Trenton, 2013 by Linh Dinh
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. This lack of curiosity is inexcusable, for "there is no place that isn't worth visiting at least once," as Evelyn Waugh wrote somewhere, and which I'd amend to "a bunch of times," for each subsequent encounter can only deepen one's understanding, for people are always infinitely fascinating, no matter where they may dwell, and how they cope with their environment cannot be but instructive. Shoot, man, even Northern Virginia is worth visiting more than once, I'd concede, though that would severely test any sensate being's taste, hope, faith in humanity, tolerance, self-respect and sense of humor.
Having owned a car for less than two years in my life, and I'm two month-shy of 50, I've always been a walker, but I never really developed a passion for aimless walking until I lived in Italy in 2003-2004. Europe is a compact continent with an extensive rail system, so any of its city, town or village can be reached by train, and from the station, you're free to wander as much as you want, without fear of missing your last train back, for there's always one coming, it seems. The towns there are also much more accommodating towards walkers, and even the countryside is walkable, with public paths through fields and orchards.
Then in 2005, I had the luck to be in East Anglia for nearly a year, thanks to a T.K. Wong Fellowship, so I was able to meander through many of the villages mentioned in W.G. Sebald's dirge like masterpiece, The Rings of Saturn, which begins, "In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work." All the places described by Sebald had seen much better days, with some, Great Yarmouth, for example, considered laughable, when noticed at all. Sebald's home city, Norwich, had also become the butt of jokes although it had been England's second greatest city, but such is life, for everything will become (bad) jokes in due time, if not obliterated completely from this unfunny earth. Everything will become New Jersey, in short, if not, horror of horrors, Trenton, friggin' New Jersey.
OK, OK, so listen up, y'all, I was on State Street, just minding my own business, you know, slow sipping a Colt-45 on the steps of the Trenton Saving Funds Society, founded in 1901 and deader than your sex life, when this dude hollered, "You're from Southeast Asia?"
"Ever heard of Angkor Wat?"
"Yeah, that's in Southeast Asia."
"Ever heard of Nagasaki?"
"Yeah," I grinned, "but that's not in Southeast Asia. That's in Japan, man. That's where they dropped the second atomic bomb!"
Ignoring my irrelevant information, this man, about 30, continued to quiz and educate me, "Do you know where the word n-word comes from?"
"Negro? As in a mispronunciation of negro?"
"No, man. Negro comes from naga, and naga is a sacred snake. If you're a Southeast Asian, you must know how sacred the snake is, for you guys have turned the snake into a dragon, like Bruce Lee, enter the dragon! So the black race is sacred. We are the original and most powerful race, but the white man can't stand this, so they have corrupted our name from na-ga to nig-ger. Are you following me?"
"The white man would have you believe black people are only from Africa, but that's nonsense! We were everywhere. We built Angkor Wat and the Egyptian pyramids. To keep us down, the white man has rewritten our history. He wants the world to think we're just savages but we're the original man, the true man and the greatest man. The Buddha was a black man. You ever noticed his full lips and kinky hair? King Solomon was black, and Jesus, of course, was black. From us, everything has come. We're not just black, we're all colors! See those people right there? What do you see?"
"I don't know. Three people?"