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Postcard from the End of America: Philly's Italian Market

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

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George's in Italian Market, 2013
George's in Italian Market, 2013
(Image by Linh Dinh)
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I live a block from the Italian Market, see, and its ecology is more complex than anything I could ever aspire to describe, but better something than nothing, so let me give you a little tour of the Eyetalian Market.

There are lots of restaurants on 9th Street, so naturally, there are tons of Mexicans, and since they don't go for the dark Irish bar ambience, they congregate at the Stab and Grab, not its real name. At this Korean-owned, neon-lit oasis, all these cooks, busboys and dishwashers just sit at brutal, lonely tables to stare at each other's shell-shocked mug nonstop, so no wonder fights sometimes break out. I've witnessed a couple, cholo, and I hardly ever go there.

Speaking of grabbing, a white waitress told me she's been grabbed a couple of times by drunken Mexicans in this neighborhood. We all need love. I witnessed another Mexican tried to chat up a Friendly Lounge bartender. Though his English was good, he wasn't too charming, as evidenced by these doofus lines, "Are you shy? Do you want me to buy you a shot? A soft drink? Why won't you shake my hand?" To be fair, I've heard much, much worse from the native-born.

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In the free ESL classes, flirting lessons should be mandatory. We must catch up with the Germans, for they've long offered sex tips to immigrants. "Achtung! This is how you screw the natives!"

Half a century ago, the Stab and Grab wasn't a semi nuisance bar but butcher shop. Undercutting all competitors, this guy sold three pounds of ground beef for just a buck, but what it was was mostly fat mixed with blood, so when you cooked it up, it shrank to almost nothing. The sly one advertised his bargain with a loud speaker until, one afternoon, another butcher blasted it with a handgun.

Once, there were many hucksters here, but now, you won't hear anyone shout, "Don't squeeze the tomatoes, lady! Go home and squeeze your husband's balls!" It is a crying shame.

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Now walk with me, buddy, down Washington Avenue, but don't make eye contact with that miserable broad, Typhoid Mary, for if you show the least interest, she'll tail and hound you. I have no idea what Mary's on, but her eyes are always turbid yet searching. She wants to do somebody, anybody, the same favors.

I wouldn't be surprised if Mary is learning Spanish. " Quieres una mamada, seƱor? Chingar? Why not chingar?! Come back! Come back! Barato chingar!"

The first time I met Typhoid Mary, she was with a bald man who boasted, "We just got married! We spent two days in AC for our honeymoon!" In her late 40's, with dark hair, dead eyes and mouth ajar, Mary looked as if she had trekked through a lifetime of disasters, with her soul smoldering at the bottom of a trash-strewn gully. Fleeing everything, she's a permanent refugee. Her "husband," it turns out, has three kids with another prostitute, this one black and currently in jail.

Now, the cashier at this bakery seems wholesome enough, but she has loosening teeth, worse nightmares, suicidal thoughts and attempted suicides, nothing in her fridge and, don't ask me how I know this, no menstruation for two years, so do you think she's on Xanax? Benzos? She can't afford even a gram of blow a week.

Though she herself dealt coke recently, she's on nothing but painkillers, actually, thanks to one raging boyfriend, a car accident and a childhood fall from a tree. To make ends meet, the young lady often sells her script. Many among us do this. "I just wanted to die," she moaned.

When I was failing out of college, you could only sample maybe six drugs, but now there are hundreds to numb or jack up those suffering overwhelming anxiety, fear, stress, despair, pain or just plain emptiness. What are you on?

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See that small, dark man contemplating a bag of carrots at Giordano's? He fought in Cambodia for four years, then escaped Vietnam by boat. While others slept, he baled water, "to save the young ones." Starving and exhausted, they miraculously reached Bidong. Now, the dude calls himself Jack, drinks Bud and works in a cardboard box factory. Jack married, divorced and has lived with the same white man, rent free, for over twenty years. He says they're just friends.

A karaoke fiend, Jack can instantly pick up any song in three languages, Vietnamese, Chinese or English, so he claims. "I can sing better than Elvis, ah, what's his name? Yes, Presley. I can sing better than Elvis Presley."

Lin, Chinese, weaves in and out of businesses to sell pirated DVDs, including porn titles such as "The Squirt Locker," "Texas Big Booty Brigade" and "Dr. Ava's Guide to Prostate Pleasure."

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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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