Philadelphia, 2013 by Linh Dinh
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. "I'm not doing as well as my parents, but I'm not trying as hard either," John confided as he sat in McGlinchey's, a pint of Rolling Rock in front of him. It was late afternoon, and the place was still quiet, with the jukebox interfering only intermittently. On four televisions, golf balls sailed or skated around cups.
I had come in after recording a segment for Press TV at a nearby studio. Seeing me in suit and tie, Shelley, the bar owner, grinned, "Coming from church?" On Iranian television, I had assumed a serious face to talk about China and the US, how China will try to muscle the US away from the Western Pacific, and how it is moving to supplant the US Dollars, first by trading with various countries (including American allies such as Japan, France and Australia) in their own currencies, then eventually having a gold-backed Yuan, at which point game's over. I pointed out how China is intertwining itself with Europe through increasing trade and an extensive rail network completed or in progress. Already, freights can be moved by rail from Holland or Belgium to China. The US is still top (bull)dog thanks to its military and control of the world's banking system, but China is gaining status and leverage through manufacturing, increasing trade ties and infrastructure improvement and linkages. Unlike the USA, it has a long term economic vision, and soon enough, may flash its claws and fangs and show itself no less of a bully, as is already evident by its belligerence in the South China Sea. With the decrease of cheap oil and gas, global economic growth is over, in any case, but certain countries may still chug along fine in the near future, but the US won't be among them.
We're so passive, we're doomed! We watch our rights being systematically stripped away with barely an eye roll, and with each passing day, we are becoming poorer, with our wages steadily decreasing and more of us on food stamps than ever. While fixated on sports, singing contests and network news, we're being lowered into our degradation. NSA, FBI, Homeland Security and CIA spooks shadow us for evidence of rebellion and espy nada. After inconsequential Occupy and Tea Party twitches, all is quiet. Those sign waving assemblies merely served a carthatic function, and even wore us out, without threatening the status quo at all. Too easily, they funneled our discontent into the Democratic vs. Republican sewage, with too many of us excited to line up, again, to rubber stamp our defeat.
Underemployed and malnourished even, John is ahead of the curve in our collective stumble towards destitution. A maverick screwup, he's a pioneer of sort, a Neil Armstrong, so let's examine this man a bit more closely. Three days a week, John scrubs and mops at this lowlife bar, and each day, he also goes to Shelley's house to twice walk the dog. In between, he can relax on his boss' couch and stare at the TV.
"Yo, John, how much do you make a week?"
"Ah, I don't want to tell you, but most of what I make goes towards rent."
"I can't see how you make enough to eat!"
"I don't eat that much. I drink beer, and I get my beer here for free. This is also food, you know."
"How much do they give you?"
"Two pints! That's not enough! How can you stop at two pints? Once I have had two pints, I must drink more. Why won't they give you four pints, at least?"
"Maybe you can say something to Shelley about that. You can be my lawyer!"
"Yeah, I'll say something to Shelley. Cheap motherf*cker! But you haven't explained how you manage to eat on almost no money? How do you eat?!"
"I already told you, man, I don't eat that much. I haven't eaten in days! Actually, yesterday, I had three ounces of spaghetti."
"You count your ounces?!"