Category Archives: Features

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

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

African safari trip of a lifetime

The most amazing thing I learned on my first safari trip in South Africa is that elephants have the most incredible, very long black eyelashes. Second, lions could not care less about nearby trucks and people, nor lights at night. Third, though giraffes seem to walk slow and gracefully, their legs are so long that they cover long distances very quickly. 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

We let the Third World starve—the disaster can be stopped

Activist Jean Ziegler, “I am so radical, because I know the victims” Continue reading

Why not warmth in Afghan duvets?

KABUL—The Afghan Peace Volunteers are a group of young people in Afghanistan who are committed to learning about and practicing Gandhi’s nonviolence. Many of them live in a house in Kabul. I had met this inspiring group when I visited Kabul in the spring of 2011 with an organization based in the USA called Voices for Creative Nonviolence. In mid-November, I had the opportunity to return to Kabul and spend a month living, working and playing with the group. Continue reading

A first visit to sub-Saharan Africa—peace and wilderness

When you first visit a sub-Saharan country, in our case Tanzania, on a safari tour, you easily get the impression that this is paradise. Wild animals in a healthy environment who live together, most of them getting along wonderfully well. Obviously though, in spite of the superficial impression of peace, when you see a lioness with her two cubs tearing at the pieces of a recent kill, you realize that what governs the lives of these wild beasts is the law of the jungle. Continue reading