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 TeasersLinh Dinh Blogview

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You grew up in El Cerrito, just north of Berkeley, then attended Reed College in Portland. Reed was like a madhouse in the 60’s. Then you went to Berkeley, before heading to Vietnam for four years, during the height of the war. Did you transform from a hippie to a gung-ho grunt?

I was too poor, too conservative and too goy to fit in well at Reed. At Berkeley I ignored the anti-war crowd and graduated in math in 1966.

I went to Vietnam to get out of the Army. IBM needed people to support the State Dept. and military. But… my National Guard signal company was a “designated reserve unit,” first to go if called by Pres. Johnson. They were not letting communications people out.

My sergeant was sympathetic to my problem, and excited that I had the chance to go to Vietnam. He said “The Army ain’t gonna step on its own dick. How’d you like to be a cook?”

In Danang I developed a rapport with the Marines I worked with. Glad not to be one, but respected them as people .

I’m assuming Vietnam was your first foreign country. It’s certainly not ideal to experience any place in during a war, with all its social turmoils and distortions. Still, you stayed there for four years, and even married a Vietnamese. What did you like and hate about Vietnam? Shoot straight!

IBM literally had to throw me out after four years. I loved the work, the warm weather, the freedom, the Vietnamese people and the money. I accumulated $100,000.

All bachelors, we formed the Benevolent Association for Recreation and Fornication—BARFUP. Our mission was to make the most of the outstanding French, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants. We joined the elite French Club Sportif and Club Nautique.

The frustrations were tolerable: beggars, “I watch boys” who would vandalize your car if you didn’t pay protection, traffic cops who wanted bribes.

We developed what the French called la fièvre jaune, an appreciation of the beautiful young women. When one guy, who had divorced just to become eligible for Vietnam, brought his wife over we joked that he was “bringing a sandwich to a banquet.”

It is telling that despite the great availability of women, monogamy won out. Most settled down and quite a few are still married to their Vietnamese sweethearts. And why not? They love children, take pride in their bodies, and generally respect their husbands.

Vietnamese in French schools adopted French names, so my wife was Josée. Josée’s father, born in 1900 to the Bac Lieu province chief, studied law and lived in France. His firstborn of 12 came when he was 40. Mother, 20 years younger, was the daughter of the largest landowner. The incessant squabbles in their marriage presaged those in ours.

You ate your sandwich, and have apparently gotten over your yellow fever. You’re now married to a Ukrainian woman who’s 37 years younger! Can we assume she’d not have agreed to be your wife if you didn’t have an American passport? If so, is there anything wrong with that?

You can’t make that assumption. That would be the hard-up girls looking online to become “Russian brides.”

Looking for a place to practice English, Oksana dropped in on the Anglican church. My decade-older friend Mike chatted her up and squired her to Rotary and Toastmasters—where I also happened to be. Through conversations at their meetings she learned that I wanted to start a family. Mike escorted her to the Toastmasters Ball, where I danced with her.

She wanted to learn to type. My computer had a typing program. I put my arms around her and my hands on hers to position them properly. She still contends that the kiss on the neck came to her as a surprise, but I doubt it.

She played a weak hand well. Just as if she had read The Rules, she gave herself to me by slow degrees. She didn’t agree to marry until we had lived together for half a year. Encouraged by girls from her former dance troupe, she put my generosity to a one time test with diamonds and a fur coat. Satisfied, I heard nothing more. When burglars stole them they were not replaced.

While Oksana would like to see the United States, she has never had any desire to live there. Her family and friends are here.

We talk about our situation often in the context of encouraging mutual friends to get married. We were both somewhat unusual in that we were really committed to starting a family. The miracle is that we figured that out and were able to do something about it.

In between your Vietnamese and Ukrainian wives, you also had a Japanese one. How did you meet her?

I researched IBM overseas offices as my Vietnam tour ended. There was a sister office supporting the military in Germany. I booked an international telephone call—a rare thing in those days—to ask if they had openings.

I loved my time in Germany, learning the language and Spanish as well. I programmed what became an Army standard system—bit of a feather in my cap.

After Josée’s constant fighting led to our separation I discovered that my instincts had been right—the German girls were unromantic, hard-edged feminists. My one love was a Hungarian girl. Had I been wiser, I’d have married her.

When I returned from Germany in 1976, Washington was supposed to be a bachelor’s paradise—three women for every man. Yes, but each had read Sex and the Single Girl, The Feminine Mystique and Germaine Greer. They wanted careers and success—not families. The more attractive and intelligent, the more the corporate world would entice them. Those I met through church, the neighborhood and work were either uninteresting or uninterested.

I met this lovely half Japanese lady in my first week with Booz Allen just as short reconciliation with Josée failed. Within a month we were thrown together writing a government proposal. I had the expertise and the writing skill, Mary Ann knew Booz’ resources and how a proposal should be structured. I asked her out shortly after the victory party. She was surprised when “the bicycle guy” arrived at her door in a 450 SL.

She wasn’t sure that she wanted marriage or children, but gave it a try. However, she soon started her own company and career took precedence.

When you wed a foreigner, you’re also marrying her entire culture. How difficult was this? How did you get along with your foreign in-laws?

My Vietnamese, Japanese and Ukrainian mothers-in-law have all seemed happy that their daughters married somebody who could care for them. With minimal language overlap conversation was scant with the first two. Oksana’s mother and I talk easily about cooking, children and housekeeping. She can’t give me crap—I’m five years older and rather generous. Josée’s father enjoyed speaking of world affairs in French with somebody educated; subsequent fathers-in-law just weren’t interested. I’ve never gotten close to any of my wives’ siblings.

Josée’s friend My Linh and her French banker husband looked askance at the American husband. They didn’t trust America’s or American motives. In Germany Josée was the queen bee in the circle of Vietnamese rural wives, the one with savoir faire, the one who could negotiate in four languages, Vietnamese, French, English and German.

I didn’t form friendships with my wives’ friends until Ukraine. Oksana is extroverted. Her friends tolerate my Russian and/or are eager to speak English. Interest in the world is part of their culture.

What made you come to Ukraine initially?

 

At 80-years-old, you’ve done and seen quite a lot, but you didn’t exactly have an auspicious beginning. You couldn’t even graduate from high school. What happened?

I was expelled! I wasn’t much of a student anyway. I signed up for welding class and woodworking class, so I didn’t have to do any work, but in welding class, the instructor was a friggin drill sergeant from the Korean War! This son of a bitch was always ordering me around, “Do this,” “Do that.” If he didn’t like what I was doing, he’d say, “You, get on the floor, do twenty pushups!”

Right in class?

There weren’t desks or anything, but yeah. I had to get this asshole, so after school, I went back to the shop. There was no one in there, except me, so I welded a bunch of tools onto the welding table! My parents got a call. He knew immediately it was me.

So now what?

I joined the navy, on my 17th birthday. I wanted to see the world. My parents had to sign for me. We were living in Bellevue, Washington. Back then, it only had about 10,000 people. So I flew to San Diego. I had never been on an airplane.

When you enlisted, you had to take a bunch of tests. They had to see what your aptitude was, whether you were a dishwasher, or swab the deck, or being an electrician or machinist. I took these tests and scored very high on them, so it made me eligible for a lot of technical programs. I went to submarine school for about three months, had psychological training there. You had to go through a 100-foot-tall escape tank, to simulate an escape from a submarine. None of that stuff bothered me. I graduated easily.

So where did you go?

My first submarine was a diesel submarine. It had completed patrols in the Pacific in World War II, successfully. It had sunk some Japanese ships, that kind of shit. It had about 70 enlisted men, and 10 officers.

On a submarine, everything was pretty loose. You can have long hair, you don’t need to shave, you don’t need to shine your shoes or any of that shit.

It was pretty cool. This was amazing stuff, I thought. Nobody was at war, 1957, so I had joined an adventure program.

They sent us to Pearl Harbor, but it was only to refuel and add supplies. Not much fresh vegetables. Lots of frozen stuff, frozen meats. The vegetables, they stacked them in the showers, so we wouldn’t be able to use the showers for a few weeks.

I got into a little trouble in Hawaii, because we were only there for a couple days. They only let us out for one night, to get drunk, chase women.

I climbed onto the roof of this nightclub place that had an open-air dance floor. I took these coconuts off this tree, and I was throwing them down onto the dance floor. Just crazy shit.

They didn’t really do anything to me. They just said, “OK, don’t do that shit any more.”

Were you drunk?

I might have been. I hardly drank anything, to speak of. When I was 16 or 15, I may have had a beer that whole time. I smoked, but I didn’t drink.

This was amazing, Linh, for an 18-year-old kid, to experience this, traveling across the Pacific. We ended up having to go through a hurricane on the surface. We were taking 45-degree pitch, and 65-degree rolls, and my job was helmsman, trying to steer this thing.

Cruising at night on the surface, my job was to look out at night, it was very peaceful.

In Hawaii, I bought ten cartons of cigarettes. I smoked Lucky Strike. They were a dollar a carton! I got paid $75 a month. Plus, we got another $30 hazardous duty pay, for being on a submarine. I really didn’t understand why. I didn’t see any hazard.

Seventy days later, we pulled into Yokosuka, Japan. Seventy days.

In Hawaii, we had seven or eight civilians come onboard, which was very unusual. Who are these guys? It ended up they were CIA. Our mission was to spy on a Russian naval base, right off the Russian naval base, submerged, and tap into their undersea cables, to monitor all their communication.

We were laying on the bottom, dead quiet, no engine running. No fans running, just dead quiet, hiding, and listening. There was a Russian destroyer that came out. You could hear their active sonar, looking for us. Apparently, they had an alarm that we were there, or some indication that we were right there.

We were just sitting on the bottom, in about 200 feet of water, not very deep. They started dropping depth charges. You know what those are? They’re big canisters they rolled off the destroyer, to try to kill submarines.

There’s your hazard pay!

Yeah, but we survived. So we were pinned down, and the air was getting low. The air was getting very screwed up. On the bunks, back in the crew’s quarters, we had carbon monoxide absorbent powder. The problem was we couldn’t turn on the air valves. There was no noise allowed. It was a little bit tense.

I remember going into the control room. That’s where they had the periscope and all that shit. I went up to the officer, and I said, “Hey lieutenant, you don’t mind if I smoke a cigarette?”

You couldn’t breathe and you wanted to smoke a cigarette?!

I figured I might as well have one more, if I was going to die soon. The officer said, “No, no , no, go ahead,” so I took out my Zippo and my Lucky, but the lighter wouldn’t light! He just laughed at me. There wasn’t enough oxygen to light the lighter.

So we weren’t caught by the Russians. We escaped, finally. They gave up after a while. Going deeper, we slowly crept out of there.

Eventually, we got back to Yokosuka, where the submarine was put onto a dry dock to be repaired. The hull of the submarine was damaged from the depth charges. It caved in from the compression of the explosions underwater.

It took six weeks to repair the submarine, so we had six weeks of rock and rolling! Can you imagine an 18-year-old kid, going into… Women everywhere, bars, 18-years old! Woo! Rock and roll!

Here’s a funny one. Halfway through, the chief of the boat, Jenkins, said we’re going to have a ship’s party. He said, “Everything in there is paid for! Everything.” Anyway, the ship’s party was in a brothel! It was at a fuckin’ brothel, with free pussy for everybody!

Jenkins was like a father to the other enlisted men. Besides organizing group activities for the crew, he also lent money to you if you were broke, and you paid him back on payday.

Did any man refuse to go to the party?

Oh no, no, no, we all went. What do you mean?

There might have been guys who were super religious, who didn’t think it was right.

No, no, no. They’re submarine sailors. What do you think?

It’s interesting, we had black guys on there too. Two or three black guys. At the time, black guys could join the navy, but they could only be stewards to the officers. You know, servants. Same with the Filipinos. They could join the navy, but they couldn’t be an electrician, torpedo man or anything. They had to work as stewards, as servants for the officers. It was pure racist crap.

It’s interesting, Linh, but where I grew up, during my entire existence, up to that point, I don’t think I had seen a black person, in person. Maybe on TV, you know. Like most things, I didn’t give it any thought.

One of the black guys became my best friend. We’d go get some women together, and stuff like that, and drinks.

He ended up with a girlfriend, after about two weeks there. I found a girl that I semi fell in love with, at 18. I stayed at her place most nights, that I could.

Then we went to Hong Kong. As a young, 18-year-old kid, and knowing very little, it was really amazing, the shit I went through, and discovered.

 
• Category: Culture/Society 

I just interviewed an American who’d traveled for five years straight, but you have been outside the US for 18 years altogether. Why, first off, and how have you been able to sustain yourself? Was there no place you wanted to settle? Will you ever return to the US to live?

I had always wanted to travel and see the world. I liked the idea of learning new languages, meeting different people and experiencing life in other countries. So, with a degree in literature I decided to go to Latin America and teach English. I worked in several small Latin American countries. The contrast between life in the USA and Latin America was striking. I was in Caracas soon after the banking crisis there. Students at the school where I taught had come to class crying after losing their life savings; the whole country became impoverished. I recall one morning a teacher showing up late for work because the police had literally kidnapped him off the street, taken him downtown, put a bag of cocaine on the table and said, “If you don’t pay us $200, this belongs to you.” That happened to a couple different people I knew in different countries. It almost happened to me, once. The trick is to be polite but firm, not to give in. “Officer, you say my papers are not in order? Let me show you again the visa stamp.” They don’t want a scene. I also worked in Ecuador, when, after just months in power, President Abdalá Bucharam embezzled millions of US dollars, held a party celebrating his young nephew’s own first million working as customs officer, then put out a CD of himself singing his favorite songs, which looked like an incredibly stupid distraction tactic. To the Ecuadorian people’s credit, Bucaram’s antics sparked a mass popular uprising. My boss told me not to go outside during the protests, because they might turn violent, but I couldn’t resist. There were marches and chants, tires burning in the streets, Bucaram hung in effigy. The Ecuadorian Congress voted him out of power on the basis of mental instability, and he fled to Panama with tens of millions of dollars. I saw how in Ecuador and many other Latin American countries, people didn’t trust each other, there was a higher tolerance for dishonesty, the public services were dysfunctional, there was endemic corruption, bad medical care, public littering, not much in the way of intellectual culture, but a good dollop of crime, and no shortage of people blaming America for their countries’ screw-ups. I didn’t want the United States to become like that.

When I went back to the USA in the mid-90’s, I tried talking to people about the problem of mass illegal immigration from Latin America. Back then, immigration was still a taboo topic. Pat Buchanan hadn’t been able to get the Republican nomination in ’96. Republicans let themselves be convinced he couldn’t get elected. I mean the guy actually wanted to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants, for Christ’s sakes! I still tried to persuade people that our immigration policies, especially mass illegal immigration from Latin America, were going to cause real problems. I remember having a conversation with a young woman who had just graduated from Duke University. She was smart, well-adjusted, and good-looking. After explaining to me that the USA was a white supremacist country, I thought: another one off the deep end. But later, I remember watching a TV news segment on “whiteness”. It featured a traumatized teenage white girl emerging from some struggle session, whimpering through her tears and snot, “I’ll never take advantage of my whiteness again!” I remember the moment. I was stunned. The virus was spreading. I didn’t understand why so few people appreciated the risk posed by this rising tide of anti-white sentiment mixed with poorly controlled mass immigration of people of color.

I didn’t see the immigration-moderation movement having the power to effect much change. So, I left for Asia. China was my first stop. I taught English in Guangzhou. That was a great experience. The students sometimes told me about their lives in China, about their experiences growing up there, including what they themselves didn’t like about Chinese people and Chinese society. I learned a lot and grew to like many of them. Almost all of my enduring friendships from that time are with Chinese from the countryside. They are often earnest and sincere, very decent people. I spent some time in a western province, as well, where my Chinese teacher invited me to her home in the countryside for Spring Festival. I ate home-cooked Chinese food and got drunk on moonshine with the men. They assured me that if China and the United States ever went to war, they would protect me. But they wanted to know one thing: how could the people of the United State be so stupid as to have elected a black man president? Well … at least it wasn’t delusional anti-white hatred.

Over the years, I worked as a teacher, an editor, and a writer. It was this last work that finally made me leave China. It’s difficult to be a writer in an authoritarian country, and unlike many expats, I never really bought the idea that China was going to democratize. Five thousand years of authoritarian government doesn’t suddenly democratize because neoliberal economists with PhD’s advance a nifty self-serving theory. I was also fortunate to come into some money at that point, which allowed me the luxury of getting started as a writer. Writers often need outside funding of some sort to take the plunge. I eventually wound up in Taiwan, which is a great country. Even if Xi Jinping and John Cena don’t know it.

You encountered rural Chinese who didn’t understand how American whites could elect a black man. Was that racism? Did they simply expect people to vote for their own? Shouldn’t we be above that? You’ve spent a lot of time in East Asia, so how have you been treated? How do Orientals perceive whites, do you think? And blacks?

I don’t like the word “racism” because lefties use it to attack opinions about race they don’t like. That’s its main function. Anyone on the right who uses it is agreeing to a conceptual exchange on enemy territory, where the opinion-makers have already built their fortifications. Basically, I think what motivated the question was a lack of understanding of the history of race relations in America. A (half) black man became president in part as a result of that history. Cause and effect. But I avoided all that history by simply stating that Obama’s mother was white, which was a cheap answer. I suppose my teacher’s family must have had negative views of black people, or at least of their place in American society. Generally, I wasn’t too aware of that view in China. It wasn’t common in my students, who liked one of my black colleagues. On the other hand, he did have some hurdles to jump through. Some students complained before even taking his class, and the Chinese management initially opposed hiring him. (The school was owned by a Westerner, who overruled them.) I do recall another black teacher from an English-speaking African nation telling me how difficult it was for him to get a job in China. I think it may be that Chinese are generally pretty open to interactions with black people, but that some are afraid to initiate those interactions. Racial perceptions are odd. One colleague was an Asian woman who emigrated from Macau to the USA when she was a few months old. The students were convinced she had a thick Cantonese accent, which in reality was completely nonexistent.

 

With my Escape from America series, I’ve interviewed American ex-pats who have settled in Mexico, the Philippines, Hungary, Costa Rica, Brazil or England, etc., but you’re constantly escaping from one country to the next, with the goal of experiencing all 180 of them! What made you choose such an unusual lifestyle, and how did you prepare yourself for it?

No preparation whatsoever and, in fact, no plan. I’d had what’s called a ‘liquidity event’ back in NYC. Two, actually: a startup sale and then an IPO. Which just means I don’t have to work again if I don’t want to. I was burnt out. 15 years of 10 hour days, grinding towards some pointless goal of accumulation. When I cashed out I wasn’t sure what to do next.

I looked around and decided it was time to leave NYC and the US in general. The path the country was heading down was pretty obvious to anyone willing to look.

So I threw a bunch of stuff in storage. Locked up the apartment. And left. That was 2017 and I’ve only returned now and then: for weddings or near-deaths. I hope to never have to return permanently.

In Tirana, I ran into a folk singer who performed in Turkish, but was actually an American! In his early 40’s, “Dandelion Lakewood” left the States nearly 6 years ago, and has been in Europe ever since, mostly in the Balkans. Busking, he needs just $12 a day to survive. In Tirana, Dandy was paying $8 daily to share a room with another American. Dandy has slept outside, it’s not a problem. Different people have different requirements. You’re obviously in a different category, but most Americans with cash would not have made your choice. You told me you once drove from Atlanta to Juarez to sample an interesting Chinese buffet. Do you think you’ll ever get tired of traveling? If so, where might you settle down, and why?

Right. And I don’t make the money point to brag or anything. I just got lucky. Right place, right time. The bigger point I wanted to make is that guys like me are leaving the US in droves. Even before the pandemic. We are not better or smarter than those that didn’t get lucky. But I think some of us realized that the “juice wasn’t worth the squeeze”. So we bailed. I feel a kinship with anyone that has left America, regardless of their situation.

In terms of traveling and settling down. I don’t know. I have a reckless streak. I always have. Going to Juarez to eat Chinese food, or moving a bunch of gold over the Burmese border, or spending weeks in a Thai jail, or designing the interior of some Chechen billionaire’s yacht. I just can’t stop collecting experiences. That, to me, is real wealth.

I’ve been to around 90 countries at this point. There are a handful of places I could see myself staying long-term. For me, they have the right combination of cost of living/quality of life. Decent infrastructure. Nice people. Low-ish inequality coefficient.

They’re usually Muslim/Asian countries. I think that was the biggest surprise. I want to avoid the forced degeneracy of the West. This is weird as, in my youth, I was the biggest champion of orgies and drugs and personal freedom and all that faux-liberal youth-culture decadent bullshit.

I like being around happy, multi-generational families. People eating together as a family or flying kites in a park or a group of old-timers nursing a 3-hour conversation over a cup of coffee. They still do that!

I am not ready to stop. Perhaps that is the recklessness I was referring to earlier. In German, real estate is ‘Immobilen’. It’s ‘immobiliere’ in French. Even without knowing Kraut or French, I bet you can deduce the meaning… purchasing a home renders one immobile. A lease is a landlock. You’re stuck in one place, one culture, one point of view. To stay in the same place still seems like death to me. Or perhaps a series of small compromises, small deaths, that add up to a more prolonged expiation.

The goal of travel is to court and embrace discomfort. Otherwise, you’re just a fat Boomer on a cruise!

What did you do to spend weeks in a Thai jail?! And how were you treated by the other inmates? To many white nationalists, Muslims are just low IQ losers, and Orientals are just conformists with disgusting culinary habits, yet both groups have managed to maintain their heritage, and hence dignity, better than the degenerate West. Is there any hope for white people, or are they condemned to rage impotently online as their societies unravel? Is Europe better off than America? And which European countries do you think have the best prospects?

The Thailand story is sad–and typical. I’ll tell it here as a warning to anyone reading. This stuff happens and, in retrospect, you should not handle the situation in the way I did. Linh, you can chop this if you don’t think it’s relevant.

I was in one of those seedy beach resort towns filled with decaying, SPAM-tinted Anglo men and their 21-year-old Isaan wives, talking to as many of the men as I could, as they figure fairly prominently in a book I am working on.

A few of the blokes had warned me of a scam going on in that particular town. The locals would wait until you rented a scooter and had a few beers at some local bar, then, when you scooted off home, they’d put three teenagers on a shittier scooter than yours and drive full speed into you. The cops would conveniently be nearby to handle the proceedings.

I ignored this warning as typical ‘falang’ fearmongering, but sure enough, a week into my stay this happened to me. I’d had a big Chang and puttered off home. Three kids on a crappy Vespa hit me out of nowhere. Cops come out. from behind a nearby building: ‘You drunk Mister! You come to station and make right!’ They sounded like some Hollywood-stereotype from the 80s. But they were real and extremely angry.

I was terrified. I had had a beer and driven my scooter (like everyone else in that town) but I had no idea what my ‘rights’ were. Ha! We went to the station and the officer demanded 40,000 baht to make it go away, plus some money for each of the three teenagers that were on the scooter. In the meantime, they had already gone to the hospital after the accident and returned, bandaged up, with hospital bills ready to go. They’d done this under an hour. All three presented the hospital bills to me meekly. I think they were another 60,000 baht.

Conveniently, 100,000 baht is the maximum you can withdraw from a Thai bank branch in one day. Around $3k.

I told them this was absurd. I ‘knew my rights’. Typical American arrogance. After two hours of yelling at each other via Google Translate in their sweaty little station, they made me go back to my apartment and give them my passport, told me they’d be in touch and that I was not to leave Thailand.

 
• Category: Culture/Society • Tags: Thailand 

Borges and Bioy-Casares created a detective who solved crimes from a jail cell. Don Isidro Parodi could help others, but not extricate himself from a false accusation.

Removing themselves from the world, desert hermits were still sought out by those overwhelmed by day-to-day problems, whether financial, familial or perhaps even sexual.

Nathaniel West’s Miss Lonelyhearts is a confused and frustrated advice columnist who’s killed right after supposedly finding religion.

I thought of these curious examples because, recently, a 31-year-old wanted my guidance. Not the best idea, but sure, why not, so we chattered via Skype.

A Vietnamese-American married to a Filipina, he was pondering moving to Vietnam.

“How many times have you been there?” I asked.

“Actually, none.”

“Wow! Why not?”

“I never had the opportunity.”

“Have you traveled much?”

“No. I’ve only been to Canada.”

“Man, you’re in for a real culture shock. You might hate it! Just go there, and see how you feel. Who knows? Has your wife been to the Philippines?”

“A couple times.”

“Hey, why don’t you move to the Philippines? Your wife will fit in better, and you can get by with English. Many Filipinos speak English. They’re all over Asia, singing American music!” I laughed. “First, though, you must go there and see how you feel. Do you have money saved up to last a while?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re probably ten times richer than me, so just go there and see how you feel. Don’t overthink it. Just do it!”

Why would someone with a decent job in the federal government consider moving to a country he knows almost nothing about? Because there’s no sanity or security left in America, and no meaningful resistance. Constantly cowed, everybody is hiding and, hunched over, guarding his cans of baked beans, with the only boldness unleashed pseudonymously online, nearly always against the wrong targets. Unlike Hamas or Hezbollah, Americans don’t even know who they must fight!

How abject is this population that, at one time or another, has been well stoked to hate Japs, Krauts, Gooks, Ragheads, Russians or Chinese, etc., but dare not speak publicly against Jewish power, question outrageous Jewish lies, challenge the racist and genocidal Jewish mindset, or condemn Jewish crimes, even those it has suffered directly, to the point of near annihilation?

After I have written about Flannery O’Connor’s often grotesque depictions of poor whites, I got several incomprehensibly idiotic comments from whites, such as one by “Fr.John,” who accused me of displaying “a non-White’s racial animus to a culture he/she/it? can never be party to.

“Linh Dinh, you ain’t evah gonn’ be wha-yut.

“‘Ways that are Dark’… indeed.”

So even when I’m sympathetic towards whites, I’m accused of hating them, with my pity towards whites construed as my wanting to be white! White ways have become mucked up, indeed, to much Jewish laughter.

Although my “One Night in Amerika” was about Kukes and the infatuation many Albanians have for the USA, I received a bizarre diatribe from a white, “The Soft Parade,” about the Vietnam War, “Your new critique ridden life and cush career, Mr. Dinh, came at the deaths of sixty-eight thousand meaningless men whom your enlightened vietnamese profundity relegates to the errant fluff of a forgotten night in amerika. Indeed you came for ‘a better life’ at quite a low cost, a price that not one vietnamese much less thousands would ever pay on behalf of another. Ah how sweet it is, now that you’re far beyond your butcher brothers here in safety, courtesy of our dead who unlike you, had no reason to leave their country nor wanted to do so.

“Linh Dinh, the enlightened Penn State professor of divisional contempt, party while you got ’em !!”

For probing America’s political, economic and social collapse, and fingering the engineers of this destruction, I have gone from a published and anthologized author to one who survives on PayPal donations, yet I’m accused of having a “cush career” at the expense of dead Americans in Vietnam!

And the assertion that “not one vietnamese much less thousands would ever pay on behalf of another” is preposterously ignorant and sickeningly insulting considering all the Vietnamese soldiers who died during that civil war, at least 250,000 from the South, and up to a million from the North. As I’ve pointed out, they all died for Vietnam, that is, for other Vietnamese, and it’s thanks to this brave and selfless nationalism, there’s still an intact Vietnam, imperfect as it is, while America has been deformed into an unholy mess. Don’t even wave a fist at those responsible, however, but blame Mexican busboys, Muslim war refugees and, uh, me.

Mushy brained, The Soft Parade was only triggered by the title of my article, which he obviously didn’t read, yet his comment was endorsed by “TKK,” and I’m only bringing him up to show how Jews argue, for there’s a well-worn pattern.

By TKK’s own admission, only his father is Jewish, so he’s technically not Jewish, but blood is blood. Although Obama had a white mother, he was considered black, and saw himself as black. Further, it’s TKK’s stance towards Israel, and how he argues, that marks him as ultra kosher.

During Israel’s latest attack on Gaza, residential towers and even press offices were targeted. Since at least 254 Palestinians were murdered, including 66 children, there was much outrage, understandably, but to TKK, Palestinians are actually ingrates, since Jews do so much for them!:

Residents of Palestine receive free medical care, housing, cell phones and social services, but viciously hate the people that provide this largess.

It’s all sound and fury—these crocodile tears over Palestine—signifying nothing.

What population group does this mimic here in the USA?

To TKK, these Arabs should be grateful to Jews for their “housing” and cellphones, and ignore the fact that they have been invaded, kicked out of their homes, stripped of civil rights, when not shot or bombed by their Jewish benefactors.

And notice the last sentence, which equates Palestinians with American blacks. Knowing there’s much anti-black sentiment at Unz Review, TKK is inviting people to think of Palestinians as just troublesome pests, unable to help themselves, yet hating those who assist them. They’re just welfare queens, in short.

TKK thinks the same of me, “How is he different from a welfare queen who keeps a blog?”

As a Unz Review columnist, I average nearly 10,000 words each month. Since TKK shows up fairly regularly under my articles, he’s the beneficiary of my labor, for which he pays nothing, yet I’m the welfare queen! See the neat inversion? But that’s Jewish logic for you.

Palestinians who are abused, dispossessed and murdered by Jews should be grateful to Jews for helping them. A writer who’s read for free is accused of exploiting at least one indignant Jewish reader. The upheavals and bloodbaths Jews have brought to the Middle East become a Muslim terrorist problem.

Jewish orchestrated discrimination against whites is reframed as the stamping out of hateful white privileges and white supremacism. Jewish encouragement of the worst black traits is spun as Jewish social justice, to help the black man.

 

Five weeks ago, it looked like war would break out in Europe. With up to 150,000 Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border, The Saker concluded, “In my professional opinion, what I see is a joint preparation by the Ukronazis and the USA (along with the UK and Poland) to attack the Donbass and force a conflict upon Russia […] It is very hard for me to see how a war could be avoided.” Yet nothing happened.

Until yesterday, many expected the clash between Israel and Hamas to escalate quickly, with Hezbollah jumping in at any moment to hasten the final liberation of Palestine. Just three days ago, Taxi wrote, “There is no stopping the approaching storm of war. There is no stopping the coming blood: the carnage and agony will rush forth unfettered. There is no stopping the mounting push for liberation at any and all cost.” Yet a ceasefire has just been announced.

Though we’re again settled into a lull, who can doubt there will be a war, soon enough, between the US/Israel against Arabs, Iranians, Russians or Chinese?

Though the Saker and Taxi are invaluable observers of their regions, they’re not Putin or Nasrallah, so can only interpret after the fact. Deception is a key part of war, so we’ll be juked by a few more jabs, feigns and side steps, perhaps, before a hellish chasm suddenly swallows a bunch of us.

One second, you’re bored to death. The next, you’re curled up, almost peacefully, with too many holes to count, or maybe it’s time to turn on the TV to watch more explosions.

There’s one easy prediction, though. The US is just about done as a world power, society, economy, concept or even joke.

In a recent article, Paul Craig Roberts invited us to compare military recruitment videos from Russia, China and the US. The first two stress the masculine fearlessness of its fighting men, while the last is an anime, I kid you not, with a squeaky voiced female recounting how she became a soldier, “It began in California, with a little girl raised by two moms.”

There are almost no men in this cartoon. The doctor, physical therapist, college classmates and minister are all female. Two cisgendered rapists, or at least lifelong porn addicts—aren’t they all?—are briefly glimpsed in the background of the lesbian wedding. Marching towards perfect wokeness, toxic masculinity must be canceled.

Here in Albania, though, most haven’t gotten the news the USA is allowing itself to be systematically castrated and lobotomized by its Jewish masters. America is still number one.

This week, I encountered a thick, syrupy dose of this adoration in Kukes, a mountain town in Albania’s northeast corner. On the bus from Tirana, I could see a sign with the Stars and Stripes, “HOTEL / RESTORANT / Bar / WELCOME TO ‘AMERIKA.’”

Here, at last, was the legendary Amerika, with its Statues of Liberty everywhere, on its façade, roof, behind the bar, over the elevator door and sugar packets, etc. There were only Albanian and Italian beers, however, plus Corona, which was dismal enough. Mercifully, there was no Bud, Miller or Coors.

There was also no American dish on its menu, so what made this joint “Amerika,” exactly? Just the name, and all the Statues of Liberty, plus a few odd photos of NYC. As in the USA itself, America was but a rumor or mirage here, and that’s good enough.

On the 7th floor, there was a bar so kitschy, with lots of colored, reflective surfaces and embedded beads, locals could imagine themselves to be in Las Vegas, I suppose. Pricey bottles of liquors were displayed on niched columns. A chandelier with many curling branches hovered over the vested bartender. Rotating, a glass globe flaunted so many inaccessible destinations. Despite such splendor, a bottle of Korca was only $2.

A room in Amerika was $37 a night, not bad for the Shiny City on the Hill, Albanian version. Checking in, I handed a waiter my blue passport. Blurting out something, he held it up for others to admire.

None of them had been there, but one. A man at a nearby table said he had visited Troy, New York, Atlantic City and Albany, a rather odd selection.

“Why did you go to Albany?” I asked.

“Because it sounds like Albania!”

“So you are Albanian?”

“Yes.”

His English was so perfect, I didn’t suspect it, and he didn’t even look Albanian. A sales rep for a multinational, he had been educated in Italy. He would love to drive from New York to Los Angeles, he said.

“That’s too far. You should just go to Texas, then drive to Los Angeles. The Southwest desert is amazing. When I was there, I just felt so free, like an animal!”

Of course, that sounds stupid, but I just wanted to slither into a thorny bush.

On an Amtrak years ago, I talked to a man from El Mulato or Lajitas, Texas. (The latter had a beer-drinking goat as the mayor.) He had just been to Phoenix. Looking shell-shocked, he simply sighed, “I can’t wait to get back to Lajitas.”

Now, if I was a permanent lizard in West Texas, I’d likely fantasize, each night under a million stars, about Sunset Boulevard and the Lower East Side.

Many Albanian cafés are named after foreign places, so in Kukes alone, there’s the München, Berlin, Britania [sic] and New York. Since most Albanians live in rather drab tenements, they need to be transported to Oslo or Paris, sort of, just by walking into a cheerful café with exotic photos, just down the street. In almost none will you find images of Albania, for the whole point is to escape.

At the confluence of two clean rivers, and with jagged, snow capped mountains as a backdrop, Kukes has many spectacular views. Seen every day, though, heaven itself can get tiresome. God, is that you again?

Kukes’ most exceptional feature is out of sight. Fearing an invasion from Yugoslavia, Hoxha ordered a duplicate Kukes to be built underground. Meant for 10,000 people, it was nearly complete when the dictator died.

 
• Category: Culture/Society • Tags: Albania, America, Balkans 

I’m in a tiny Tirana café built around a eucalyptus tree. John Belushi, the Madonna and someone’s deceased grandma charm its wooden walls. I sip a macchiato to start my day. At the bar, an old man in an old suit orders a raki. It’s not quite nine, yet he’s downing a shot of five-alarm firewater. A minute later, another grandpa does the same.

Near the Avni Rustemi roundabout, there are grilled meat joints where I sometimes sit after dark, enjoying the breeze and gazing at the sidewalk. For around $5, I can stuff my face with kebabs, sausages and fries, and drink a large beer. Even in the morning, though, there are old farts at these zgara places, with fat mugs in front of them. Albanians start early, I’ve learnt.

In Shkoder, there are many kebab carts on sidewalks. Served on a soft roll, each costs less than a buck. Some mustard would help, certainly, but this is not Germany. Though no soft drinks are for sale, many carts have raki, though not always advertised. I’ve been advised that raki goes well with kebabs, best eaten with fingers. Fork tines ruin the taste.

Half a liter of raki costs less than two bucks, enough for a temperate slush for two days. It’s much cheaper than beer.

A Shkoderian, Asti, tells me, “I drink raki when I get up, before I drink water, or eat food.” He laughs, showing no teeth. “Some people drink it at five in the morning.”

“But if you start so early, you must keep drinking it all day!”

“True.”

We’re sitting in a café on Skanderbeg Street, not far from the Mother Teresa Statue, with its reverent flowerpots. At other tables, there are five men, all middle-aged. Michael Jackson is on the radio. Outside the plate-glass windows, beautiful young women keep parading by. Seemingly assured, with the world at their high heels or Adidas, they have their own unsquelched terrors.

Most cafes serve raki, of course, but many stores also sell it. Pointing to a tobacco shop across the street, I ask Asti, “They sell raki too?”

“Maybe. Many do. People know where to buy.”

“So it’s not regulated?”

“No.”

Forty-four-years-old, Asti looks at least 60. About 5-10, he has that classic Albanian beak nose, and dresses rather shabbily, usually in a white T-shirt. Albanian men past 40 tend to be much more formal. Even when riding a junk yard bicycle with a plastic bag-covered seat, many wear a suit and dress shoes.

In his 20’s, Asti spent three years in Greece working as a construction worker, gardener, office cleaner or packer in a garment factory.

Asti’s two older brothers also do construction, same as their father, “I am the worst. That’s why I made small money. I was always a dreamer. I read too much.”

Asti has taught himself four foreign languages, Greek, Italian, English and French, with the last his weakest, “I started to learn it after I was 30-years-old.” His English is fluent enough, with few mistakes, such as his substitution of the French “magasin” for the English “store.”

Asti has written a 200-page novel, longhand, “As a boy, I had two dreams, learn a foreign a language, and write a novel.” So he’s done it, though it’s only read by maybe three people, before being tossed away.

Publishing anything anywhere is nearly impossible. With a population of just three million, Albania’s book market is miniscule, but at a Shkoder sidewalk kiosk, I saw translated titles by all these authors displayed: Orhan Pamuk, Amos Oz, Mario Vargas Llosa, Junot Diaz, Bukowski, Richard Kapuscinski, Jane Austen, Homer, Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Swift, Goethe, Voltaire, Pushkin, Dumas, Orwell, Pasolini, Kundera, Kafka, Sartre, di Beauvoir and Faulkner. There were also several Kadare novels, of course, and serious history books, such as Jack Weatherford’s Genghis Khan, Misha Glenny’s Histori e Ballkanit and Bhuto’s Pajtimi [Reconciliation]. All this, at a tiny shop in a provincial city, so don’t tell me Albanians aren’t civilized.

Moving boxes and delivering for a food and beverage distributor, Asti makes less than 100 euros a month, but his duties are light. Often, he just sits at a nearby café. “I have a problem, you see. I’m slightly schizophrenic. I must take medicines every day.” Mixed with raki, they’re curing his madness, apparently.

To give you an idea of prices here, a fat baguette is about 60 cents. A sandwich costs $1 to $1.50. In a rather nice Shkoder restaurant, I saw an old man order pilaf with a single kebab for just a buck. A macchiato is 50 to 70 cents at most cafes. A bus ride in Tirana is 40 cents, and 30 cents in Shkoder.

Earning just over 200 euros monthly, Asti’s wife labors in a garment factory. They have two girls, aged 14 and 11, and an 8-year-old boy. One afternoon, he joins his dad and me for a long walk through the mostly drab outskirts of town. Three overgrown concrete bunkers are rare highlights. Quiet, the kid is just happy to be out of the house. We pass two young men on a motorbike truck.

“Gypsies,” Asti explains. “They buy junk.”

Another time, Asti has joked, “The Gypsies, they beg all day, then sing and drink until three in the morning. A Gypsy boy starts to smoke at 3-years-old, drink alcohol at 5-years-old. A Gypsy girl is a mother at 12-years-old.”

And, “A 15-year-old Gypsy leaves her 3-year-old boy at an intersection. When someone says, ‘Why are you leaving him there like that?’ She says, ‘I’m too old to work. He makes more money than me.’”

And, “During Communism, the border guards shot everybody who tried to escape, but not the Gypsies. If they saw a Gypsy escaping, they’d say, ‘Have a safe trip! I hope you’ll have a nice life over there! Don’t come back!”

When Asti was 14, soldiers dragged to his village two corpses behind a truck. These young men had been tortured then shot for escaping. With everyone gathered, a soldier asked a woman while pointing at a mangled cadaver, “Do you know who that is?”

“No.”

“It’s your son,” he laughed.

Asti, “I will never forget that. He had bullet holes in his face and on his chest. No one could recognize who he was. They showed the corpses to all the villages, to scare people, you know, from escaping.”

Asti also told me about Dom Simon Jubani, a Shkoder priest who was jailed, and often tortured, for 26 years. In late 1990, Father Jubani conducted an illegal mass at a cemetery attended by thousands. His book, From the Depths of Hell, I Saw Jesus on the Cross, has not been translated into English, only French.

 
• Category: Culture/Society • Tags: Albania 

Is Albania, believe it or not, for here, you can walk around, sit inside cafes, bars or restaurants, worship at a packed church or mosque, and travel by crowded buses between cities, etc.

Though you’re supposed to wear a mask in public, most folks do so with their nose sticking out, because it’s hard to breathe otherwise, and unhealthy, too. That’s good enough for the easy-going cops.

All these people can enter Albania without a visa, vaccine passport or even a negative Covid test, and stay up to a year: European Union citizens, North Americans, most South and Central Americans, Turks, Kuwaitis, Israelis, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, South Koreans, Malaysians, Singaporeans, Australians and New Zealanders, plus a few more.

After decades of Communist isolation, Albanians are happy to reclaim their Western heritage. A bookcase is painted on a downtown high-rise. Among the authors featured are Homer, Aeschylus, Cervantes, Dante, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekov, Twains, Dickens, Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, Kafka and the Brothers Grim. Albanian giants such as Kadare, Agolli, Fishta, Arapi and Poradeci are also honored. Unlike elsewhere, the Western canon is not assailed or canceled, but upheld and extolled.

Sidewalk book vendors are common, so Albanians are obviously reading, and not just junk either. I’ve seen volumes by Camus, Dostoevsky, Orwell and Hitler, etc. Albanian minds can still stay open.

In an old man’s bar with plenty of character, there are five wine bottles with labels showing a portrait of Mussolini, JFK, Lenin, Hitler or Stalin. Sharing the same shelf are skull and penis shaped liquor containers, and a laughing buddha.

In a more Jew-screwed nation, this goofy display would undoubtedly trigger complaints, protests and maybe even a riot that burns up half the street, if not much of downtown. Luckily, I’m in Albania.

There’s a Frederic Chopin monument here. Born in Poland, Chopin spent nearly all of his adulthood in France, and had nothing to do with Albania. As an important cultural figure, however, and not just in the West, but globally, why shouldn’t Chopin be celebrated in Tirana?

Those who reject even the best of their heritage are lobotomizing themselves. Go for it!

In my building, I’m friendly with a man roughly my age. Introducing himself, he said, “Just remember me as the guy with the hat,” and sure enough, he always wears the same baseball cap.

Like many Albanians, he has emigrated, but returned after only a few years in Greece. Vaguely dreaming of America, he entered the immigration lottery, and actually won, but by then, he has changed his mind.

“I have a cousin in Illinois,” he said. “He told me Albania is better.”

“I agree,” I laughed.

“Really? I should tell people you said that.”

“In every American city, there are homeless people all over. If you go to San Francisco, for example, you’ll see homeless people all around City Hall, right in the center! Many of them have gone crazy. Many are on drugs. They shit in the streets!”

“Hmmm.”

“There are almost no homeless in Tirana.”

“We have family. We take care of each other.”

“There are beggars here, but not too many.”

“Most of them are Gypsies.”

“Is your cousin in Chicago?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe just Illinois. Every year, he comes to Albania and stays for six months. He wants to retire here.”

“Does he have children?”

“Three. Two boys, one girl. They are big.”

“Have they been back here?”

“No, they work, all the time. They have good jobs, but they can’t get married,” he chuckled.

Near us, there were half a dozen boys playing. Hearing English, they decided to join in, but their vocabulary was limited to just “hello!” and “hi!”

Walking down a side street, I heard “hello” repeatedly, but there was no one in front or behind me. Perplexed, I finally looked up to see two small boys inside a sixth-floor window. “Hello! Hello!” I returned their greetings, waves and smiles.

My North Macedonian friend, Alex, has a peculiar habit. As we wandered through the back streets of rarely visited towns like Veles and Shtip, little kids would sometimes get very excited to see me, so Alex had to answer their questions. When they asked Alex where he was from, however, he’d also say, “Америка!”

“Why did you say that?” I asked.

“It’s more exciting for them! If I told them I was North Macedonian, they’d think, Who cares? Now, they can go home and brag about seeing two Americans today!”

Though Albania is wide open, there are very few tourists here. In 2 ½ months, I’ve only seen eight Orientals on the streets, plus two Chinese cooks inside restaurants. I’ve chanced upon American English maybe ten times, but Italian just twice. Once, I ran into a group of Turks. I’ve never gone this long without seeing a single black.

It has been raining too much, but with more reliable sunshine, visitors will come. Ali, a taxi driver, certainly hopes so.

Impulsively one morning, I paid Ali $24 to take me to Durres, 24 miles away. It’s a pretty good deal, and Ali could surely use my business. Too often, I see him just standing around near the Swiss Embassy, his usual spot. This also gave us a chance to chatter.

Like the man with the hat, Ali has also gone abroad. He spent six years in Australia.

“Wow! How did you get a visa for that?”

“I paid,” meaning to the right people.

After sweating his ass off at various menial jobs, and saving almost nothing, Ali returned to Tirana, his hometown.

Here, Ali got a job driving trucks, then buses, before becoming a cabbie 15 years ago. Until the Covid mess, everything was going fine.

Ali also got married then, so his son is almost 14, and his daughter, 10. He showed me their photos.

“Nice kids! Are they good students?”

“No,” Ali laughed.

As his name indicates, Ali is Muslim, but only nominally.

“It’s Ramadan,” I noted, “but all the restaurants are busy. Nobody is fasting!”

“Some people are. My kids are fasting. I’m not.”

“They’re better Muslims than you are!”

Ali just shrugged.

After the collapse of Communism in 1991, thousands of Albanian boat people fled to Italy from Durres. This ugly, chaotic exodus lasted until the end of that decade.

Now, Durres is a very pleasant city with an elegant seaside promenade. Before Covid, ferries departed often for Bari, Ancona and even Trieste (where James Joyce spent nearly a decade). Soon, buses will resume their daily routes to Athens.

 
• Category: Culture/Society • Tags: Albania 

In the visual arts, there’s Egon Schiele who died at 28, Seurat at 31, and the photographer Francesca Woodman, who leapt from a window of a Lower East Side building at just 22 years of age.

In literature, there’s Hart Crane. Chugging from Mexico to NYC on a steamship, the 32-year-old poet couldn’t help but hit on some handsome sailors, so got thrashed. Totally trashed days later, Crane keeled overboard. “Goodbye, everybody!”

Sylvia Plath was just 30 when she gassed herself. Her fatal despair also fueled her enduring collection, Ariel, with its fantastically deranged yet much celebrated poem, “Daddy.”

The German-born Otto Plath was a biologist who published Bumblebees and Their Ways in 1934. When Otto died in 1940, Sylvia was just 8-years-old. Although there’s no indication he had any Fascist sympathies, Otto transformed into an uber Nazi in Sylvia’s imagination.

This isn’t just fine but necessary, according to the Jewish critic Marjorie Perloff, “The Age Demanded a universal theme—the rejection not only of the ‘real’ father but also of the Nazi Father Of Us All […]”

Lauding “Daddy” as “the ‘Guernica’ of modern poetry,” the equally chosen George Steiner comments, “Sylvia Plath is only one of a number of young contemporary poets, novelists, and playwrights, themselves in no way implicates in the actual holocaust, who have done most to counter the general inclination to forget the death camps.”

(Far from being forgotten, George, it’s a permanent indictment of the entire West, a colossal hoax that can’t be challenged. Distorting and extorting society, the Holocaust is an insatiable Moloch.)

American letters’ biggest loss to an early death, though, is Breece D’J Pancake. While still a student at the University of Virginia, Pancake shot himself in the head, at age 26. His entire oeuvre consists of just 12 stories, but you’d hard pressed to find a finer batch.

Pancake’s story collection was published posthumously. Though he had joked to his mother that it should be called, “Bullshit Artist,” there’s no false note here. Pancake’s prose is always true and often startlingly fresh, and that’s because he observed and listened very attentively to his native West Virginia.

Stories matter because, at their best, they capture the texture of a place, and give us its inner life also. Beyond their plot or wisdom, they show us how people from a distant place and time really felt, thought and spoke.

Quotidian language is already creative, if not charming and amusing, but the fiction writer is not just a transcriber, of course. He must distill. Consider this exchange between two men, one much older, from Pancake’s “Trilobites”:

The girl brings Jim’s coffee in his cup, and we watch her pump back to the kitchen. Good hips.

“You see that?” He jerks his head toward her.

I say, “Moundsville Molasses.” I can spot jailbait by a mile.

“Hell, girl’s age never stopped your dad and me in Michigan.”

“Tell the truth.”

“Sure. You got to time it so you nail the first freight out when your pants are up.”

I look at the windowsill. It is speckled with the crisp skeletons of flies. “Why’d you and Pop leave Michigan?”

The crinkles around Jim’s eyes go slack. He says, “The war,” and sips his coffee.

“Pump,” “nail” and “skeleton of flies” are so deft and suggestive. Pancake delivers.

“Good hips” instead of “nice ass” is also a nice alteration, and the old man’s “You see that?” is comically authentic.

Of course, stemmed humyns are perked up by good hips, not cloaked up, and youth, as life, ever more life, always seduces, whatever the law. It’s only natural.

If not for this “sexism,” we’d have a society of dour dykes, seething incels and ghastly drag queens, like, well, right now, but I better not say that. It’s not correct.

In “Trilobites,” the narrator, Colly, is briefly visited by his old girlfriend, Ginny. Having moved from West Virginia to Florida, Ginny admits to having a new guy who’s “doing plankton research.”

Still, for old times’ sake, they have sex, and not very prettily, “I slide her to the floor. Her scent rises to me, and I shove crates aside to make room. I don’t wait. She isn’t making love, she’s getting laid. All right, I think, all right. Get laid. I pull her pants around her ankles, rut her.”

Again, the stark, nearly brutal language, but Pancake never allows us to laugh at any of his characters, unlike, say, with Flannery O’Connor. Pancake merges into each one, and through his artistry, we too suffer their desperation, shame and sorrows.

Unlike Ginny, Colly hasn’t been anywhere, “When I was a young punk, I tried to run away from home. I was walking through this meadow on the other side of the Hill, and this shadow passed over me. I honest to god thought it was a pterodactyl. It was a damned airplane. I was so damn mad, I came home.” That’s as close as he’s ever gotten to an airplane.

The dinette’s jailbait is also described as having “Hips and legs that climb steps into airplanes.”

Pancake’s implicit and suggestive style is indebted to Hemingway and his iceberg theory, of course, and his terse prose also betrays influence, but Pancake’s atmosphere, his climate, if you will, is clearly different. It is more grounded, often more trapped, and aches much more.

Further, Pancake’s characters speak with a surer poetry. The younger writer had the better ear, simply put.

Pancake is also more in-tune with the day-to-day grind of ordinary survival. In “A Room Forever,” what a beautiful title, a barge hand describes all the other lonely hearts on a New Year’s Eve, “I look around. All these people have come down from their flops because there are no parties for them to go to. They are strangers who play a little pool or pinball, drink a little booze. All year they grit their teeth—they pump gas and wait tables and screw chippies and bait queers, and they don’t like any of it, but they know they are lucky to get it.”

Get what? Anything, if you’re lucky.

Not knowing what to do with himself, the narrator wanders the superficially festive streets. Feeling mean and low, he enjoys the sight of a drunk bum trying to spread newspapers for his bed, in some cold alley, then he’s softened by the sight of an underaged whore, standing in a doorway, marking him.

They end up in his room, “The darkness is the best thing. There is no face, no talk, just warm skin, something close and kind, something to be lost in. But when I take her, I know what I’ve got—a little girl’s body that won’t move from wear or pleasure, a kid playing whore, and I feel ugly with her, because of her. I force myself on her like the rest. I know I am hurting her, but she will never get any breaks. She whimpers and my body arches in spasms, then after, she curls in a ball away from me, and I touch her. She is numb.”

When he suggests she could stay in this room for the month, get a job at Sears or Penny’s, then pay him back later, she tells him to “just shut-the-fuck-up.” Though he’s slated to ship out the next day, she doesn’t know that, so probably thinks he just wants free sex, but that’s for us to deduce. Pancake doesn’t spell everything out.

Leaving her john, the girl ends up getting plastered in a bar, before slitting her wrists, though without success. She’ll have plenty left to endure.

In Pancake’s story collection, there’s an introduction by James Alan McPherson, and two afterwords, by John Casey and Andre Dubus III. McPherson and Casey were Pancake’s professors at Virginia. Pancake didn’t live long enough to have many literary friends.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Literature 
Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O’Connor

Though Flannery O’Connor didn’t live long, she left us some of the best stories ever written. It’s impossible to overpraise “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” “The Displaced Person,” “The Artificial Nigger,” “Good Country People,” “Everything That Rises Must Converge” and “Revelation.”

O’Connor’s liberal usage of the word “nigger” has always made many people uncomfortable, however, and considering today’s politically correct climate, she’s likely to have been canceled from most college syllabi.

Most damningly, there are passages from O’Connor’s correspondences that even her staunchest defenders can’t whitewash. On May 3rd, 1964, just three months before her death from lupus, O’Connor wrote to Maryat Lee, “You know, I’m an integrationist by principle & a segregationist by taste anyway. I don’t like negroes. They all give me a pain and the more of them I see, the less and less I like them. Particularly the new kind.”

So O’Connor allowed or forced herself to think one way, but felt otherwise. On May 21st, O’Connor elaborated to Lee, “About the Negroes, the kind I don’t like is the philosophizing prophesying pontificating kind, the James Baldwin kind. Very ignorant but never silent. Baldwin can tell us what it feels like to be a Negro in Harlem but he tries to tell us everything else too […] If Baldwin were white nobody would stand him a minute.”

Negroes shouldn’t philosophize, prophesize or pontificate, you see. It’s a white thang.

O’Connor’s disdain and condescension towards blacks don’t show up in her fiction, however. Integrationist by principle, she’s not a racist against blacks in her art.

In O’Connor’s stories, blacks are generally dignified and likable, unlike her idiotic, freakish or criminal white trash. When O’Connor’s blacks transgress, it’s rather harmlessly, like stealing a turkey. They’re not smug idiots, confidence tricksters or murderers, like her white trash.

Unlike the one-armed white trash in “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” O’Connor’s blacks don’t steal your car and abandon your deaf daughter at a roadside diner, miles from home. Unlike the three coolly depraved white trash in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” they don’t shoot your grandchildren, including a baby, before finishing you off.

In “The Artificial Nigger,” a brainless rural white trash, ironically named Mr. Head, takes his grandson to Atlanta, to teach him an important lesson, “Mr. Head meant him to see everything there is to see in a city so that he would be content to stay at home for the rest of his life.”

To Mr. Head’s dismay, the boy, Nelson, was doggedly proud to have been born in Atlanta. An orphan, Nelson had spent his first six months there.

Even on the train there, Mr. Head behaved moronically. Rudely waking other passengers, he read aloud everything on his ticket. Later, Mr. Head declared the name of each passing building, forcing Nelson to hiss, “Hush up!” The boy had more innate dignity than his grandpa.

At home, Mr. Head had stressed to Nelson that Atlanta was “full of niggers,” and since the boy had never encountered one, he was totally unprepared for this nightmare. Now on the train, three blacks appeared.

O’Connor, “A huge coffee-colored man was coming slowly forward. He had on a light suit and a yellow satin tie with a ruby pin in it. One of his hands which rode majestically under his buttoned coat, and in the other he held the head of a black walking stick that he picked up and set down with a deliberate outward motion each time he took a step. He was proceeding very slowly, his large brown eyes gazing over the heads of the passengers. He had a small white mustache and white crinkly hair. Behind him there were two young women, both coffee-colored, one in a yellow dress and one in a green. Their progress was kept at the rate of his and they chatted in low throaty voices as they followed him.”

Much classier than Mr. Head and Nelson, the blacks were headed for the dining car. Later, Mr. Head also took his grandson there, but only to look. They couldn’t afford it.

Shooed away after they had tried to poke into the kitchen, Mr. Head cracked a loud joke about cockroaches that got everyone laughing. Triumphant, they returned to their seats.

For lunch, Mr. Head had brought a paper bag with some biscuits and a can of sardine, but in their excitement to get off the train, they forgot all about it, so went hungry for the rest of the day.

Tossed into the swirling city, both of them were overwhelmed, but grandpa had a strategy, “Mr. Head was determined not to go into any city store because on his first trip here, he had got lost in a large one and had found his way out only after many people had insulted him.”

Walking along, they browsed stores and even inspected the sewer, for Nelson’s much needed edification. Soon enough, though, they were lost. The houses had become much shabbier, and there were blacks everywhere.

O’Connor, “There were colored men in their undershirts standing in the doors and colored women rocking on the sagging porches. Colored children played in the gutters and stopped what they were doing to look at them. Before long they began to pass rows of stores with colored customers in them but they didn’t pause at the entrances of these. Black eyes in black faces were watching them from every direction.”

In this “nigger heaven,” Mr. Head was too intimidated to ask for directions, so it was left to the boy to approach a woman.

During their brief exchange, the motherless boy was overtaken by a painful, deeply smothered yearning, “He suddenly wanted her to reach down and pick him up and draw him against her and then he wanted to feel her breath on his face. He wanted to look down and down into her eyes while she held him tighter and tighter. He had never had such a feeling before.”

Unaware of this turbulence, the sweet woman merely responded, “You can go a block down yonder and catch you a car take you to the railroad station, Sugarpie.”

Since Mr. Head had never taken a streetcar, they didn’t board one, but merely follow the tracks. When you’re so ignorant yet proud, everything is impossible. Too exhausted and hungry to go on, Nelson had to sit down on the sidewalk, and when he dozed off, Mr. Head had an inspiration.

O’Connor, “He looked at the sprawled figure for several minutes; presently he stood up. He justified what he was going to do on the grounds that it is sometimes necessary to teach a child a lesson he won’t forget, particularly when the child is always reasserting his position with some new impudence. He walked without a sound to the corner about twenty feet away and sat down on a covered garbage can in the alley where he could look out and watch Nelson wake up alone.”

Nelson’s latest impudence was to ask that black lady for help. He needed to be taught a lesson for showing up his grandpa. White trash on a trash can, Mr. Head waited for Nelson’s waking terror.

The boy slept on. Impatient, Mr. Head finally kicked the trash can to jolt Nelson awake.

O’Connor, “Nelson shot up onto his feet with a shout. He looked where his grandfather should have been and stared. He seemed to whirl several times and then, picking up his feet and throwing his head back, he dashed down the street like a wild maddened pony.”

 
Linh Dinh
About Linh Dinh

Born in Vietnam in 1963, Linh Dinh came to the US in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). He has been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, among other places. He is also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013), and translator of Night, Fish and Charlie Parker, the poetry of Phan Nhien Hao (2006). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. His writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and he has been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Reykjavik, Toronto and all over the US, and has also published widely in Vietnamese.