Postcard from the End of America: Lancaster County, PA

I’ve hung out with poet Hai-Dang Phan in quite a few places. Since our first meeting in Certaldo, Italy, in 2003, we’ve downed a few pints together in New York, Washington, Milwaukee, Iowa, Illinois, Philadelphia, Hanoi, Saigon and Vung Tau. This week, Hai-Dang flew down from Boston, and with his rented car, we spent two days visiting a handful of Pennsylvania and New Jersey towns.

I had wanted to show Hai-Dang Bethlehem and Allentown, but Steven Byler in Friendly Lounge suggested Intercourse, Lititz and other hamlets around Lancaster, so off we went, but the joke was on us, for Intercourse, at least, was nothing but a tourist trap, with stores peddling schlock paintings, garish animal sculptures, doofus T-shirts and Amish quilts, which are quite magnificent, undoubtedly, but mostly made by Hmong refugees.

Allentown’s The Morning Call explained in 2006:

Most quilt shop owners do not mention their Southeast Asian workers. That would spoil the image of a Lancaster quilt as the product of strictly Amish or Mennonite hands. Quilt tags in pricey shops credit the work of Lancaster’s Plain People, but rarely the Hmong, who are referred to as “local Lancaster quilters” if at all.

To keep the identities of these women from the eyes of tourists, some shop owners won’t allow Hmong in their stores during business hours and make them use the back door when delivering piecework. One Amish shop owner once made a Hmong seamstress hide in the coal cellar. It is the dark side of the alliance that has existed for more than two decades.

The day was saved, however, for we found a very honest and hospitable bar in nearby New Holland, next to the railroad tracks. Its sign showed a flying dart, martini glass and an 8 ball, with “12 WINGS and 6 SHRIMP” advertised beneath it, but with no price. The Bud Light neon in its one window was turned on, and there were half a dozen cars and trucks in the parking lot.

Behind Shooters Crossing, we spotted a confederate flag fluttering over a trailer. It shouldn’t surprise that many in rural America identify with the South, for they both cherish community, the land and traditional values, and are equally contemptuous of the coastal elites, with their globalist ideology.

Opening the door to a dark and surprisingly large space, we were greeted by Hank Williams’ Lost Highway. “This is perfect!” I exclaimed. As opposed to Leon Payne’s jaunty and oddly cheerful delivery, Williams imbued his slowed down rendition with just the right genius dosage of grief, regret and world weariness, but that’s why he’s the man. A decade later, Johnny Horton would smear on us his cheeseball version.

There were 12 beers on tap, with some excellent microbrews, which beat, by a mile, all the Philly dives I haunt.

The Hank Williams medicine didn’t last long, for soon after our first chug of Dogwood, the Village People’s gay anthem came blasting on, “I’ve got to be a macho! (dig the hair on my chest) Macho, macho man (see my big thick moustache).” Raps and oldies alternated the rest of the evening.

We talked to a retired gentleman who made money, under the table, driving Amish people around. “It’s the easiest job,” Frank chuckled. “Some of these people have money, man. I know an Amish guy with 140 acres in Virginia, that he uses just for hunting deer and pheasants.” Frank seemed very relaxed. He has a son studying at Drexel.

Frank, “The Amish do some weird things, but they’re very good with their hands, and they know how to work. If you hire an Amish roofer, he won’t quit even ten minutes early. They work hard, man. Same with the Mexicans. They’ll get a lot more done than your average American.”

Amish don’t drink. That evening, I did talk to a young man who had left the Mennonite Church eight years earlier. After freaking out, his parents had calmed down. With his muscle T, bottle of Bud and pack of Marlboro, the cheerful dude appeared no different from the others, except he wasn’t all tatted up. A woman put her arms around him. They laughed.

A prim couple ordered wings, french fries and onions rings, found everything disgusting, so threw paper napkins on their nearly full plate and left. We weren’t the only strangers, obviously. Sensibly, the barkeep took the goodies to the other end of the bar, where a regular happily gobbled them up.

“I almost asked them for the food myself,” I said to Kristen, laughing. “I’m glad you didn’t throw it away.”

“I don’t know why they acted like that,” she frowned. “There’s nothing wrong with the food.”

At a pool table, two well-inked guys cued up in a haze of cigarette smoke.

New Holland’s Main Street was dominated by antique stores. “A lot of these towns are like this,” Hai-Dang commented. “Everyone is selling junk as antiques! Growing up, it was garage or lawn sales every weekend with my mom. Driving through even smaller towns, you’d see all these lawn signs for yard sales, in places with hardly any people. I picture all these people in small towns wearing each other’s second hand clothes!”

There was a restaurant, La Casita, that flew a Puerto Rican flag. Fleeing exorbitant New York, thousands of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans have moved into rural Pennsylvania.

Hai-Dang grew up in small town Wisconsin, then went to college in Grinnell, Iowa, population 9,200, where he’s now a professor. Hai-Dang also studied in Madison and Gainesville, and has traveled all over. Although rooted enough to the Midwest, he is also a cosmopolitan. His part Iranian, part English girlfriend lives in Worcester, Massachusetts, so Hai-Dang spends months there at a time. Last Thanksgiving, they vacationed in Miami. Still escaping the snow, they showed up in Santa Monica in March, then whooped it up in New Orleans in the Spring.

The term “rootless cosmopolitan” was coined by a 19th century Russian literary critic, Vissarion Belinsky, then popularized by Joseph Stalin in the 1940s, to describe Soviet Jewish intellectuals who were, in his mind, traitors to Russia. Instead of extolling Russian/Soviet culture, they were open to the West, and they sided with Israel, naturally, whereas Soviet Russia backed the Arabs.

With his blue passport, English and a bit of cash, Americans can explore the world more easily than ever, with many spending extended time overseas. Even if he goes nowhere, however, the world will come to him, for the USA is a come-on and magnet for all nationalities. This country’s reigning ideology is also globalist and progressive, which means a serial rejection of the past, so we are already, in many ways, a country of rootless cosmopolitans.

Waging war against the world, we preach world peace constantly, and wail, “We are the world, we are the children,” as we chronically bomb helpless men, women and children, for the American/Israeli worldview must be propped up at all costs.

Here today, gone tomorrow. Maybe I’ll move to Costa Rica or Thailand? The Jersey City or San Jose I grew up in has permanently changed anyway, so there’s no home to go back to.

In Lancaster County, the Amish stubbornly maintain their age-old ways, and though they have shrewdly adapted, as in hiring Hmong seamstresses, they still refuse to pick up arms, no matter the cause, and they don’t fly. As with all traditional societies, they respect hierarchies and observe clear division between the sexes, which they still, somehow, only count as two, and not 63.

Although almost everything they do is a rejection of America, they cause little resentment, because they don’t tirelessly deform, manipulate or kill anyone. In fact, as our collapse becomes more undeniable, more Americans will turn to them for examples, but being defenseless, they might not survive this nation’s next chapter.

Like the Hmong, maybe they’ll fly, at last, to some baffling, faraway land, where they can perform their marvelous handiwork each long day, for next to nothing.

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.

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