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Postcard from the End of America: Palmyra, NJ

By       Message Linh Dinh       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   5 comments

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Palmyra, NJ, 2013
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When out-of-town friends visit, I like to take them to Camden. With its high crime, horrible government and general wretchedness, it's the worst of America's present and, if all goes according to plans, our stereotypical future. Soon as you cross into Collingswood or Gloucester, however, the graffiti, trash, abandoned houses, sagging pants and neck tattoos disappear. In fact, South Jersey is dotted with quaint boroughs featuring relatively active Main Streets.

Just three miles from Camden, Palmyra has two old timey barber shops, a homey Sicilian restaurant, a spacious, porch-fronted bar surrounded by grass, and a most creative donut shop that dreams up treats resembling a Thanksgiving turkey, a mound of dirt with a glow worm or a shark fin sticking out of blue water, etc. With one tenth the population of Camden, Palmyra has a much better stocked supermarket. Outside a hardware store, a horse statue stands in front of a buggy. As is common to any blue-collar town, the Stars Spangled Banner is found all over, including at the Mexican-owned garage and Indian-owned convenience store. A small artillery piece sits on Broadway.

Unlike in Camden, no Palmyra store owner needs to stare at customers from behind bullet-proof plexiglass. Last year, there was no murder or rape. Filthy junkies with rotting teeth don't prostitute themselves even in the afternoon.

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Predominantly white, Palmyra has the distinction of appointing in 1959 the first black police chief in the entire country, and its high school library is named after Clarence B. Jones, an alumnus who became Martin Luther King's principal lawyer and the co-writer of his most famous speech, "I Have a Dream." Making up 14% of Palmyra's population, blacks coexist without tension with whites.

The town is also known for a mud used to rub down baseballs to give pitchers a better grip. A two-pound jar costs $100.

Just north of Palmyra, Riverton is even whiter and much more affluent. It has a yacht club founded in 1865. Almost no house resembles another. Many are huge. Some are Victorian, with elaborate woodwork that's well maintained and freshly painted. About the only crime anyone can cite dates back to 1906, when Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail solo around the globe, was convicted of exposing himself to a 12-year-old girl. The great man claimed to have no memory of it. Slocum was jailed for 42 days and told to never show up again. Nearly broke and no longer feted, Slocum sailed into the sunset three years later.

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Although Rivertonians display almost no American flags, much less military ones, how many have enriched themselves by investing in war profiteers?

With no minorities to speak of, Riverton has dozens of signs proclaiming, "HATE HAS NO HOME HERE." One trumpets, "ALL ARE WELCOME." Surely you've noticed that those who are most ostentatious about their racial tolerance tend to stay clear of all "people of color," which is a most racist term, for it lumps all non-whites together, assumes a solidarity among them that simply doesn't exist and posits whites as a race apart. Fleeing blacks, they voted for a black president and despise whites who actually know how to live and work with blacks, browns and yellows. Standoffish and unsociable, Riverton is a dry town, thus has no bars.

Unable to hobnob with Rivertonians, I trekked to Palmyra's Park Tavern. Filled with light from its many windows, it's unusually cheery for a working-class joint. Only four drinkers, all middle-aged white men, were present. Later, more white men plus one woman would enter. They all knew each other by name. The horse races and a college basketball game were on. Feeling entitled suddenly, I ordered a Guinness for five bucks.

Behind the bar, there's a framed, folded flag, with a certificate:


The Flag of the United States of America
Is Presented to
The Park Tavern
John Gerew for being a Great Friend

This certifies that the accompanying flag was flown at the Headquarters of the Multi National Corps-Iraq in your honor during Operation Iraqi Freedom.


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It's signed by John R. Allen, a black sergeant major, and Lloyd M. Austin, a white lieutenant general. Allen is quoted in several online articles. Duty is stressed, "If you ask any Soldier out there, they'll probably tell you they expect their noncommissioned officers to get them to the right place at the right time, with the right equipment to do whatever mission they're given." In Iraq, Allen's duty was to destroy, then rebuild, "The reason that it's so important for us to grow the Iraqi Army, and that's our primary mission right now, is to train the Iraqi security force, mainly because we destroyed the Iraqi Army." Allen did his duties then retired, but Iraq remains shattered. The man did his job well.

Still mostly segregated after centuries, black and white Americans can unite in fattening the military banking complex and killing, and getting killed by, Israel's enemies. Founded on noble ideals, this country has been reduced to saluting mercenaries and worshipping pieces of cloth or plastic.

The town's name was the idea of Isaiah Toy, a Swede who greatly admired that ancient city. Blindly patriotic, contemporary Palmyrans won't hesitate to destroy all of Syria if ordered.

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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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