Author Archives: Linh Dinh

Postcard from the end of America: Columbus, Ohio

I was in Columbus all of ten hours. Even downtown, some of the sidewalks were clogged by snow, and as I crossed the Sciotto into Franklinton, my trudging became even more laborious. Mostly I walked on the side of the street, and on side streets, right in the middle. Continue reading

Ukrainian lessons

The first lesson, and it’s a very old one, is that violent protest does work, and also sinister tricks such as having your own snipers shoot at police and fellow protesters. Without this ramping up of mayhem and bloodshed, the Ukrainian government would not have been discredited, destabilized and finally overthrown. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Chicago

I’ve been coming to Chicago forever, but always just for a day or two. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Joliet, Illinois

The story of Joliet is familiar enough. With its industries gone, a city turns to the casino as a last ditch salvation, but cannot reverse its decline. The details of this disintegration, though, can be interesting. Continue reading

Full spectrum Peeping Tomism

In 1928, Ho Chi Minh was in Thailand while his Chinese wife, Zeng Xueming, remained in Canton. He sent her this letter: “From the day we parted, already more than a year. I miss you with such anguish, it needn’t be said. Borrowing rosy wings, I send a few lines to reassure you. Such is my desire, and I wish your mother ten thousand good lucks. Clumsily yours.” Continue reading

American crisis

Though Thomas Paine galvanized this country into being and gave it its very name, the United States of America, there is almost no trace of him here. In Philadelphia, where he spent his most significant years, there is a Thomas Paine Plaza, but it is barely marked as such, with no statue of the man. Instead, one finds a bronze likeness of Frank Rizzo, of all people, and a Jacques Lipchitz sculpture that Rizzo once compared to a dropped load of plaster. Composed of torturous human forms holding up some insufferable burden, it’s titled “Government of the People,” though walking by it for decades, I actually thought it was a Holocaust memorial. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Vineland, New Jersey

On a drowsy, sputtering bus into Vineland, I glimpsed a 9/11 Memorial by the side of the road. Next to a flag pole, there was the Twin Towers at the height of a middling crotch. Fleetingly I thought of getting off at the next stop to scrutinize, but decided no, for it was clear I was only on the outskirts of town, and Vineland is vast, despite its modest population of only 60,000 souls. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Marcus Hook, PA

First settled by Europeans in 1640, Marcus Hook was once called Chammassungh, Finland then Marrites Hoeck, from which the present name derives. The Hook, however, does serendipitously evoke its pirate past, when Blackbeard plied the Delaware, and one of his mistresses, Margaret, lived here, in a plank house still preserved. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Kensington Ave., Philadelphia, PA

The elevated train rumbles above Kensington Avenue, so riding on it, you can see all of these desolate windows on the upper floors, many of which are boarded up, bricked over or hollow. Ruins of factories loom nearby. Until recently, there was an open coffin in the yard of The Last Stop recovery center. Lying inside it, a wide eyed, pink faced dummy stared up. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Riverside, New Jersey

Though Riverside has successfully reinvented itself before, it is now stuck. During the middle of the 19th century, it was a resort town, a place for the well-to-do of Philadelphia to mellow during the sultry months. They chugged up the Delaware River by steamboats. Some steamed into town on rails. There were summer homes here, and a grand hotel with a ballroom. When the train reached the New Jersey Shore, however, Riverside couldn’t compete with the Atlantic Ocean, and so it slumped into irrelevance, a forgotten fork in the river, but then it picked itself up and morphed into an industrial center. For a tiny town that never had more than 9,000 souls, it became a leading manufacturer of watch cases, worsted fabric and hosiery. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Norristown, Pennsylvania

Wandering around so much, I’m constantly among strangers, in completely unfamiliar neighborhoods. Though these novel situations have opened my eyes much, it would take but a single unfortunate encounter to blacken or close them, even for good, and in Norristown this week, I had to call 911 as I quickly ducked into a store to wait for the cops to save my ass. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Atlantic City, New Jersey

This city peaked nearly a century ago, when it billed itself as “The World’s Playground.” Hyperbole and false hope are its currencies. Trudging into glitzy casinos, badly dressed schmucks dream of instant wealth, yet leave with barely enough nickels and dimes for McDonald’s dollar menu. Continue reading

Striking Russia through Syria

We’re witnessing the last grotesque convulsions of a dying empire. As it threatens humanity with annihilation, it’s also nauseating the still sane among us with an unending farce, as in the hypocrite Kerry declaring, “this is not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter,” but John, you lying cynic, the world has been asked to be a mute audience to American mass murder for how long now? But Johnny wants more, much more. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Trenton, New Jersey

I had been in Trenton, I dunno, maybe two hundred times before I decided to know it a little. For years, I would stop there on the way to NYC from Philly, or vice versa, but I was never compelled to wander from the Trenton Transit Center. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Cherry Hill, New Jersey

If the American Dream can be reduced to a single object, it is the suburban home, with its front yard, back yard and two car garage. This residence must not share a wall, ceiling or floor with any neighbor, a living arrangement highly unusual worldwide, but that’s why it’s called the American Dream, dummy, not the Cambodian or Italian Fantasy. If you want to dwell in a hive, go back to your country! Any country. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Chester, Pa.

Traveling by train to Philadelphia, going North, you will pass by Chester, PA, a city that has been in decline for more than half a century. Founded in 1682, the same year as Philadelphia, Chester was a major manufacturer of US Navy ships from the Civil War until World War II. It also made ammunition and automobile parts. Despite its relative small size, with a peak population of 66,039 in 1950, Chester was an industrial powerhouse. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: North Philly

The corner of Broad and Erie is the Times Square of North Philly, but instead of flashy signs pushing Kodak, Samsung, Canon or Virgin Airlines, you have stark billboards urging you to “ELIMINATE YOUR DEBT” and “REBUILD YOUR CREDIT.” On utility poles, styrofoam signs promise, “JOBS! $400-$600 PER WEEK. CALL TODAY, START TOMORROW.” Is it legit? Ring to get sucked in, or you can stock your fridge, finally, by ditching your junk wheels for “$400,” according to one flyer, or “$250-$400,” per another. The biggest billboard touts “RAND SPEAR 1-800-90-LEGAL. He Eats Insurance Companies for BREAKFAST!” Are you aching all over, your skeleton permanently askew from that bus accident you weren’t even involved in? Are you emotionally spavined from having to dodge that abruptly swinging door? Now you know who to call! Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: South Philly

South Philly’s Friendly Lounge is close enough to my door, I can crawl out of there in a brown out state of mind and still end up on my steps, curled up, if not in bed. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Camden, New Jersey

With 77,000 people, Camden has one public library left and, in a city where Walt Whitman spent 19 years and is buried, there are exactly two bookstores, a Barnes and Noble serving Rutgers Camden students, and, not too far away, La Unique African American Books and Cultural Center, with The Master Game, The New World Order, The Unseen Hand and Say It Like Obama in its window. Camden has no hotel, and only one downtown bar, The Sixth Street Lounge. Hank’s closed in 2010 after half a century in business. Now, if you can barely drink in the heart of any American city, no matter how tiny, you know it’s seriously messed up. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Philadelphia

John is 46 but looks twenty years younger, with not a single white hair or whisker. His grungy style also suspends him in early adulthood. His mom was a registered nurse, then secretary at a garage. His dad sold car parts and drove a mail truck from Philly to Harrisburg in the evening. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Scranton

In most European cities and towns, the church is at the center, with a square in front of it. In Texas towns, it’s the courthouse. In New York, it’s Times Square, where you can be dazzled by bombastic signs from the world’s largest corporations. In Washington, the Mall affords long vistas of the Capitol, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. You are meant to be awed and feel elated, so proud you might send the president or Pentagon a bounced check. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: San Jose

As every story is a meandering road, each road is also a story, or, more accurately, an infinity of stories. An abandoned trail that leads from nowhere to nowhere, with no wayfarers, only a rare roadrunner, snake or javelina, would still be an endless source of human-interest tales, or, more likely, tails. Haven’t you heard of the ancient saying, “Even the fool is wise after the Interstate,” especially if he drives off its exits often? Though a stuttering man of few sentences, terrible eyesight and beer fizzled memory, I have managed to drag back a sackful of observations from my snooping around San Jose’s Story Road. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Oakland

Other people’s lives come fluttering to us in the tiniest fragments, and these we gather, when we bother to, into an incoherent jumble of impressions we pass off as knowledge. Further, our ears, eyes and mind are all seriously defective and worndown, making intelligence a dodgy proposition, at best. Our memory also crashes daily, if not secondly, our verbal skills poor, and when we examine ourselves, there are the added distortions of endless exculpation and vainglory. In short, no one knows ish about ish, though some ish does get much closer to the real ish. One thing for sure, amigo, if you ain’t aiming for ish, you ain’t gonna get ish. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Los Angeles

Sightseeing buses are for those who deeply dread the places they’re visiting. You can’t really see a city or town from a motorized anything, so if you claim to have driven through Los Angeles, for example, you haven’t seen it. The speed and protection of a car prevents you from being anywhere except inside your car, with what’s outside rushing by so fast that each face, tree and building is rudely dismissed by the next, next and next. You can’t pause, come closer, examine, converse, sniff or step on something, so what’s the point of visiting Los Angeles like this, except to say that you’ve been there? Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Missouri

In Sartre’s “No Exit,” hell is depicted as a room with two women and a man, which is fair enough, for a threesome is never what you envisioned it would be, in the privacy of your own hell. Hell is also “other people,” “les autres,” for in the company of another, one’s vanity, smugness, extreme prejudices and fantasies, whether philosophical, political, charitable or pornographic, are rudely disrupted. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Cheyenne

Of all the words uttered by a person, only a few remain unforgettable to any listener, for these can charm, haunt, humiliate, annoy or terrify even decades later. Continue reading

Deranging America

The coarsening of a people doesn’t happen overnight. When I came to the States in 1975, the Gong Show was about as rude as it got on television. Some earnest sap would get bumped for crooning, “Feelings, nothing more than feelings,” but no one ever got screamed at, had their wig knocked off or made to sob in public. No tune ever urged murder, and even a group named War only sang, “Why can’t we be friends?” The year’s top hit was The Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together.” Compared to now, it was a cheesy time, for sure. American cheese. Continue reading

Dimming nation

When one of our senior statesmen, and former presidential candidate, no less, calls a foreign leader a monkey, we should wince, but, no, our citizens merely jump online to declare that this is an insult to monkeys. Such is the state of American witticism and, uh, statesmanship. Continue reading

National nervous breakdown

Tales of madness are subjective. I mean, what is insanity exactly? If all of your ghastly indiscretions, mental and actual, were strung together, they could wrap this earth many times over, ditto mine, so all of us can easily be deemed deranged, including you, solemn pastor, rah rah coach or prissy board lady. Continue reading

Those laboring days

In the 1980s and 90s, even a klutz like me could find work as a manual laborer. I painted houses, washed windows and cleaned apartments and offices. Continue reading

The end and I’m still here

The world just ended, and I’m still here, so maybe I’m already in hell, where I have reserved a booth jammed with half-forgotten faces, or maybe I’m shunted to heaven, thanks to a bureaucratic mix-up. Continue reading

If Catalans can fancy life without Madrid, Americans can fancy it without Washington

Catalans want to break from Spain, again, and secession is also the buzz in Flanders, Scotland, Texas and Vermont. With the global economy collapsing, people everywhere are becoming fed up with being ruled by distant bureaucrats and bankers hell-bent on destroying local livelihoods. Wages are down, jobs lost and entire countries gone bankrupt thanks to government-enabled banking frauds, a process lubricated by increasing centralization and the intertwining of national finances. Continue reading