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Lonesome Yanks

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Lonely man in Friendly Lounge
Lonely man in Friendly Lounge
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I was sitting in the Friendly Lounge, one block from my Philly apartment. Next to me was a 59-year-old man, Robert . Seeing my wedding band, he confided, "You're lucky to have somebody to go home to. I always had a lover, a boyfriend, but I haven't had anybody in ten years. And it's not the," and he suddenly dipped his head down near my crotch, "but the support, you know. I can't just go home and say to somebody, 'b*tch, I love you!'"

I was getting buzzed in Dirty Frank's, downtown Philly's second cheapest bar, when an old friend proposed, "You should come over some time. I'll make you dinner." She knew I was married. On another occasion, this lovely woman moaned, "I just want somebody to love." On a third, she called me after 2AM, "motherf*cker, where are you?!"

Sitting home, I received an email from a Vietnamese poet who lives in a sunshiny state. Though I've known this unhappily married 40-year-old for more than a decade, we've never met face-to-face. In Vietnamese, she wrote, "Crazy teacher, please help me to translate: I'm aroused. I'm horny. I'm a prostitute. I'm an aroused prostitute. I'm an extremely horny prostitute. Thank you very much."

I cite these handy examples not to embarrass anybody or to, God forbid, present my splotchy carcass as somehow in demand, but simply to point out the loneliness that afflicts this society is so appallingly pervasive and, I suspect, unprecedented. Our infants are immediately removed from their moms, our toddlers are parked in front of blathering televisions when not institutionalized, our dating millennials stare at separate iPads, our married couples hide their sexting and porn habits from each other, our old people blunder down a dark hallway or endless sidewalk alone. Else, they lie unvisited, waiting for death, and when kaput, may not be discovered for a week, as happened to my friend Lee Goldston. Yo, Lee!

In 1970, only 17% American households had but a single person, but it's up to 27.5% now. Moreover, many of those who live with others may be sharing a dwelling with annoying strangers, or curled up in their parents' basement. Take Robert's situation. In a house with four other people, he has a room "the size of a napkin." Each time he uses the bathroom, he's "afraid to step on the floor. The ceiling tiles are falling down. The wall tiles are falling out. It's gross in there!" And Robert never uses the kitchen because that's filthy too. No one ever washes the dishes. In short, it's not a home, but then most Americans don't really have one anyway.

For many, it's merely a spot to lie down after the long commute. For others, it's a nest that can be blown away after the next missed rent or mortgage check. Made of sheetrocks, marathon loan payments and always rising taxes, an American home is about as permanent as a bad sitcom. To have no true home is to be constantly anxious, if not panic stricken, and since many of us are also isolated, physically and psychologically, what you have, then, is a society of frustrated, angry, ashamed and nervous wrecks. No wonder we take more drugs than anybody else!

One man who still has his family home is my acquaintance, Bill. For a decade, Bill made beaucoup bucks as a computer technician but, at age 44, had to switch career to become a transit policeman. (He even applied to Homeland Security, but wasn't hired.) Assigned to a shopping mall, Bill had to occasionally arrest shoplifters or break up fights among unruly teens, but mostly he just strolled around to flirt with selected cashiers. Fresh from Lindenwold, New Jersey, 18-year-old Chelsea with her bleached blonde hair and rose and vine tattoo climbing up one pale arm was particularly enticing. For a few seconds, Bill fantasized about rescuing her from Starbucks. A playa, in short, he doesn't mind living alone in his eight-bedroom, inherited house, though his winter heating bills are a real b*tch. Though a teenager at heart, Bill has also just turned 50, so most nights find him eating turkey, his favorite, while watching Netflix next a huge dalmatian, Myer. Unlike humans, dogs don't experience drawn out illnesses that may last decades. Bill likes it that way.

Thanks to a large inheritance, Jim also has his own house and, unlike Bill, doesn't even have to work. A typical day finds him listening to Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra and Abbey Lincoln while browsing Rolling Stone and CounterPunch. After a leisurely porn pause, he might check in on National Public Radio. At 53-years-old, Jim has never had to take care of anyone save a series of tabbies, and his biggest exertion in life, his greatest achievement ever, was his escape from a decade-long crack habit. Further, Jim considers himself a "revolutionary," though the only people he's ever fought were his neighbors. With a shovel, Jim shattered a bar window, then hit a homeless man with a rebar, but it wasn't until he threatened someone with a grass trimmer that he ended up in a psychiatric ward for three days. Out, Jim's back to his half-listening, half-reading and half-masturbating routine, and he'll maintain this progressive regiment until social justice is tightly entwined in a 69, yin yang fashion, with equitable wealth distribution. Actually, forget the second part, for there's no way Jim will share one square inch of his two-story house with anything larger than a slim cat. Jim likes it that way.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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