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Postcard from the End of America: West Scranton

By       Message Linh Dinh       (Page 1 of 4 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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West Scranton, 2017
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On Thanksgiving, I came to Scranton to stay with a 65-year-old friend who's going through a cage fight kind of divorce, though only one side is dishing out the sharp elbows and knees. Just hearing Christmas music at the Dollar Store was driving him mad, Chuck confessed. The four-hour bus ride from Philly stopped in Doylestown, Easton, Stroudsburg and Mount Pocono.

Just outside Easton, a black man had just shot two white cops after he was pulled over for speeding, and even as I dozed on the bus, another black man murdered a white state trooper in faraway Texas. Both incidents would be downplayed by our media, then forgotten almost immediately.

Getting off the bus, I thanked the friendly bus driver, a middle-aged black man. He, too, would have a late Thanksgiving dinner. From the terminal, Chuck came into the cold to meet me, and together, we walked half a mile to The Lighthouse, his group home. Paying $400 a month, Chuck gets a 10X10, plus use of the communal kitchen and dining room. Paying $100, I got five nights.

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Sister Lindy Morelli, the blind Carmelite nun who runs Lighthouse, was supposed to have dinner with me, but since she suddenly had a migraine headache, I ended up eating solo. Though a vegetarian, Lindy had made a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the entire house. My heart-warming plate had turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mash with gravy, string beans, cauliflower and carrot. For Lindy, I brought a bottle of Chianti Classico, complete with the black rooster seal, but she drinks no alcohol, I found out.

"Can I cook with this?" Lindy asked me the next morning.

"No, no, it's too good for that!"

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"Oh yeah?!" She laughed. "I'll give it to my sister then."

Founded in 1994, The Lighthouse has hosted nearly a hundred people. As could be expected among the destitute, there have been criminals, freaks and life-long bunglers, but the vast majority were just ordinary folks, down on their luck. One morning, I chatted with 55-ish Lee Ann, who had been at The Lighthouse for over a year.

"When you told Chuck you had to go to work at 8, he said, 'I'm sorry to hear that.' That's pretty funny. Why sorry?"

"Ah, you don't know! The dayshift people don't do nothing, so when I come in, I'll have to clean up after them. They don't count the leftover newspapers, or put them away. It's not my job to train them. I don't get paid enough!" We laughed.

Price Chopper is a supermarket chain. This week, you can get 10 cans of Chef Boyardee for just 10 bucks. Lee Ann has worked there for six years.

The short, slightly overweight lady was on the couch, while my rotund self was beached at the dining room table. On the walls were crosses, Jesus es and uplifting messages. Over the stairs was a watercolor of a kneeling woman with her hands together, "Prayer is the key to the morning and the lock of the evening." The Lighthouse doesn't proselytize, however.

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Lee Ann sighed, "This week, I'll have three funerals to go to go. Three!"

"Wow."

"One is for a co-coworker. She's in the bakery. We just took up a collection for 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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