I've spent 13 of the last 17 months outside the USA, and have no plan or wish to return.
I wouldn't mind an honest cheeseburger now and then, however, but each version I've had here has been awful, with the worst something that came in a plastic bag, with the "burger" a brownish orange paste to be squeezed from a packet. Vietnamese pizzas, too, have been gross, with the crust too sweet and rubbery, the toppings scanty and scammy, and the no tomato, no cheese taste desperately jazzed up by squirts of mayonnaise and hot sauce. In downtown Saigon or Hanoi, there are first rate burger and pizza joints, I hear, but I rarely go there. In Osaka, Japan, I did have an excellent burger at a MOS.
My Americanness also surfaces in flash fantasies about baked macaroni and cheese, mashed potato with mushroom gravy and chicken fried steak, which I actually ordered at a Phnom Penh bar, only to have my spirit and dignity spat on, for everything about it was wrong. The best versions I've had were in San Antonio and Wolf Point. Richmond wasn't bad. McCook was disappointing.
This morning, I got a distressing missive from "Beth," not her real name, to say that her marriage with a Pakistani doctor is over, since he's gotten his green card and doesn't have to be nice to her anymore. "I suppose he only thought of me as an American woman to use up and throw away and then bring his Muslim family over here."
There were many red flags. Younger, Farooq was better looking than Beth. Plus, he sounded quite gay bantering with his many Pakistani FaceBook buddies. "It's a huge subculture," Beth informed me. "They're all married, they all f*ck each other and they don't think it's cheating." She pulled up page after page of guys striking cutesy poses. Every so often, a box of condoms would be delivered, but almost none was sheathed on their cold bed.
In an email, Beth describes his final moments, "In the hospital where he died (in Yoshida, a state hospital his sister-in-law put him in so as not to spend money on him), various ghosts visited his bedside. Some he wasn't too impressed with, but one older couple that died at different times in the same hospital, were together and would visit dying people to comfort them. They often visited him. There are brown eagles that travel in pairs over the plains of Yoshida and they would fly slowly and gracefully from a long distance all the way to the hospital window. I never once thought of taking photos but now I wish I could look at them again. They were always a bit of magic in our day when they showed up."
Beth's second husband was a Venezuelan, and together, they composed songs in imitation of Cat Stevens. He also beat her up.
At 57, Beth's looks have faded, her health's shot and her spirit's shredded. Still, she has had an interesting life, and she's been loved, too, I believe, if only briefly or sporadically.
Most of my American friends are divorced or never married. When I was still in Philly, my friend Judith told me about her divorce, "I didn't need to be around an angry man all the time. If I want to be angry, I can be angry by myself!" I never saw Judith enraged. Drunk, she would turn sweetly maudlin.
My buddy Felix Giordano claimed no woman had ever said she loved him, not even his wife of nearly a decade. Now 72, Felix lives alone and doesn't even frequent our old haunt, the Friendly Lounge.
Felix, "i'm getting old and cranky too. and getting arthritis too. decided to go in to get an operation to get some metel out of my left foot that still is bothering me.. been avoiding the friendly crowd when dom's not there.. they're so leftist i can't bare to be around them.. vern's the worst, he frothed at the mouth with his hate sh*t.. so for old times sake i avoid him or leave when he starts his sh*t.. want to move away now... and my daughter is on a hate dad kick again. so she's threatened that i'll never see my grandkids again stuff.. i'm gonna look for some cheap place 30 or 40 miles out of philly, in the country.. and people are still real.. or maybe something cheap in bridesburg.. i have more friends up that way anyway.. and those great dive bars.. haven't been to the pennsport lately... been to o'jung's, nickles and the black cat... been meaning to go to fatso's again.. but in truth without you around i'm afraid i'll drink too much.. been mushrooming near billy boys, but didn't go in for the same reason.. been trying to paint to not get depressed.. the hate climate in this neighborhood is so fucked up.. you are lucky you never had any kids.. the only reason mine ever bothered with me is she still thinks i'm rich... don't know why i never became a junkie on kensington ave?"
When I last saw Kensington nine months ago, there were several tent cities there, filled with junkies, mostly white and under 35, and as the city cleared one after another, new encampments sprung up, for the hopelessness never went away. Some of these Kensington addicts wander onto Delaware Avenue to beg, and Felix would often say when he spotted one, "He's sure enjoying his white privilege!"
Alas, Jack's Famous Bar is no more. I took a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter to this Kensington institution and introduced her to Mel, its literate owner. On Christmas Eve of 2014, evangelists marched into Jack's to give each cheap beer nurser a care package, and I opened mine to find bits of calories, Planters salted peanuts, TOP RAMEN instant noodles, Twizzlers "strawberry" licorice, Starburst "fruit" chews and Nerds gotta-have-grape candy pellets. Of course, there were also several Christian booklets, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, The Poor Revolutionist, Smile Jesus Love You and The Gospel According to Saint Luke, much condensed. Before I left Philly last year, Jack's had just been bought by some "Asian guy," who promised to keep the place intact, including all of its decades-old liquor bottles on the shelves. He lied.
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