Category Archives: Features

Postcard from the end of America: Wisconsin

Before we start, I must admit that I didn’t set foot in Wisconsin this time, but only saw it from the train as I crossed it going West, then East. (I had been to Madison and Milwaukee before.) This, then, is really a train postcard, but the long distance train is a community in itself. In fact, Americans seldom have such thorough conversations as when they’re trapped on a long distance train. If only more of us could be confined that way, we would relate to each other a whole lot better, but such a wish also conjures up citizens being packed into boxcars as they’re sent to hard labor, or much worse. How many Americans will cross this country without seeing any of it? Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Portland, Oregon

Our train was hugging the Columbia River. Sitting in the lounge car, a father looked at that huge, snaking ribbon of silvery water and said to his young son, “I’m just jonesing to go fishing. That’s the first thing we’re going to do when we get home!” Then, “That Colts shirt really looks great on you, Jack!” Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Tri-Cities, Washington

Though this may sound like a joke, it’s certainly no joke, for I’m not a joking type: When I came to the US in 1975, the very first American song I learnt was “Old McDonald Had a Farm.” Though I could not properly pronounce any of the words, and understood only half of them, at most, I sang along with all the other kids in Miss Dogen’s class at McKinley Elementary in Tacoma, Washington. Continue reading

Walking is life, part II

In the first part of Walking is life, I disassembled myself psychologically to a shrink named Jerry Sabath. He worked with his positive ways of explaining how to keep your health by walking, stimulating your neuro and vascular system providing life, not to mention sound thinking. Continue reading

The Good Humor Bar

At five-thirty on a summer Sunday afternoon, I take a walk down Riverside Drive, past the children’s pocket parks, the time-worn benches, the golden sun shining through the giant elm trees, the couples, families, loners sitting on the green (the sign says don’t sit on it,)—nah and I invariably walk over to the Muslim ice-cream man who automatically hands me my favorite, the giant ice-cream sandwich wrapped in silver foil, which I unwrap to give me a lift. I know I have a limited time before the sun begins to melt it—and the three dinky napkins the ice-cream man has gave me is barely good for daintily dabbing my shirt, shorts and Merrills. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Wolf Point, Montana

It always amazes me how many people get on a train just to play cards, for outside their windows, a most amazing world is constantly unfurling. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Southwest Desert, Northern Plains, Cascades or Rocky Mountains, they don’t look up from their miserably dealt hands to notice that Eden is just a glass barrier away, but that’s how it is with the uber domesticated. They prefer a shrunken, airless civilization, as contained in 52 puny pieces of laminated cardboard, to the unscripted richness they’re entitled to at all times. Although it’s free, they don’t take it. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Williston, North Dakota

Oil made this America-dominated, futuristic world and with its increasing scarcity, will unravel it. Most pampered yet most disappointed, we’re living in the age of peak oil, water, gold, copper, wheat, rice, cabbage, porn, greed and banking shenanigans, etc., for with more mouths than ever going after a shrinking donut hole, the ugliness is just getting started, and let us not forget, this age of oil has also been an era of mass carnage, a century of resource wars that have wiped out hundreds of millions, but for the survivors, us grubby schmucks, what a cool ride, eh? Continue reading

Am I here?

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re not here, you’re walking in a dream? But what is here, now, and tangible you think. Is it an unmanageable world of violent yahoos that you see on Russia Today TV tearing themselves apart, here, there and everywhere? What is here but your inner voice that turns your head like a tank top and fires into a crowd? The jolt wakes you up. You recognize you’re in your bedroom. You think this is only your own personal narrative. Perhaps it is. You’ve become a zombie with a passport to cross into all states of mind and, dare I say, being like Jerzy Kosiński. Continue reading

I found my thrill on Wave Hill

First, forgive me Fats Domino for parodying your great tune’s title, but I found my thrill on Wave Hill in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York, during a period of extended unemployment. I returned to it over and over again to escape from my Upper West Side residence. My initial impression was that I had found heaven on earth—sweeping acres of impeccably landscaped grass and flowers, that rolled down to, believe it or not, a train rail. Discovered the mansion on it had been provided for people like Arturo Toscanini. Continue reading

Little League on a sunny day in Prospect Park

There he came, my five-and-a-half-year-old grandson Joseph, number eight, crossing home plate on the condensed diamond of one of Prospect Park’s giant meadows. The first iPhone snapshot of the day. This takes place under robin’s egg blue skies that turn to gray clouds, then showers and blue skies again. This as the cheers of my son-in-law, Jonathan, my daughter, Stephanie, my wife and I spur Joseph on. The kid is a natural. Swings a fast bat into the ball, drops the bat and runs to first, rounds it to second, third then home. Continue reading

Homage to the old soldier

If scenes of Normandy at war and peace can be called beautiful in any way, it’s in the contrast of the locales from today to 70 years ago. Continue reading

A day in the park

The day was Memorial Day and we were meeting my cousin and his wife in in Brooklyn’s Botanic Gardens. The price was right at $5 per senior. And in we walked checked by a polite guard. Continue reading

Walking is life

I once had a shrink whose basic axiom was ”Walking is life.” Obviously, if you walk a lot, you exercise your arms, legs, and torso, you also exercise that inner voice, your brain, spirit, call it what you will, that part that reflects what you see in the world around you. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Levittown, Pennsylvania

In 1947, the first Levittown was built in New York State, then in 1952, an even bigger one was erected in Pennsylvania. Marketed as “THE MOST PERFECTLY PLANNED COMMUNITY IN AMERICA,” Levittown was the prototypical American suburb. For only $10,990, or $100 down then $67 a month, you could own three bedrooms, two bathrooms, front lawn, back yard and garage, plus access to five Olympic-sized pools, with free swimming and diving lessons thrown in. Most soothingly, you no longer had to deal with strangers above, below or abutting you, or dark skinned neighbors who may alarm or irk you as you went about your white routines. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Manhattan

Getting off the Greyhound bus at the Port Authority Terminal, I immediately saw a man in his mid-50s digging through a garbage can. With his right hand, he held a plastic tray on which were placed whatever edible scraps he could find. Lickable flecks clung to his ample brown beard. Chewing while scavenging, he was quite leisurely with his task and no one among the many people sitting or standing nearby paid him any attention. Done with one trash can, he moved to the next, and since there were so many in this huge building, I imagined his daily buffet to be quite ample and varied. Continue reading

Spring has sprung again in New York

The sun is pouring down on The Upper West Side, Broadway. The Market is glistening with fresh produce. And life suddenly seems more livable and invigorating. I’m watching the trees blossom, some white, some pink, and it all seems a miracle happening all over again. Life, precious life, is here again. Yet over the rest of the world the same can’t be said. Life in the Ukraine is like a bad dream. Kiev is leaning against Eastern and Western Crimea and outbreaks of hostility are taking place and taking lives. Continue reading

Postcard from the end of America: Bensalem, Pennsylvania

When I told my friend, Anwar, of my plan to traverse Bensalem by foot, he laughed, “You can’t even walk there. There are no sidewalks!” Though this is not quite true, I did find myself mostly schlepping on edges of roads or people’s lawns. To not get splattered by SUVs, sometimes I had to hop puddles or even step in mud. Continue reading

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

Siren City—is it so bad?

I don’t need an alarm clock, even when we have to get up to catch a plane. The sounds of my Upper West Side neighborhood are filled with catastrophic siren sounds. We don’t need birds before the dawn has cleared away the night; we have ambulance sounds whose decibels scorch your ear drums. We also have police cars that make thumping sounds that are other worldly. And to top it off, we have screaming fire engines with honking horns that can wake the dead. For all this, New York City remains one of the most expensive cities to live in. Ah wilderness, Sleepy Hollow. Continue reading

Perazzo’s, the family funeral parlor

I’ve been going to Perazzo’s all my life, from the time when it was family-owned and catered to Italian families, until a few years ago when it was privatized by a corporation. 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

A gift from the past

It was Christmas of 1991 and my father was in St. Vincent’s Hospital diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. My daughter Stephanie who was at NYU film school at the time was charged with helping clean out his apartment. As luck would have it, she found a wooden box full of super-8 films that he had shot of my mother (who would tragically be gone at 38) leaving my uncles, aunts and grandfather in Brooklyn, NY. 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

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