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An American in Brighton

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

Dan, "People here can be very nasty, and in general are very unfriendly compared to the US. This is the only country on earth that hates children, and this shows in the behavior of an often mean-spirited populace. It hasn't been the most welcoming of countries for me, though my serious depression problems haven't helped. In short, the upper classes, as Oscar Wilde noted, are unspeakably vile, and would be laughable if they weren't so dangerous, nasty to the core and the very opposite of life-affirming. The middle classes, like their counterparts everywhere, buy the government line unquestioningly and are dangerously stupid. The lower classes are down to earth and friendly."

At 48-years-old and with a wife and two kids, Dan's unchecked days are over. No more motorbike ride through Spain and France, serial girlfriends or coital vacations in the Philippines and Thailand. Marriage is gravity and kids mean both joyous, most profound life and dragging your own coffin to the grave.

Though we had been communicating for years, we only shook hands for the first time before my reading at the ICA in London. The next day, we prowled around the Ecuadorian embassy, de facto jail of Julian Assange for 41 months and counting. Costing more than 11.1m, half a dozen cops had been kept outside 24/7, but they had been removed just days earlier. On the next block was Harrods. To celebrate Christmas, larger than life-sized puppets jerked in huge windows. Like a dangled being herself, a cleaner glided among them. On the ground floor was the shrine to Lady Di and Dodi, complete with a bronze statue of the chased-to-death couple dancing. Dodi had his shirt open to show off his hairy chest. From their grasped hands, a seagull was about to take off. It was kitsch meets outraged grief.

I had visited Brighton three years earlier. When it comes to any distant place, it's always safe to assume you've seen it for the last time, so it was good to be back. Anywhere you've been has become a part of you, so a return is not just a homecoming but a completion of self. A man who travels too much misses the entire world. There wasn't much to look at on the train ride from London. English houses tend to be brown or gray. Brighton's, though, deploy more colors to cheer up the soul.

Ah, nothing beats having your face pelted nonstop by a cold drizzle as you lean into a stiff wind while walking along a pebbled beach! In Norfolk and Suffolk, I had had this pleasure many times. In Cromer, I nearly fell down an embankment. During my two days in Brighton, Dan and I would just roam and talk. Tired, we would pop into a pub.

"This is very rare for me," Dan confided. "I usually just drink at home. It's too expensive to go out."

"These pubs are too nice, Dan. Where are the crappy bars for old men?"
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"There aren't any."

"Every society, every community, must have crappy bars where old guys can just sit for hours."

"Guys in their fifties should be seen as elders and be treasured for their wisdom. They shouldn't have to work. They should only be consulted."

"They should get all the virgins."

"That too." More seriously, Dan pointed out, "Just about everyone I know here only work part-time, maybe fifteen hours a week. A friend of mine, my age, is a baby sitter. She also has a radio show, but isn't paid for it. Another woman I know is a sex therapist. She's forty. I live in a bubble here and know little of the decadent pleasures of rich London transplants. Many people I've befriended, I met at the unemployed center. They're all on the dole, very politically astute, my types."
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Mostly unemployed for five years, Dan is taking classes to become a gardener. He slung beer and served curry dishes during two brief stretches of work. He has also shoveled and pushed wheel barrows at a community garden. Being a father is also a full time job. "This is not only incredibly hard work, but literally the most important on earth. All dads should have a free pass till their kids are at least five. So yes, I do work. I'm just not paid for it."

He also wasn't paid for three articles published at a high profile American political webzine. "I was so naïve. I thought they were going to send me a check!" He, Rachel, four-year-old Ralph (named after Nader) and one-and-a-half-year-old Freddy occupy a two-room flat owned by Rachel's mom. Their rent is way below market price. A rich man's playground, Brighton is super expensive. "Many people complain how much it has changed for the worse. Not so long ago, it had a much more carefree, edge of the earth, radical feel. It was much more fun." Brighton is England's version of San Francisco, but with far fewer homeless. By the Marina, there's a nudist beach that's almost entirely gay.

In the States, Dan worked as a furniture mover, line cook, waiter, bartender, bag boy, copyeditor, secretary, bank clerk, whitewater guide, lumber yard grunt, assistant manager in a Ralph Nader organization's office, magazine room attendant at a library, childcare worker in a shelter for teenagers and bell hop.

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Linh Dinh is tracking our deteriorating social scape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America . He is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a just released novel, (more...)
 

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