Author Archives: Linh Dinh

Obscured American: Michael the Philly Jesus

Philly is blessed with a generous allotment of public space at its very center. On any day of the week, weather permitting, there are throngs of people at Love Park, Dillworth Park and near the Clothespin. Around this 45-foot-tall sculpture by Claes Oldenburg, I’ve seen an assortment of petty hustlers selling everything from loosies to oddball T-shirts, such as one that said, “IF YOU SMELL SOMETHING STINKING . . . IT’S ILL-ADELPHIA BECAUSE WE’RE THE SH!T. Black Israelites can often be found nearby. Wearing studded wrist bands, studded belts and studded vests over studded, knee-length, fringe tunics, they rail against white people and gays. I’ve seen these guys not just in Philly, but Washington D.C. and Minneapolis. Continue reading

Obscured American: Noam the straying Hasid

Last year in Leipzig, Germany, I met a young woman who had just returned from Chicago, where her family lived in tony Lincoln Park. She had also studied at Williams College in Massachusetts, where tuition alone was near $50,000. Germany was too white, she complained, and she was ashamed of the anti-immigrant attitude shown by many of her countrymen. For Christmas, she went to Palm Springs, California. Though only in her mid-twenties, she had traveled to dozens of countries. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Brooklyn, New York

I spent a week in New York with a handful of Japanese writers and editors. They were in the States to promote Monkey Business, a Tokyo-based literary journal. That Friday, we had a reading in Brooklyn, so I decided to spend the entire day there. Continue reading

Obscured American: Anna the retired teacher, cab driver and computer programmer

Don, Friendly Lounge owner, told me this joke, “How is a South Philly guy like Jesus? One, he’s never left his neighborhood. Two, he hangs out with the same 12 guys. Three, his mother thinks he’s God.” Continue reading

Obscured American: Shane the fighter, heroin chipper and ghetto teacher

In the early ‘90s, 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. Continue reading

Obscured American: Robert the chef

It’s not right. I came into the Friendly Lounge at 11:45AM, parked my bony ass there for three hours, and saw nobody. In the 90’s, I heard an exasperated crack whore kvetch, “Don’t nobody want a blow job no more!” It’s gotten much worse. In 2016, it’s, “Can’t nobody afford a beer no more?” Continue reading

Boys to bums

Though no millennial metrosexual, I sleep next to my laptop, and this morning, an email came from a Japanese literary journal, Monkey, to ask me to name a short story I wish I had written. Editor Motoyuki Shibata also requested a one-hundred word explanation, which I promptly knocked out while sipping an Earl Grey at my kitchen table. Done, I had a breakfast of spaghetti with tomato sauce, Spam, salami and chunks of cheddar cheese. You had to see it. Continue reading

Head in the Sanders, up Hillary creek, without a Trump card

No presidential candidate should be taken seriously unless he or she addresses the below basic concerns. Continue reading

America cannot be great again

Interviewed by Spiegel in 2005, Lee Kuan Yew observed, “The social contract that led to workers sitting on the boards of companies and everybody being happy rested on this condition: I work hard, I restore Germany’s prosperity, and you, the state, you have to look after me. I’m entitled to go to Baden Baden for spa recuperation one month every year. This old system was gone in the blink of an eye when two to three billion people joined the race—one billion in China, one billion in India and over half-a-billion in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.” Continue reading

Obscured American: Tony the Cook

When I lived closer to Center City, I’d take out-of-town friends to McGlinchey’s or Dirty Frank’s, but since moving to South Philly more than a decade ago, I’d drag people to the Friendly Lounge, because it really is friendly. In Philly, black bars tend to be called “lounge,” but Friendly is the haunt of middle-aged white guys, mostly, though there’s Chinese George and myself, and Vern, a black Vietnam vet, as well as a few others of various shades. A Dominican lady, Maria, advised me to abstain from eggs, cantaloupe and papaya after sundown. An admirer of Rafael Trujillo, she loved the fact that he had people’s fingers chopped off, or their nails yanked out. “I hate criminals. I like law and order.” Continue reading

Broken Ukraine

I hadn’t even changed money when a guy in a military jacket approached me for a donation for Ukraine’s war efforts, and he was quite persistent too. Continue reading

Hungarian lessons

I was surprised by how grimy and sooty Budapest was. So many of its buildings, once gorgeous, were in an advanced state of decay. This city looked better before World War II, for sure, and certainly a century ago. Since escaping Communism, Budapest is regaining its glories, though not at the same pace as Prague. There’s a peculiar local fad called ruin pubs, where hip types can drink and dance in these half wrecked buildings. Too creaky to boogie, I only glimpsed them from the outside, but they didn’t look half bad. Continue reading

Poland looking west

In 1985, Czeslaw Milosz said in an interview, “The importance of the movement in Poland, of Solidarity, is that it is not just a Polish phenomenon. It exemplifies a basic issue of the twentieth century. Namely, resistance to the withering away of society and its domination by the state. In the Poland of Solidarity, owing to some historical forces, there was a kind of resurgence, or renaissance, of the society against the state. Continue reading

Black and blonde

Nowadays, the United States exports almost nothing but weapons, noises, images and attitudes, and among the last, the black ghetto, keeping it real, thug, gangsta life is being gobbled up eagerly by millions all over, from Jakarta to Istanbul, to Berlin. White, yellow or brown, many pose enthusiastically as dwellers of the American black ghetto. Continue reading

Turkey’s weasel problem

Though we head into 2016 without a direct war between the US and Russia, such a conflict still hovers over mankind. It’s hard to imagine Uncle Sam relinquishing his supremacy without a crazed fight. Continue reading

Vietnamese in Germany

There are about 140,000 Vietnamese in Germany. Continue reading

An American in Brighton, England

Born in Kansas City and raised in Midland, Michigan, Dan has also lived in Myrtle Beach, Vail, Martha’s Vineyard, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Taos, Durham, New York, Albuquerque and Denver in the US. He taught English in Seoul for three years, moved furniture in Barcelona for two and, for five years now, has been miserably ensconced in Brighton, England. Continue reading

A young Frenchman reflects

I gave a reading, slide talk in Leipzig. You can’t count on too many people coming to such an event. It is said that a favorite line at any poetry reading is, “And this is my last poem.” Around 40 people actually showed up, however, with some even having to sit on the floor. They were students, academics, American expats and at least one man who had seen me on Iran’s Press TV. Filmmaker Elisa Kotmair came down from Berlin. Continue reading

Prized Singapore

Recently, I flew to Singapore to participate in its Writers’ Festival. The Lufthansa captain bade us goodbye, “We wish you a successful stay in Singapore.” Continue reading

Germany against itself

Though American dissidents are often branded as “anti-American,” many if not most see themselves as opposed only to their government, not their nation or people. At the Occupy camps, for example, the American flag flew freely. Continue reading

Flagless Germany

October 3 was the anniversary of the Reunification of Germany. Having arrived in Leipzig just days earlier, I decided to take a long walk with my friend Olliver Wichmann. Though we covered nearly 20 miles that day, we saw no national flag on display, only an East German one in Grünau, a neighborhood of huge, Communist-era apartment blocks. Continue reading

Pope Francis in Philadelphia

A pope zone cut Philly in two. Hundreds of soldiers poured in. Throughout downtown and Old City, they manned every intersection, including alleys. Since 9/11, Americans have been conditioned to see soldiers in battle fatigues on their sidewalks, but this is unprecedented for peacetime Philadelphia. At least these troops were not armed. Only the cops were. Concrete barriers, heavy steel fences and security check points hindered both car and foot traffics. Hearing movie-acclimated blades rotating overhead, citizens looked up to gawk at choppers. Pope Francis would not arrive until the next day. Continue reading

Our refugee future

During the current refugee crisis in Europe, it is said that there are many imposters among genuine refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen, all countries, incidentally, that America and its allies have destroyed. Too many of them are men, it is pointed out, and they’re generally not dressed badly enough. Many have smart phones. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Silicon Valley

Decades ago, I’d show up weekly to clean the Philadelphia apartment of a California transplant. Daughter of a Hollywood executive, Jacqueline confessed she had to escape California because “California women are too beautiful.” To save her self-esteem, she had to flee to Philadelphia. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Champ Ali in Camden, New Jersey

Going from Philly to Camden, I take a train across the Ben Franklin Bridge, then get off at Broadway. In 1969 and 1971, fire bombs were thrown, shop windows smashed and businesses burnt and looted all around this area. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Don Hensley in Huntingburg, Indiana

I’ve prowled around Gary, relaxed in New Harmony and explored downtown Indianapolis after midnight. There is a bronze statue of John Wooden. Kneeling and suited, the basketball coach is surrounded by five young pairs of male legs, their bodies disappearing above the pelvis. It is very creepy and gay. One of these days, I must barge into the dismal looking Whistle Stop, just across the street from Indianapolis’ Greyhound station. I need to see more of Indiana, that’s for sure. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Woodbury, NJ

The first recorded race riot in Camden, NJ, occurred on September 12, 1864.—The Philadelphia Inquirer: “A riot, which threatened serious consequences, took place on Friday night in South Camden [ . . . ] In an ale house on Spruce-street, a party of men were drinking in the early part of the evening, when some colored men came in and called for drinks. The white men raised objection against the negroes being allowed to drink at the same bar with them, and a fight followed. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Jack’s Famous Bar in Philadelphia

I’ve depicted Jack’s in a Kensington Postcard, two poems and even a Vietnamese article. In business since the end of Prohibition, Jack’s is the last bastion of a Kensington that existed before all the factories moved out and the heroin came in. Old timers on a shrunken budget can mosey in to get buzzed for under five bucks. Though a pitcher of Yuengling is only $3.75, I once saw a woman sit for at least an hour drinking nothing. She just lifted an empty mug to her lips every few minutes. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Ashley, Pennsylvania

It doesn’t get any better than this. Luxuriating in Dunkin’ Donuts, Chuck Orloski and I each have our own cup of coffee and, yes, our individual donut. Shrewd, I have ordered one without a hole since you get more donut for your bucks that way. Biting into a jelly filled, deep fried piece of dough, I, too, am fulfilled. Momentarily forgetting about his utility bills and the onrushing due date for next month’s rent, Chuck smiles goofily as he gazes into the half-filled parking lot. Across the street is a cemetery. Life is good. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Invited to give a reading at Dickinson College, I came to Carlisle, a town of 19,000 people 30 miles from Harrisburg. Arriving by train, I passed Amish country and saw plows being pulled by horses. On extremely long clotheslines, single-colored clothes fluttered in the wintry wind. Rising high and lithographed against the pale sky, they resembled subdued prayer flags. A white bearded man under a straw hat waved. Lancaster, Elizabethtown, Middletown. Had I sat on the opposite side, I would have been browbeaten by the looming nuclear reactors of Three Miles Island. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Washington, D.C.

For nearly four years, I lived just 20 miles from Washington, in Annandale, VA, and I worked in D.C. for 9 months. From my home in Philadelphia, I’ve also gone down to Washington at least a hundred times, so this metropolis should not be alien to me, and yet no American city is more off-putting, more unwelcoming, more impenetrable, and this, in spite of its obvious physical attractiveness, and here, I’m talking mostly about its Northwest quadrant, the only part visitors are familiar with, and where commuters from Virginia and Maryland arrive daily to work. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Center City, Philadelphia

Ah, to be in perfect health, good looking, with all the possibilities in the world spread out like an extravagant buffet, begging for your attention! Should I become a recording star, the next Obama (or Hillary) or precocious billionaire? Maybe I’ll marry a rich yet good looking one and see the world before I turn 22? Continue reading