Postcard from the End of America: Norristown

Wandering around so much, I’m constantly among strangers, in completely unfamiliar neighborhoods. Though these novel situations have opened my eyes much, it would take but a single unfortunate encounter to blacken or close them, even for good, and in Norristown this week, I had to call 911 as I quickly ducked into a store to wait for the cops to save my ass.

Having prowled around Gary, Camden, Newark, Detroit, Oakland and North Philly, all on foot, I still don’t think of Norristown as all that menacing, though, all over town, there are unmistakable signs of a drawn out economic depression that’s only getting worse. Its industries trickled away decades ago, and its Main Street has become mostly irrelevant thanks to two nearby shopping malls, one of which, King of Prussia, happens to be the largest in the US (as far as leasable retail space). Norristown’s major employers are two hospitals and the county government, and that’s it. People loiter downtown. They slump on curbs and sometimes sprawl on sidewalks. Last month, John Pergolese was given a citation for sleeping in front of the entrance to Church’s Chicken. Outside the McDonald’s/gas station, I saw a gent lying face up, with one hand shielding his face from the sun, the other outstretched. Next to him was a rotund woman in a “Jazzy” power wheelchair, with a black umbrella over her head, and two backup umbrellas tucked into vertical pouches behind her seat. On a large, flat rock, a man hunched over, while another had flopped himself on the mulch.

Outside Dunkin’ Donuts before noon, there’s usually a small crowd of young moms with their tots, some in strollers. Having bought a Boston Crème and watery coffee, I sat inside and observed. Through the plate glass, I could see a woman in a black, V-neck T-shirt with “BEATLES” over silhouettes of the Fab Four; another in a turquoise hoodie with LOVE in glittery red, yellow and blue; and yet another in a pink “ROCK & LOVE” T-shirt. Like millions of poor white women everywhere, the ones here tend to wear their hair straight back, pulled taut, in a style known in the UK as the “council house facelift,” and since this is 2013, they’re not in dresses or skirts, but sweat pants, tights or no-name jeans. Though it was warm, a young man had on a knit cap with tasseled ear flaps, topped by a red pom-pom. His brown shirt was fronted with “AERO” in Marine camouflage, which at first I mistook for “ZERO.”

Mercy! Marching into view, here came a middle-aged platinum blonde in glittery black and silver. Her orange face had often been seared by a tanning lamp, it was clear. Uncomfortably puffed up from being carved up and stitched, it resembled a much abused pin cushion that should be retired soon, I think. She was followed by a Hispanic woman with a rose and a crown of thorns tattooed on her wide biceps, and a crucifix nestling in her cleavage. After this Christian had entered and gotten her glazed communion, a white woman shouted across the room, “I can’t get over how beautiful that purse is!”

“Thank you! Thank you!”

“You know, when I see a purse that I just love? I become obsessed! I just can’t get over it!”

“Thank you! Thank you!”

When in a strange town, I often try to find a dirt cheap bar, not only because it suits my budget but because that’s where I can most likely chat with regular people. On my first visit here, however, I walked for several blocks on Main Street without seeing a tavern. There were gold-for-cash businesses, bail bondsmen, ambulance chasers and a Harley dealer, but no bars, and so I asked a peculiar looking older woman who was limping along with a cane, and wearing two bandanas, one on top of another. Her eyes were barely visible. After she pointed to a beer store nearby, I explained that I’d prefer a place to sit down, so she said, “They have tables and chairs there,” then, after a sigh, “Ah, you’re such good company.”

It was thus I met Clare, who would be my guide for that afternoon in exchange for a tall boy of Colt 45, three bags of “red hot flavored” potato chips and a pack of Carnival cigarettes, at $5.65 the cheapest available. Born near Norristown, Clare spent her early childhood in Kansas City before returning here, where she’s been ever since. Paying $500 a month, she has a room in a house shared with “five or six” other people.

“Are they all clean?”


“You’re lucky. It only takes one dirty person to make your life miserable.”

“I know.”

In Philly, I once met a black man in his mid 60’s who had shared a house with “Seven other knuckleheads. Most of them were cool, though, but one guy would never flush the toilet, and never close the shower curtain, so water would be all over. Man, it was gross. He said he was germaphobic, so he wouldn’t touch the toilet, any part of it.” Having to endure such living conditions, he was now quite cheerful to be living outside, “It’s like camping!” In college, he had wanted to study business, but his ma said, “Business ain’t nothing but a way for white people to rip off black people,” so he switched to music.

Another man, white and 53-ish, was paying only $280 for a room, but he also had a housemate who wasn’t quite toilet-trained, “One of these guys shits on the toilet seat.”

Sixty-seven-years-old, Clare’s been married twice, to a man named Don for three years, then to a Dan for six, “Dan kept me lonely. I had no one to share my life with, no one to talk to. I was in nursing school, and I couldn’t talk about it,” so she walked out, leaving her engagement ring on the dresser. Clare would mutter these fragments about her life, but mostly she was silent, with her eyes often hidden. Sometimes her mouth moved silently, as if she was under water and behind glass.

“I don’t pay attention to time, I’m retired. I’m in a time-free zone.” Then, “No, I’m in a time-freeze zone.” Pleased at her own joke, her thin lips blossomed.

She said, “significant other,” then changed it to “culpable other,” and smiled. Several times she even smiled at my humor, but then she would fade out.

On her left arm, she had tied a red T-shirt into a sort of tourniquet, though she wasn’t bleeding, at least not obviously. Noticing an Eye of Horus ring on her bony finger, I asked if she liked Sun Ra, but she had never heard of him. Suddenly she blurted, “500 rapes!”

“Huh, what?”

“500 rapes.”

“What are you talking about? What does that mean?”

“That’s the only way in.”

“Into what?”


By this time, we were sitting in this stark joint, Pub Deli. Run by a Chinese lady, its first rule is, “Please do not stay in store more than 1 hour.” Over the glass counter, there was a large cardboard sign, “Yuengling Cerveza. Historia y Tradicion desde 1829.” Tucked in a corner, Latino men drank Bud Ice beneath a life-sized image of a Tecate babe in boxing gloves. Hispanics make up 30% of Norristown’s population.

Clare was a nurse “for about 15 years,” then took care of horses, which she liked best. She had also been homeless, and once, was “forced to take a bath in a creek.”

“By whom?”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care,” with “care” barely audible. Then, “Don’t speak English to me, I don’t even speak English.”

I laughed, “But we’ve been speaking English.”

“If you mumble, I’ll understand. I don’t speak English any more. I don’t like the accent.”

“What accent? Whose accent?”

“Everybody’s. I don’t like the anger. It makes me feel ugly in my head. Vile. I can’t even think any more because of this accent. This is not how I was taught.”


“The accent.”

She explained her name meant “blue moon in French,” which is incorrect, of course. She said she wanted to get back to “Missoura,” but it was clear she had no means to do so, and the Missoura she’s longing for won’t be waiting for her. In a restless and speed-obsessed culture, nothing is even seen properly, much less preserved, so the next whatever is always best, though only for a second. I have never bought into the cult of progress, but only care for what’s right, balanced and sane, so if it takes looking backward to move forward, so to speak, I’m all for it. In the name of progress, so much horror and degradation have been set in motion, and if you don’t know this, you don’t know history. Of course, mindless nostalgia is just as idiotic. In downtown Norristown, there’s a large mural that depicts the city as it looked nearly a century ago, with this caption, “Rebirth of the Past.”

There won’t be any rebirth in Clare’s future, that’s for sure, for she is worn out, isolated and near the end, with her eyes practically closed to spare her from looking at present day Norristown. I asked about the streaks of caked blood on her face and arms.

“A friend of mine did that. That’s all right. If it makes you happy to scratch me, you can scratch me.”

As my guide, Clare wanted to show me where George Washington had been “during the Civil War,” but she led me in the wrong direction, away from Valley Forge, so after a ten-minute hike, we ended up in a wooded area next to the train track. Sitting on a railroad tie, we were dappled by the late afternoon sun while being bitten by a swarm of huge mosquitoes. Behind us, a gaggle of school children straggled home. Going without adequate shelter, food and clothing, and courting much pain or death, people everywhere have banded together to fight against what they found insufferable, and Americans will undoubtedly have to do so again. We can’t simply consent to having our blood sucked and sucked, so unless we lie down, blanch out and pitifully beg for the mercy that’s not coming, there will be many Valley Forges in our future.

Indifferent to reconstructed or staged history, I had never visited Valley Forge, but on my next trip to Norristown, I was vaguely planning on seeing it, but only after I had located a dive bar. Though Norris Beer Deli barely qualified as a bar of any kind, I walked in anyway, since I saw a bunch of people drinking. It was truly bare bone boozing. After paying $2.50 for a tall can of Rolling Rock, I found myself sitting at a beat up Formica table, next to a trash can. Though it wasn’t yet 1PM, there were about ten people in this tiny joint, and I thought I was the only non-Spanish speaker, until I heard some old guy behind me mutter, “Piano, piano,” to no one in particular. I turned around to ask, “Tu sei italiano?” He didn’t respond at first, since, let’s face it, the likelihood of being addressed in such manner by an East Asian in Norristown is, well, near zero. But then he said, “It means take it easy,” so I nudged, “Lentamente?” thinking he’d blurt, “Hey, where did you learn that?” But the man said nothing, and his face was blank. In his mid-60’s, he appeared fatigued, or maybe just drunk, as in non-stop drunk. Though he wasn’t interested in conversing, he did ask to borrow my cell phone to call his daughter, so I heard him shout, “You know I love you but, listen, if you don’t want me to come over tomorrow, I won’t!”

The factories attracted immigrants. First, the Irish came in large number, then the Italians, and from this community rose Norristown’s two most famous sons, Tommy Lasorda and Mike Piazza. Norristown is also known for a boxer, the lanky “Joltin’” Jeff Chandler, ex bantam king. There are no boxing gyms left in Norristown, and in trying to start a new one, a sweet science promoter is quoted as saying, “I want to utilize boxing as an outlet for anger. Instead of picking up knives and guns these kids can pick up gloves.”

Leaving Norris Beer Deli, I’d find Johnnie’s several blocks away, and its worn, dingy exterior told me immediately that it was the perfect place to park my ass for a couple of hours. Johnnies’ looked old and cheap enough to be a popular neighborhood tavern in this struggling town, and I was not wrong with my assumption, but since it was only 1:30PM when I poked in, there was only one other customer. A pint of Yuengling set me back but $2.50, so that was very nice. Two loud televisions bookended the long bar. There was a grill to make cheesesteaks and burgers, a scrawled sign advertising boiled eggs, and a murky jar containing macerated phalli in some red solution. Maybe they were the remains of those who had violated some hidden rules of this establishment. I’d hate to relocate to Norristown in such a manner.

Feeling at ease, I then introduced myself to the barkeep and customer by saying I was a writer just looking around. I told them I lived in nearby Philly but had traveled across the country to see how the economy was.

“Oh, it’s bad all right. It’s bad here,” the black man declared. “The only people who are doing well in Norristown are the Mexicans and the Chinese. They’re opening up businesses. Everybody else is shooting at each other!”

“Oh, come on, man, it’s not that bad!”

“Yes, it is,” the white barkeep chimed in. “Just last Friday, there was a shooting right on the corner, half a block from here, and it hit the car of one of our bartenders coming to work.”

“Right on the corner,” the 45-ish black man confirmed. His name was Chaz, as I’d find out soon enough, and the barkeep was called Margit. She was about 25.

“And about five hours later, there was another shooting, not three blocks from here!” Margit continued.

“So two shootings within three blocks in five hours?”

“Yes, man, this is Norristown,” Chaz smirked.

“And it didn’t make the news because no one got hurt?”

“No, no news, but we know about it. Everybody knows about it. You just have to watch your ass around here, that’s all. It’s Norristown!”

“Why do you think there is so much violence here? Has it always been this bad?”

“No, it hasn’t always been this bad. It’s the people from Philly coming up to cause trouble!”

“Oh, come on, man, it’s not just people from Philly who are shooting, and Philly has always been there, so why now? Is it the economy?”

“Maybe, and people are just getting crazier and crazier, that’s all.”

“Do you have work?” I asked Chaz. “What do you do, man?”

“I paint houses.”

“Oh, yeah? I used to do that, I did that for ten years, but I was the worst motherfuckin’ housepainter. I mean, I could sand and scrape and all that, but I wasn’t all there. I mean, I worked hard and everything, but I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

I could see that Chaz wasn’t sure how to respond to such a cheerful confession of incompetence, but after a few seconds, he said, “I know what I’m doing.”

If you ask an idle rich dude what kind of business he’s in, he might say, “I’m an investor,” and a poor man with little to do might claim to be a housepainter, carpenter or contractor, so Chaz may actually be worse at holding a beveled brush than yours truly. In fact, he may never have stood for hours on a 40-foot ladder, in 100 degree heat (while hungover).

Wanting to hear about Margit, I opened, “I know a lot of bartenders, and they all tell me business has gone down quite a bit. Is that true here?”

“I don’t make as much, that’s for sure.”

“People tip less?”

“Yeah, and they drink less, but this isn’t my only job.”

“What else do you do?”


“What’s that?”

“I go into stores and take inventory. I work for this company called RGIS. It’s across the river, in King of Prussia. They’ve sent me to three other states, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.”

“You get paid OK?”

“Yeah, it’s all right. They’re always hiring. They don’t have enough people.”

“In this economy? Are you serious?!”

“Well, sometimes you have to get up at three, so you can get to where you need to be by six. The stores are all over, you know, and if you have children, it can be a problem.”

“You have kids?”

“Yeah, two. They’re five and seven.”

“And they’re at home when you leave at three in the morning?”

“Yes, but their father is home.”

“You know, I’m so glad to meet you two. I knew right away this was the right place to walk in.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” Chaz said, and he and Margit smiled.

“You know, I’ve traveled all over the country, and people are always so cool. Just this year, I was in Oakland, St Louis and Los Angeles, and if you don’t show an attitude, you’re not going to get any.”

I know I was simplifying quite a bit, but forgive me, I had been drinking on an empty stomach. Chaz and Margit just grinned at my raving. “Hey,” I continued, “What are those in the reddish jar?”

“Sausages,” Margit answered. “Pickled sausages. Want to try one?”

“Maybe later.”

“Here, here, just try it,” and she fished one out and cut it in half, so Chaz and I could each have a piece.

“Wait,” I said, “I want to take a photo of this first,” and I took out my Canon for the first time. Done, I left in on the bar as I bit into this long drown treat, and though it tasted like ammonia, to tell you the truth, I was very touched by Margit’s sweetness.

“Hey, why don’t you take a picture of us!” Chaz shouted, and I readily obliged as he kissed her cheek.

Showing them this image, I said, “If you give me an email address, I’ll send it to you when I get home.”

Soon, Johnnie’s would start to fill up, and I would meet two more people: Kenny, a black man in his late 50’s, and Don, a 53-year-old white man. Since Don was only two bar stools away, I quickly struck up a conversation. I told him I was very glad to discover this bar, for the people here were so friendly, “Is this the best bar in Norristown?”

“There are a couple more like it. The one across the street from my house is not bad, but I can’t go there any more.”

“You’ve been flagged?”


I laughed, “For what?”

“For arguing with my wife. It was nothing. It was stupid! She was an alcoholic, you know. That’s how she died.”

“How old was she when died?”

“Just forty-eight. She had problems with her liver, kidney and heart. Here, check this out,” and he stood up. With both hands, he pulled down his shirt to show me an elaborate tattoo over his heart: Above a Grateful Dead skull were crisscrossed skis and ski poles, and above everything was his wife’s name, Maureen, with her birth and death dates. On each side of the skull, three large roses completed this inky shrine.

I asked Don if I could take a photo of his tattoo, so he stood very still for ten seconds. I noticed that he had huge knuckles, and sported a large turquoise ring that would bust up a face really good with a straight left. On another finger was the Iron Cross. Done, I showed Don his own image on my view finder, to which he said, “Delete that face.” Since he didn’t say, “Delete the photo,” I did nothing, and that may have been my first mistake. Don said his wife would drink all day long, but that’s hardly unusual in Norristown, to which I replied, “When I painted houses, I’d try to drink no more than three shots after work, for if I did, I’d feel like shit the next day.”

“Three shots ain’t nothing. I know many people who must do a fifth before work, then drink two 12 ounce bottles of beer for lunch, then drink and drink after work. Three shots ain’t shit!” Then Chaz added, rather oddly, “You buy me a shot? I’ll show you how to do a shot.”

I ignored that last bit, and it was then Kenny entered the picture. A black man in his early 60’s, he declared that he could down six shots without feeling hardly anything and, to further show that I hardly knew how to drink, he leaned closer to me and said, “You shouldn’t leave your money on the bar like that, man. You’re showing off!”

I’ve drank in Missoula, St. Paul, Madison, New Orleans and El Paso, etc., and I’ve always left my bills out, so I said, “I’ve always done it like this, man. If I don’t leave my money out, the bartender might think I won’t tip her.”

“You don’t even have to tip her, and people might take your money, and you’re showing off, too! Do you see anybody else leaving their money out? When in Rome, do like the Romans.”

“Twelve bucks fifty is showing off?!”

“It’s the end of the month, man. Many people here don’t have five bucks in their pockets! Here you are with your big camera, and your money out,” and Kenny just shook his head.

“I’m just a writer,” I explained to Kenny. “I travel around to hear stories and to take photos, but I’m not a journalist. No one is paying me to do this. I’m a poet. I’ve published eight books.”

“I write poems, too!”

“Oh, yeah? Hmmm. Do you have one in your head? One that you can recite to me?”

“Sure, but let me remember it,” and here I possibly made my second mistake, for as Kenny closed his eyes to dredge up his poem, I took out my mini recorder and asked him, “Hey, can I record this? Otherwise, there’s no way I will be able to remember it.”



“Have you heard of the music industry?”

“What do you mean?”

“What do you have when you put a poem to music?”

“You have a song?”

“Yes, and a song can make a lot of money!”

“OK, then,” and I put my recorder away, but not before Don, that cheerless dude with the Iron Cross and eye socket-collapsing turquoise ring, had seen it. Now, most poems are instantly forgettable, so you must forgive me for not recalling a single word of Don’s rhyming and philosophical composition, and he was into it, too, as he recited. After he finished, I said, “See, man, now I won’t remember any of that tomorrow morning, because you didn’t let me record it!”

“Hey, why are you raising your voice?!” It was Don.

“Huh, what?”

“Stop shouting! You’ve been shouting!”

“No, I haven’t been shouting. I’m just talking to this guy.”

“You’re annoying everybody by shouting, so stop shouting!”

I looked at Kenny, “What’s up with him?” But Kenny said nothing. Keep in mind that Johnnie’s is no foofoo lounge at a five-star hotel, but a loud and smoky dive with a juke box often blasting heavy metal or grunge. As Kenny and I resumed our conversation, Don interrupted again, “Stop cutting him off! Why don’t you listen!”

We have a psycho here, I was starting to think, but it was also odd that Kenny made no attempt to calm his friend down. As Don glowered at me, I glared right back, and I was so annoyed by this man’s irrational behavior that I could hardly pay attention to Kenny, and the place was also very loud, as I’ve already pointed out. Suddenly, though, Don extended a hand towards me, but I didn’t shake it.

“Shake it!” Kenny urged. “Shake it!”

“I’m sitting here, having a good time, bothering nobody, and this guy is giving me shit for no reason,” I said to Kenny, but after Don had withdrawn his hand, I actually got off my stool, walked over to him and said, “Listen, man, we’re cool, right? I’m just having a good time, and everybody has been so nice to me, so I don’t want to leave here with any negative energy, so we’re friends, right?” By this time, I had my left arm around Don’s shoulder, and my right hand out for him to shake, and as we gripped hands, he said, “Yeah, we’re cool.”

All writing is self-vindication, and all talking, too, for that matter. Further, how we see ourselves is always radically different than how others perceive us. Still, a writer can strive to minimize these distortions by treating himself as just another subject, as simply another vain and bumbling fool, in short, who’s always trying to prove, with sad results, that’s he’s not a vain and bumbling fool. In any case, I fully thought I had dissolved my tension with Don, and so I returned to my stool feeling much lighter.

“Hey, I want you to meet my family!” Kenny shouted. “I’ll show you the real Norristown. We’ll go just around the corner, so put your money away. Let’s go!”

“How long will we be gone?”

“Just a few minutes. Let’s go!”

My third possible mistake for that night was not in going with Kenny, though you may think that’s foolish enough, but in leaving my scrawled notes on the bar. I didn’t want the barkeep to think I had left without tipping her, and I wasn’t done drinking. If I had been born more cautious, I’d not routinely find myself in these uninsurable situations, but shoot me, man, my curiosity is often stronger than my sense of prudence, and in this instance, it was only 4:30PM, OK, and we were on Main Street, so it wasn’t like I was roaming around Ciudad Juarez in the dark, which I’ve also done. Further, I intuitively felt that I could trust Kenny, and in this, I was almost right.

Across Johnnie’s, there was a fire station with this sign, “REMEMBER WHO FOUGHT O OUR FREEDOM,” and we only walked for 400 feet or so before turning left on Chain, where there plenty of people on the sidewalk, including children.

“I never take strangers to meet my family,” Kenny declared, “so you’ll buy me a beer later, OK?”

First, Kenny introduced me to a niece of his, a gorgeous girl of about eight-years-old. I shook her hand. Next I met a pleasant old couple on a porch, then, before I knew it, I found myself in a living room, with four lovely women in front of me, relaxing on a couch. I shook their hands. Kenny then led me into the kitchen, but on the way, he picked up a shot glass from the dining room table and downed it. “Hey, whose shot was that?!” I asked.


“But how come it was sitting there on the dining room table?”

“Because they knew I was coming, that’s why.”

After shaking hands with several more folks, and even chatting briefly to a Puerto Rican woman living next door, we walked back to the bar.

“Hey, Kenny, the women in your family are very beautiful.”

“Yes, but the men, they are dangerous.”

Thinking it sounded like a bad sit-com line, I actually chuckled as I replied, “They can’t all be dangerous, Kenny. In each family, there are a few pussies!”

“They’re all dangerous!”

“Me, Kenny, I can’t fight worth shit. I wouldn’t know how to beat up that trash can!”

“I would never say that if I were you.”

“I’ve only fired a gun once in my life, at a shooting range. I mean, I fired a bunch of shots, but it was only inside a shooting range. How about you?”

“I know how to use guns.”

“On the streets, too?”


“Hey, have you ever shot anyone? Killed anyone?”

He paused, then, “Yes, but that was a long time ago. That’s why some people drink, so they don’t have to think too much about what they’ve done.”

“How many people have you shot?”

Kenny didn’t answer, but only said, “Hey, remember to buy me that beer,” as we reentered Johnnie’s.

I would never get a chance to. Though my stool was unoccupied, my notes were gone, and I pointed this out to Kenny as I reclaimed my seat. Wanting his beer, he was right next to me, but then he disappeared for a few seconds. When he came back, Kenny whispered, “We’ve got to get out of here!”

“But I have to find out what happened to my notes,” I smiled, “and get you your beer too!”

“No, they think you’re a cop. We’ve got to go!”

I picked up my bag, and slowly walked out, but not before I had said goodbye to Chaz, though he seemed terribly uncomfortable shaking my hand, “Let go of my hand!” I also paused to look Don in the eyes, smile and shake his hand, “I don’t know what’s happening, man, but it was good talking to you.”

It seemed like the perfect time to go home, but Kenny suggested we went to another bar, since he still wanted that beer I owed him. The issue became moot, however, because Don had barged outside to confront me, “Hey, are you a cop?”

“What?!” Seeing that Chaz had come out, too, I looked at him and said, “Didn’t I tell you I was a writer, right from the beginning?”

Chaz said nothing, and Kenny said nothing, and I was left to confront the enraged Don, “That picture that you took of me. Erase it!”

“Man, you don’t have to be like this, but I will,” and I erased the photos in front of him. Showing his true self, Kenny then shouted, “Take the card! Take his card!”

This has turned into a robbery, pure and simple, and a potential physical assault. First of, a Lexar 16GB 300X card costs $150, and it was not blank but filled with photos, so there was no way in hell I was going to let him take it. As I put my camera into its bag, Don grabbed my left forearm, but I immediately yanked his hand away, then I took out my phone as I stepped backward and opened a door, right behind me.

I had no idea there was a door there until I opened it, and it could easily have been locked, but there I was, suddenly, inside Berks Insurance, and it was my first time in an insurance office, by the way. Mr. Berks, bless his soul, quickly instructed a male employee to not let my harassers in. When Kenny tried to enter, this employee chased him out and locked the door. Within two minutes, two of Norristown’s finest showed up, and one asked me, “What do you want to do?”

“I just want to walk to the train station and get the hell out of Norristown! If you have questions, just ask the people in this store. They saw everything from beginning to end.” As I walked away, the cops watched my back, and so ended my pleasant day trip to Norristown. Its motto, Fervet Opus, and it’s boiling all right, though not from industry.

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He's tracking our deteriorating social scape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America. Read other articles by Linh.