Author Archives: Linh Dinh

An update from Germany

Germany is smaller than California. Within the last two years, it has allowed in roughly two million Muslim refugees and immigrants, all by fiat. Having no voice in this radical demographic change, many Germans are fuming. Continue reading

Obscured American: B.B. the bartender

The flame-like tree and yellow stars from Van Gogh’s Starry Night burn on B.B.’s right shoulder. Blonde, slim and 33, she bartends at Friendly Lounge twice a week. She calls everyone “darling,” as in, “Are you good, darling? You need another one?” Continue reading

Obscured American: Amanda Zinoman the film editor

Yes, it is a bit odd to include Amanda in my series of obscured Americans. She is a very successful editor of films that have appeared on television and in theaters. Her credits include Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider (1994), Carmen Miranda: Bananas is my Business (1994), The Lost Children of Rockdale County (1999), Drinking Apart (2000), The Last Jews of Libya (2007) and Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness (2011). Continue reading

The deep state’s candidate?

First, what is meant by “deep state”? Continue reading

Obscured American: Amanda the ex-nurse

With huge tax breaks, Camden has lured several companies to this wrecked city, so a small chunk of downtown is getting spruced up. Shirtless or in wife beaters, tattooed junkies still lurk around the Walter Rand Transportation Center, but the Third-World clothing stands have been shooed from the shadow of City Hall. Crown Chicken has moved into a less squalid space, and Dunkin’ Donuts has gotten a facelift. A yuppyish-looking bar has opened on Martin Luther King. Continue reading

Obscured American: Eileen Walbank the ex-insurance company employee

In Philadelphia, I often see Chinese push their grandchildren around in strollers, so the three-generation households are evidently still common in that community. In China itself, citizens can be fined or even jailed for not visiting their aging parents enough. That there is such a law can only mean that familial bonds are weakening, however, as they are in every modern society. By assuming responsibilities for children and the elderly, the state supplants the family, and this is welcomed by most of us. We want to be free during our best years. Continue reading

Obscured American: Felix the artist, ex-grocer and ex-hospital worker

Felix lives on the 24th floor of Riverview, a subsidized complex for senior citizens. Once a dreaded housing project, it is now pleasant and safe. Most of Felix’ neighbors are black and Asian. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Fort Indiantown Gap, PA

It’s remarkable that I’ve been friends with Giang for nearly four decades. We’ve spent but a year in the same state and, frankly, have little in common. Giang studied computer science, business administration and engineering technology. He makes more in a year than I do in ten. He drinks Bud Lite and recycles corny metaphors and analogies. A director of marketing, Giang actually told me, “I can sell a freezer to an Eskimo.” Continue reading

Obscured American: Rudy List the retired math professor

Though each life is rich, some are staggeringly so. Over four days in July, I had a series of conversations with Rudy List at his house in Dexter, Michigan. A 74-year-old retired math professor, Rudy introduced me to Hua Luogeng, Zitang Zhang and Terence Tao. In return, I told him about Otto Dix, Cindy Sherman, Honey Boo Boo and Jerry Springer. It was certainly not fair trade. Continue reading

Obscured American: Hank the small business financial advisor

I had spent four days in Ann Arbor, Dexter and Chelsea. This stay allowed me to experience a whiter and more Norman Rockwell Michigan. On two previous trips, I was confined to mostly black and car wrecked Detroit. Continue reading

Homeland terror

Justifying the War on Terror, George Bush huffed, “We’re fighting them there, so we don’t have to fight them here.” Broke, gullible or crazed Americans must be sent overseas to combat Al Qaeda, Bin Laden, the Taliban and ISIS. Otherwise, endless terror would devastate the homeland. Continue reading

Obscured American: J.J. the ex-pizza man and Young Lord

Responding to my recent articles about race, “Marx Karl” comments at Intrepid Report: “What is Asian racism? In Africa Indians brought by the British to Africa to fulfill middle management posts or run small enterprises treated the whites as superiors and the Africans as inferiors. So in Europe and the US some Asians play Uncle Tom and identify with whites against blacks other Asians who have been on the receiving end of white racism side with blacks [ . . . ] Continue reading

A deeply disturbing letter from Germany

A friend in Frankfurt emailed me the following on July 19. Continue reading

Death of a nation?

A hundred-and-fifty-one years after the abolition of slavery, America has a half white, half black president, a black Nobelist in literature, whites who attribute not just every form but instance of black dysfunction to white racism, blacks who demand reparations, the mainstreaming of innumerable black slang terms, including “diss,” a new phrase “negro fatigue” and the bumper sticker, “IF I HAD KNOWN THIS, I’D HAVE PICKED MY OWN COTTON.” Continue reading

Blacks, cops and a sinking economy

In “Ethnic America,” Thomas Sowell observes, “American pluralism was not an ideal with which people started but an accommodation to which they were eventually driven by the destructive toll of mutual intolerance in a country too large and diverse for effective dominance by any one segment of the population. The rich economic opportunities of the country also provided alternative outlets for energies, made fighting over the division of existing material things less important than the expansion of output for all, and rewarded cooperative efforts so well as to make it profitable to overlook many differences.” Continue reading

Ahistorical and deluded, with fireworks

The Dinh Dynasty lasted only 12 years and ended in 980, but in the 20th century, there were around a dozen plays about one of the Dinh queens, Duong Van Nga. When I was a kid in Saigon in the 1970s, a folk opera about her could pack a theater night after night. In 2013, an elaborately produced 12-part series about Dinh Tien Hoang [Dinh the Celestial King] appeared on TV. Posted on YouTube, it has generated many comments. In 2015, a dorky, hour-long animated film was made about the king’s childhood. Continue reading

Big Brother’s virtual reality

A billboard for Comcast pitches a lineup of “reality” shows, with this caption, “Recommended for you. Because real reality is boring.” Continue reading

A view from Japan: An interview with Motoyuki Shibata

In Japan, even a serious writer may be seen on mass advertising, and a translator can become a star. One of Japan’s most famous intellectuals, Motoyuki Shibata is a specialist on American literature. He has translated books by Thomas Pynchon, Paul Auster, Steven Millhauser and Stuart Dybek, among others. Shibata is also the editor of two popular literary journals, the Japanese-language Monkey and the English-language Monkey Business. His book of essays, The American Narcissus, won the Suntory Prize for Social Sciences and Humanities in 2005. Among the pieces are “Wonder If I’m Dead,” “The Half-Baked Scholar” and “Cambridge Circus.” Continue reading

Obscured American: Patrick the ex-computer programmer

Last week, a 55-year-old tourist from Texas was killed when he fell onto the subway tracks at 13th Street Station. He and his wife had just visited the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Going by the station the next day, I half expected to see some sort of memorial, but there were no flowers, cards or candles. I was heading to Kensington, a place I have written about repeatedly, the last time 10 months ago. Continue reading

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