Postcard from the End of America: Palmyra, NJ

When out-of-town friends visit, I like to take them to Camden. With its high crime, horrible government and general wretchedness, it’s the worst of America’s present and, if all goes according to plans, our stereotypical future. Soon as you cross into Collingswood or Gloucester, however, the graffiti, trash, abandoned houses, sagging pants and neck tattoos disappear. In fact, South Jersey is dotted with quaint boroughs featuring relatively active Main Streets.

Just three miles from Camden, Palmyra has two old timey barber shops, a homey Sicilian restaurant, a spacious, porch-fronted bar surrounded by grass, and a most creative donut shop that dreams up treats resembling a Thanksgiving turkey, a mound of dirt with a glow worm or a shark fin sticking out of blue water, etc. With one tenth the population of Camden, Palmyra has a much better stocked supermarket. Outside a hardware store, a horse statue stands in front of a buggy. As is common to any blue-collar town, the Star-Spangled Banner is found all over, including at the Mexican-owned garage and Indian-owned convenience store. A small artillery piece sits on Broadway.

Unlike in Camden, no Palmyra store owner needs to stare at customers from behind bullet-proof plexiglass. Last year, there was no murder or rape. Filthy junkies with rotting teeth don’t prostitute themselves even in the afternoon.

Predominantly white, Palmyra has the distinction of appointing in 1959 the first black police chief in the entire country, and its high school library is named after Clarence B. Jones, an alumnus who became Martin Luther King’s principal lawyer and the co-writer of his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” Making up 14% of Palmyra’s population, blacks coexist without tension with whites.

The town is also known for a mud used to rub down baseballs to give pitchers a better grip. A two-pound jar costs $100.

Just north of Palmyra, Riverton is even whiter and much more affluent. It has a yacht club founded in 1865. Almost no house resembles another. Many are huge. Some are Victorian, with elaborate woodwork that’s well maintained and freshly painted. About the only crime anyone can cite dates back to 1906, when Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail solo around the globe, was convicted of exposing himself to a 12-year-old girl. The great man claimed to have no memory of it. Slocum was jailed for 42 days and told to never show up again. Nearly broke and no longer feted, Slocum sailed into the sunset three years later.

Although Rivertonians display almost no American flags, much less military ones, how many have enriched themselves by investing in war profiteers?

With no minorities to speak of, Riverton has dozens of signs proclaiming, “HATE HAS NO HOME HERE.” One trumpets, “ALL ARE WELCOME.” Surely you’ve noticed that those who are most ostentatious about their racial tolerance tend to stay clear of all “people of color,” which is a most racist term, for it lumps all non-whites together, assumes a solidarity among them that simply doesn’t exist and posits whites as a race apart. Fleeing blacks, they voted for a black president and despise whites who actually know how to live and work with blacks, browns and yellows. Standoffish and unsociable, Riverton is a dry town, thus has no bars.

Unable to hobnob with Rivertonians, I trekked to Palmyra’s Park Tavern. Filled with light from its many windows, it’s unusually cheery for a working-class joint. Only four drinkers, all middle-aged white men, were present. Later, more white men plus one woman would enter. They all knew each other by name. The horse races and a college basketball game were on. Feeling entitled suddenly, I ordered a Guinness for five bucks.

Behind the bar, there’s a framed, folded flag, with a certificate:

The Flag of the United States of America
Is Presented to
The Park Tavern
John Gerew for being a Great Friend

This certifies that the accompanying flag was flown at the Headquarters of the Multi National Corps-Iraq in your honor during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

It’s signed by John R. Allen, a black sergeant major, and Lloyd M. Austin, a white lieutenant general. Allen is quoted in several online articles. Duty is stressed, “If you ask any Soldier out there, they’ll probably tell you they expect their noncommissioned officers to get them to the right place at the right time, with the right equipment to do whatever mission they’re given.” In Iraq, Allen’s duty was to destroy, then rebuild, “The reason that it’s so important for us to grow the Iraqi Army, and that’s our primary mission right now, is to train the Iraqi security force, mainly because we destroyed the Iraqi Army.” Allen did his duties then retired, but Iraq remains shattered. The man did his job well.

Still mostly segregated after centuries, black and white Americans can unite in fattening the military banking complex and killing, and getting killed by, Israel’s enemies. Founded on noble ideals, this country has been reduced to saluting mercenaries and worshipping pieces of cloth or plastic.

The town’s name was the idea of Isaiah Toy, a Swede who greatly admired that ancient city. Blindly patriotic, contemporary Palmyrans won’t hesitate to destroy all of Syria if ordered.

The guy on my right wore a Riverton Yacht Club knit hat, and it turned out he had been a boat builder, then crew member on many a rich man’s vessel, a job that took him to many island nations and even Europe, to compete in regattas. “Some of these people owned their own 747s, man. We have to share it with two hundred people. They flew by themselves!” He recounted spending three weeks in Grenada, right after its brief civil war and America’s invasion. “People were dismantling the docks to use as firewood.” The flying fish sold at roadside stalls were delicious, though. His sailing day over, he became a machinist and made pretty good money, so it’s rather odd the 58-year-old had only one front tooth left.

I remarked to the man on my left, “This is one of the most pleasant bars I’ve ever been to,” and Phil responded that it’s practically the only tavern he’s ever known, “I came here on my 21st birthday.” The undersized man chuckled.

“So you’ve lived here your whole life?”

“Yes, and I remember when it was mostly dirt roads around here. I was born in 1956.” Back then, even Camden was pleasant, then came the race riots, white flight, industries moving out and the introduction of crack cocaine, meth and synthetic heroin.

Speaking of drugs, Phil confided, “I’ve tried nothing, not even pot.” His only vice and comfort was Budweiser, it seemed. “I never made enough money to get married,” he stated without bitterness.

Buoyed by its rich neighbor, Riverton, and protected, for now, from the madness and squalor of nearby Camden, Palmyra evokes a simpler and healthier America. Selling services, mud and discount hoagies, it gets by. Not all is well, however, for there are several dead stores on its main drag. As I examined one, a woman in her 40’s handed me a business card, “It’s my husband. He’s the electrician. I handle public relations.”

With record debts and no manufacturing competitiveness, our economy is a sick illusion, sustained only by our empire status, with guns and threats pointing in all directions, but this farce will blow up soon. With the next market crash, even Rivertonians will be drowning in panic and grief.

I finish this piece at 40,000 feet above Nagoshima. Yes, I’m returning to Asia, and, in fact, my wife and I are preparing to move back to Vietnam permanently. When you reject the system, it will gladly return the favor, thus my two new books have only gotten one nasty review, from that pompous font of endless bullshit, the Washington Post. When once I could expect regular reading invitations from universities, absolutely nothing is forthcoming. Last year, Asali Solomon of Haverford College emailed to say she was a fan of my fiction, so would I like to teach two classes? When I agreed, however, Solomon said there had been a misunderstanding, so no courses. Someone above Solomon must have told her I was a pariah, for why else would she act so unprofessionally? It’s all for the better, actually, since I was never a good fit in academia. With its increasingly hysterical agenda of cranking out right thinking drones, intellectual freedom is extinct at American universities.

Google lists me ass-backwardly as a “American-Vietnamese poet,” and on my Wikipedia entry, someone has seen fit to state that I’m a “regular commentator on Russia Today,” not that I would mind. For the record, I’ve appeared maybe five times on RT in seven years, all as an unpaid guest. Whatever. In Orwellian America, Russia personifies evil, Israel is eternally sacred, America is already fantastic or will soon be great again, unemployment is negligible, the economy is ass-kicking, as proven by the dizzying DOW, and all those who question these fables should be banished to the other side of the universe or the Unz Review.

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.

3 Responses to Postcard from the End of America: Palmyra, NJ

  1. It has come to pass in this nation of ours that anyone who dares to mention that the emperor is naked rapidly becomes a non-person. His articles were dropped by CountePunch and his sanity publicly questioned by that supposedly “liberal” site when he doubted our government’s 9/11 conspiracy theory. Although Linh Dinh’s “postcards” continued to be published on websites with integrity, such as Intrepid Report, OpEd News and Unz Review, his larger works were panned or ignored by the major media and lectures cancelled. Given the serial lunacies flourishing in both our domestic and foreign affairs, given the toxic atmosphere prevailing here, who can blame him for seeking a more rewarding haven? I hope this artist of unquestionable integrity and courage will continue to write in English. That there will be no more “Postcard from the End of America” is our loss.

  2. Your time will come Linh. The tables will turn. You will be a star in vietnam I hope

  3. You should write for oliver stone.