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Postcard from the End of America: Ashley, PA

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

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From flickr.com/photos/8825211@N05/14532211365/: Postcards and Stories of American People
Postcards and Stories of American People
(Image by Stefano Montagner - The life around me)
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p>It doesn't get any better than this. Luxuriating in Dunkin' Donuts, Chuck Orloski and I each have our own cup of coffee and, yes, our individual donut. Shrewd, I have ordered one without a hole since you get more donut for your bucks that way. Biting into a jelly filled, deep fried piece of dough, I too am fulfilled. Momentarily forgetting about his utility bills and the onrushing due date for next month's rent, Chuck smiles goofily as he gazes into the half-filled parking lot. Across the street is a cemetery. Life is good.

Chuck's younger son, 19-year-old Joe, has a new job at the Home Depot warehouse. Joe unloads merchandises, builds crates. Each working moment is pure exertion and the day is as long as several full-length marathons. Joe can deal with it. Soon, he will buy his first car, and it won't be any used piece of crap either. Vrooming on sporty wheels, Joe will add a few inches to his six foot frame and feel all of his muscles, including those behind his eyeballs, harden.

I am staying at the Orloskis for three nights. This morning, Carol, Chuck's wife, is making scrambled eggs with American cheese and canned potatoes. Chuck's older son, Dan, likes to squirt ketchup on it. We also have English muffins. After my third cup of joe, I bark, "Isn't it weird, Chuck, that this guy picked the oldest black church in the South to kill a bunch of people? I mean, it's not just any old black chuch, it has to be the oldest motherfuckin' black church in the South!"

"Yes, it is weird."

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From the kitchen window, I can see four Taylor Borough cops standing across the street. Their preys are hapless truck drivers who are steered onto this road by a bright sign, only to discover, via a smaller sign, that there's a weight limit. Since it's too late to turn around, those who are snared by this devious scheme must pay a $750 penalty, more than a week's wage.

Carol cooks but doesn't eat. I've never seen Carol eaten anything. She is 61 and gravely ill. Several times, Chuck has found her unconscious on the floor. The day before Carol's birthday, she cheerfully said to me over the phone, "If I get up tomorrow, I'll be 61!"

As a bus driver, Chuck meets many interesting people: violent kids who unleash their anger and sadism on those who can't fight back, foreign students working for no pay at a Pocono resort just to glancingly experience America, bible thumpers who are bracing for the Great prostitute of Revelation" If the pay wasn't piss poor, Chuck would enjoy bus driving. At his previous job, Chuck had to clean up horrible messes of all kinds. When a man weighing well over 300 pounds died on a nursing home toilet, it was Chuck's task to remove what the coroner couldn't cart away. Undiscovered for three days, he had started to liquify. We don't just turn into dirt, bones and a heaven or hellward notion after death, we also transfigured into unpotable water. Holding a bag of fecal matters and fleshy slush, Chuck was startled in the hallway by a cancer patient with no skin on his face. The zombie-like man wasn't supposed to be there.

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According to the Revival Baptist Church, the triumph and celebration of gay marriage is another sure sign the end is near, and Hillary Clinton might just be the Great prostitute. Elizabeth Warren has no chance. (After probing and sniffing chicken entrails, however, I can cockily predict that Chris Christie will win the Presidency, do a Caitlyn Jenner and become the Mother of all Whores.) Driving for this fundamentalist church, Chuck met Jesus-fixated Jose, and he thinks I should too. We drive twenty minutes to Duryea, PA.

Jose has a spacious, detached home on a rural looking street. Custom built for only $135,000, it even has a nice basement. Along the Lackawana River just north of Wilkes-Barre, there is a string of little towns that have seen much better days. With the exception of Pittston's, their tiny downtowns are quite dead. Then, coal miners and silk makers brought home the ham hocks to be transmogrified into golonka, studinetz or stinco di maiale arrosto. Now, folks twirl pizza dough, sling beer or sell each other made-in-China stuff in strip or mega malls. In 1910, Duryea had 7,487 inhabitants. Now, not even 5,000.

In Jose's vestibule, there's a large clock and a rustic, wooden sign, "This House BELIEVES." Chuck and I follow our host into the kitchen. On the central counter, there's a blender, and on a wall by the sliding doors leading to a beautiful deck, there's a small radio tuned to a Christian sermon. "I like this preacher," Jose quietly says.

In a crew cut, Jose is a smallish yet very solidly built man, an alert welterweight with good punching power. His voice and demeanor are gentle yet insistent, for he has one message to deliver at all times. On his left hand, there's a tiny, inky "X" at the apex of the web between thumb and index finger. Perhaps more tattoos have been removed?

Working as a hospital security guard, Jose injured his spine while trying to hold down a psychiatric patient, so he's in constant pain. Hoping to feel better, Jose makes his own juice mix and drinks many glasses a day. "At first, I didn't think anything of it. Honestly, I had had bruised ribs and broken, you know, multiple surgeries. There were fights, lots of fights in there. It was a really physical job. I'm in a lot of pain, but I just have to deal with it. It's a part of life. God has a purpose for everything."

Jose on moving to Duryea, "I love it, man, it's peaceful, and it's affordable, you know. I could never afford a house like this in New York City. I'd always wanted to get my wife a house, and now I've done it."

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Astronomical rents in NYC has pushed many Hispanics into Eastern Pennsylvania, so there are many Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in places like Allentown and Bethlehem. A century ago, Mexicans were recruited from Texas to work in Pennsylvania steel mills. "Yo me voy pa' Pensilvania / Por no andar en la vagancia," goes a corrido. "Yo, I'm going to the Keystone State / To be a freakin' bum no more." Most of the Mexicans you see in the region are recent arrivals, however. They join other Hispanics in South Scranton and South Wilkes-Barre, etc. In 2006, Hazelton enacted laws that penalized landlords for renting to illegal immigrants, and business owners for hiring them, but a year later, a federal court struck these laws down.

On July 14th, 2008, a 25-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico, Luis Ramirez, was killed by four white teens in Shenandoah. Acquitted of murder in Schuykill County, two of the defendants were convicted of hate crimes in federal court, with each sentenced to nine years. They could have received life. Derrick Donchak had been the starting quarterback of the town's high school football team. Three local cops were also charged with obstruction of justice, but only two were convicted of lesser crimes. Living in the area for six years, Ramirez left behind his fiance, Crystal Dillman, and their two young children.

Fifty-six-years-old, Jose was born in Brooklyn. When he was seven, his mom deserted the family, and a few months later, his father tried to commit suicide by drinking, in front of him, Coke mixed with rat poison. Growing up in 18 foster homes, Jose got started on alcohol at nine-years-old, then drugs at eleven. He got to know several jails. At 18, Jose married a woman he had known since he was eight and she was nine. They're still together. In his early 30's, Jose became a born again Christian. After his daughter married a man in Duryea, Jose followed her and now lives within sight of her house. With his church the center of his life, Jose knocks on doors and visits homes. As an adult, Jose found and visited his mom in Florida. He doesn't hate her.

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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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