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Obscured American: Manon the Aspiring School Counselor

By       Message Linh Dinh       (Page 1 of 5 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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Before interviewing 33-year-old Manon, I had never talked to her. She only bartends at Friendly Lounge one day a week. The joint was completely empty when we started at noon. Folks can hardly afford a beer anymore.

An hour into our conversation, Tony the cook came in to take his midday break, then a stranger appeared. An El Salvadorian, he said his name was Joseph and a cook at Little Caesars. Though friendly enough, his English was belabored, so it wasn't easy to chat. He did convey that Philly is a joke compared to NYC, where he spent 13 years. Before that, Joseph was in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Though Manon said she couldn't drink on a shift, Joseph kept offering to buy her a shot. Shoving three bucks into the jukebox, he then tortured us with nine Bee Gees hits.

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Eventually, more people came in. Someone played Johnny Cash singing "One Piece at a Time," which made me think, Hardly anyone writes songs about working class life anymore.

Well trashed by then, Joseph got up to leave, but for some reason, he couldn't open the door, which made everyone laugh. This infuriated the stocky man unexpectedly, so I got up to calm him down. Manon then opened the door for Joseph, which pissed him off even worse.

Terrance grinned, "Adios!"

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That was the last straw. Turning around, Joseph growled, "I speak English!"

"And I speak Spanish," Terrance retorted.

Beaming a lethal stare, Joseph spat, "Chinga a tu madre!"

After Joseph left, I said to Terrance, "His machismo was hurt because he couldn't open the door."

"Yeah, he couldn't go through!"

I told Terrance and Manon about my friend Jerome Robinson. Poet, painter, tattoo parlor owner and a member of the Wheels of Soul motorcycle club, Jerome was killed after a teenager had been asked to leave the bikers' clubhouse in West Philly. Minutes later, the kid returned and shot up the place.

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Maybe Joseph will come back to put us in our place? Sure enough, the dude did return, but only to get more sloshed. Glazed eyed, Joseph was as cheerful as ever, with Terrance three stools away. It was no fun to peel myself from such groggy fellowship, but I had to weave home to type up what Manon had said, so here it is:

I was raised in Bensalem. Both of my parents were middle school teachers. My mom was an art teacher. My dad was special ed. They're retired and winter in Sarasota. My mom does a drug and alcohol prevention program up here, and she casually does art. She just had an art show in Sarasota where she sold a couple of pieces.

I had a pretty stable, middle class upbringing. I'm an only child.

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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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