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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/19/22

American Isolation

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Philadelphia, 6/4/13
Philadelphia, 6/4/13
(Image by Linh Dinh)
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From SubStack--On 2/5/22, a reader, Troy, left a comment:

I've been living alone in a subsidized apartment on a subsidized pension due to a severe tick born illness. This happened to coincide with COVID, so it's been weird to say the least. I've never experienced this much isolation before and have always considered myself a loner. At times, this is flat out neurological torture and I can feel the lack of personal interaction to my core. I'm blessed to recognize this. I don't have a t.v. and have recovered enough to walk again in order to relax and think better. I'd rather be back in a shelter with other men than alone in this apartment. The isolation is killing me and I know it.

JustPlainBill responded:

I, too, always considered myself a bit of a loner, and at work I interacted with people all day long for most of my career. But then I retired, a couple of years before COVID began, and although I had some time to get used to having far fewer people around, the difference now is stark. I used to laugh at people who went back to meaningless jobs just because they couldn't stand being at home, and couldn't wait to get away from the workaday world. But although I've never been even a little bit tempted to go back to work, I now I understand a lot better why some might feel that way.

I'd say most Americans know all too well that predicament. They are among the loneliest people on earth.

When I moved to Philadelphia in 1982, just shy of my 19th birthday, I noticed personal ads for the first time. Like any young prick still vain enough to think he'll never sink that low, I thought they were amusing, but listen, dumbshit, there's always another subbasement, with your name stenciled on a dark, corner bunk with a stone hard pillow, so go ahead and laugh!

In the City Paper and Welcomat, nearly all the lonely hearts were above 40. Gradually, though, the age dipped, and the ads became much more numerous, so that, by 2005 or so, there were 21-year-old men and women advertising for companionship, and these weren't tinder type sex ads. Sick of doing everything alone, the untouched and unlooked at sufferers just wanted anyone to adore and laugh with, if only for a season.

In Philly, I had an apartment in a rather grim rowhouse. Thousands were cheaply built in the early decades of the 20th century, to absorb immigrants from Europe. My two windows looked into a small concrete courtyard that had a BMW belonging to the owner's son, Elio, who lived in the next building.

Unlike his younger brother, Elio didn't have a job. Tall, good looking and with a thick enough wallet, he had a girlfriend but no social life to speak of. I never saw Elio on the sidewalks or inside any neighborhood bars, Ray's Happy Birthday, The Dive or Friendly, etc.

What's most telling, though, is that Elio's BMW was nearly always there. Instead of driving it around, he merely washed his baby, a loving ritual which killed hours at a time. All those hard gleaming curves demanded endless foreplay. Hearing water, I'd look out to see Elio with his hose and rag at, say, 2PM, and by 6PM, he was still there, I kid you not, to dreamily buff his BMW.

Otherwise, Elio was lost in his room, to stare at a screen, we can assume, for what else was there to do? Porn and combat games likely drained his days. I seriously doubt Elio read. He just seemed too vapid. With hardly any life experience, Elio was basically a boy, so to mask this, he always deepened his voice to utter his trivia. "I don't think the Eagles will go very far this year" or "The Sixers need a new center." Each time his girlfriend, Gina, returned from a shopping trip, Elio couldn't even bother to help her carry all those bags to the second floor.

Voluntarily, he had screened himself out of life. With so much genital variety online, his lovely girlfriend became a ghost, and an annoying one at that, for she often interrupted his pixelated lovemaking. Sharing them with millions of other oglers, he's virtually dating a Thai, Ukrainian, Colombian and Congolese, most likely. Tipping them mere coins, he activated their lovesense knobs.

In the same courtyard, there was another man driven insane by loneliness. Appearing usually at night, he was dressed like Tarzan, with a homemade loin cloth. Around thirty years old, he had a crew cut, five o'clock shadow and was in pretty good shape, so no beer belly or any flab. With three three-story buildings looming over him, there were at least a dozen windows staring down, and that was the thrill. Lit by orange lights, he could be seen clearly enough. Nervously looking up, especially at lit windows, he would lift his loincloth just enough to show bits of pubic hair or, turning around, his buttocks, which he seemed particularly fond or proud of, for he would torque his body to admire them himself.

Responding to Troy's comment, I said, "It's heartbreaking to read about Troy's isolation, but even before Covid, Americans were lonely enough. James Howard Kunstler talks about how badly laid out American cities and towns are, with almost no spaces for casual interactions or just loitering, so one can watch others without having to buy anything. In many parts of New Jersey, the parking lot of the local Wawa convenience store has become a de facto town square. A woman told me she wouldn't even think of moving anywhere without a Wawa nearby! There are walking clubs that meet in shopping malls, but you have to drive there, then walk across a vast parking lot just to enter a charmless space filled with chain stores."

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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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