, those most likely to have voted for Trump. It’s quite a sick irony that our economic bottom is drawn to a self-aggrandizing billionaire, with his uber rich cabinet.

Since Philly is such a Democratic city, Trump supporters tend to be discreet. Right after he won, however, 56-year-old Maria marched into Friendly Lounge to celebrate, “Of course I voted for Trump. I like a man with cojones! Many of my Dominican friends also voted for Trump.”

Maria’s ideal politician is Rafael Trujillo. Before he was assassinated, Trujillo killed more than 50,000 people over 30 years. Maria also condones torture as punishment. Watching television news in Friendly, she’d sometimes prescribe the most ghastly penalties for criminals. “She should have a red hot poker shoved up her vagina!”

Though John also voted for Trump, he’d rather not talk about our new president. In Friendly, John is always glued to the video blackjack, and practically nothing, not even a woman in heat, can pull the stolid man from his machine.

“How old are you, hon?”

“Fifty-eight. Too old for you.”

John is retired and does not seem short of cash. Sometimes, he’d buy the entire bar a round. I think John stays mum about Trump mostly to avoid aggravating Vernon, the black Vietnam vet. Just hearing the name makes Vern lose his composure. Even Melania is not spared.

“I’m going to hate this First Lady more than shit itself! She’s a bitch! She’s a piece of shit white trash! Supermodel my ass! She ain’t my fuckin’ supermodel! She ain’t my fuckin’ First Lady.”

When not apoplectic over politics, Vern is extremely kind. For example, he regularly brings TV dinners to Angelo, a man who lives out of his car and is always broke.

Peter, très gay, also voted for Trump. At Friendly, he’s always the loudest and most emotional. Sometimes he’d even weep into a paper towel. The hurt in Peter’s voice can erupt into a feeble rage that’s more comic than threatening. Beneath the abrasiveness is a soft, sweet man.

I’ve been with the same food service company for 22 years. I used to make $25 an hour, but now it’s down to 16.10, and they fuck you up the ass too!

I got so sick of it, I applied at just about every restaurant in Center City, but who would you hire, me or some 19-year-old?

I was living with this slum lord for seven years. I shared a house with four other people. I paid $400 a month. My room was the size of a napkin.

My housemates were filthy. When I went into the bathroom, I was afraid to step on the floor. The ceiling tiles were falling down. The wall tiles were falling out. It’s gross in there!

The kitchen was gross too. No one ever washed the dishes. I never used the kitchen. I had a little refrigerator in my room.

Last year, my landlord told me I had two days to get out. Luckily, a lady took me in, and the rent was reasonable. I’m so thankful for that.

I was two inches away from sleeping in the gutter. I was scared to death. I’m sixty-years-old. I don’t need this crap.

I knew a woman who lived with her three kids in a jungle gym in a park. Is this America?

I used to live on South Street. That was nice, but it’s gotten way too expensive. I lived next to the sneaker store. One day, I came home late and saw maybe 20 black guys trying to break into the sneaker store. They were really chimping out, you know. They were just black people acting like black people. It was like the Philadelphia Zoo! They were niggers, basically.

Sorry to be using the N word, and my best friend is black too, but these guys were niggers. I didn’t want to open my door and have them fuck me up the ass, so I called 911.

I used to hang out at the Westbury, and the bartender would come out and say, “Don’t stand there!” It’s because people would jump from the Parker Hotel. When I was 21, a guy landed on my boyfriend’s car. “Oh my God, there’s a dead guy on my car!”

When I was 57, I had a buddy who was 24. We did a lot of drugs together, but that’s all. He did more drugs than I did. He was writing a book, At Twenty-Four. I said, “If you keep this shit up, you won’t see 25,” and I was right.

When my dad died, I inherited an old car, but I didn’t need it, so I just parked it on the street. I didn’t even keep it locked because I didn’t want anybody to break into it. I knew people slept in it, though, because I found condoms.

You’re lucky to have somebody to go home to. I always had a lover, a boyfriend, but I haven’t had anybody in eleven years. And it’s not the, you know, but the support. I can’t just go home and say to somebody, “Bitch, I love you!”

Have you seen The Purge? In this movie, you have twelve hours once a year to do whatever the fuck you want. You can kill or rape anybody you want!

I think people have underestimated Trump. I’m not sure, but I really think something good will come of this. I think he’s going to use his global power to do some good. He might be good for this country. He can’t be any worse than what we’ve got right now. Personally, I’m bothered that I don’t have dental care. I’m being screwed over by Obamacare, and I don’t have any say in the matter. I work hard for a living. I’m doing the best I can to make ends meet. Yeah, I’m pissed off, but who am I going to call? Republican buster? Democrat buster? Nobody cares.




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Happy Birthday Bar on 1-19-17--Passyunk Square








[Happy Birthday Bar]



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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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Happy Birthday Bar on 1-18-17--Passyunk Square











Happy Birthday Bar on 1-18-17--Passyunk Square (detail)











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Sunday, January 15, 2017

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Wishing wall--Italian Market











Wishing wall--Italian Market (detail)








Publicly displayed wishing wall put up by a Catholic school.



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Saturday, January 14, 2017

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Trump blowing his brain out--Bella Vista











Trump blowing his brain out--Bella Vista (detail)










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On December 8th, Seven Stories Press

held a reading at the Brooklyn Library to celebrate its 20th year. It was an all-star cast all right, with Kia Corthron reading Octavia Butler; Phil Jackson reading Charley Rosen; Paul Auster reads Kurt Vonnegut; Barry Gifford reading Nelson Algren; Francine Prose reading Annie Ernaux; Matthew Sharpe reading Linh Dinh [at 21:27]; Kate Bornstein reading “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg, and more:





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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

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Dylan at Happy Birthday Bar on 1-11-17--Passynk Square








"You look fake as shit, man!" I shouted. "The bottle is completely empty, and your eyes are wide open!"

Dylan worked the night shift at the 12 Steps Down last night. By 8:10AM, he was at Happy Birthday for a High Life and a shot of Jim Beam. Twenty-four-years-old, Dylan is named after Bob Dylan and Dylan McKay, a character on Beverly Hills, 90210.



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Jenn at Happy Birthday Bar--Passyunk Square 2








I'm a pussy and a half for not going to Happy Birthday more often. Only a block from my front door, this magnificent bar opens at 7AM!

Getting there today at just after 7:30, I was the first customer.

Cleaning the fan, Jenn said, "Do I look fatter from that angle?"

Later, I bawled, "You've got to help me, Jenn! You've got to save me!"

"You've got a wife!"

"But you look so much wiser!"

"Hah!"

Jenn went to Memphis twice just to see Graceland. Today, she had Elvis' "Comeback Special" on. Good stuff. Elvis looked so gay on certain numbers, I said, "It looks more like his 'Come Out Special.'"



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Happy Birthday Bar--Passyunk Square 2










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Jenn at Happy Birthday Bar--Passyunk Square








[Jenn at Happy Birthday Bar]



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Happy Birthday Bar--Passyunk Square










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HONK IF YOU DON'T EXIST--Passyunk Square










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Monday, January 9, 2017

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Snowman and Santa on 1-9-17--Passyunk Square










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Sunday, January 8, 2017

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BB at The Dive on 1-8-17--Bella Vista 3








[B.B. at The Dive]



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BB at The Dive on 1-8-17--Bella Vista 2










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BB at The Dive on 1-8-17--Bella Vista










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Followers

About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.