Welcome to the Recovery

Soothed, fortified and frankly vindicated by the cheerful effluvium that the recession is indeed over, I set out for a walk on this Saturday morning. No doomsayer, I’ll refute, if not taser outright, all unpatriotic spoilsports who would point to crumbling factories, empty malls and capsized mortgages as evidences that we’re eternally shafted. Our elevators are still yoyoing, thank you, except for those in aforesaid factories. Speaking of shafts, is that a foot sticking out of the frozen puddle?

At the corner of 9th and Washington, there’s a quaint sign, “AVOID FORECLOSURE—215 543-4941.” At the corner of 7th and Washington, “WE BUY HOUSES FOR CASH—NO BANK NEEDED.” Strutting towards Philadelphia’s brand new casino, Sugar House, I pass a billboard promising me, personally, 23 million bucks if only I had the juju and stamina to outfox the Pennsylvania Lottery Board, Jesus and Satan. Luck favors the righteous, and that’s us, all right. Soon, every bum diddling settlement from sea to shining sea will have its own casinos. Do bet on it. There will be more certified dealers than playas.

Speaking of bums, there are more idlers than ever. What’s up with that? According to these gaseous experts, the recession has been over since last June, yet dazed loafers keep sprawling all over town, all over the country, actually. Just look around you. The newly homeless are easily identifiable by all the stuff they’re trying to hang on to. They pull wheeled luggage, push carts with way too much on them. They’re relatively clean, for now. Soon, they’ll let go of everything. On the median of Delaware Avenue, a man walks back and forth with the classic sign, “HOMELESS AND HUNGRY. PLEASE HELP. GOD BLESS YOU.” Poverty isn’t very original, is it? But I’ve also seen “FREE ADVICE. DONATIONS ACCEPTED,” “HELP SUPPORT MY MARIJUANA HABIT” and “NEED MONEY TO GET DRUNK SO 2 WOMEN CAN TAKE ME HOME AND MOLEST ME.” It’s not cool that jokers are mixing with genuine beggars, but we don’t have beggars anyway. That’s so Third World. We only have panhandlers.

A couple months ago, a visibly messed up old man in Detroit said to me, “I need $9.50 for my prescription, Mister. I beg you,” but he wasn’t a beggar. That’s so Third World. Actually, he wasn’t even a panhandler. I started the conversation. On freeway ramps into downtown, people stood with signs, begging, like they do all over America. Just look around you. In Richmond, I talked to a Vincent who grew up in Syracuse, then studied at Penn State. Divorced, with children 22, 16 and 12 years old, he had worked as a registered nurse most of his life. His last job was as a waiter at Red Lobster. Business was bad, so they cut his hours, then let him go. Taking out a title loan, he lost his car, then apartment. Vincent had been on the streets six weeks. His oldest kid was in college, the younger ones had been living with him, until everything fell apart and they had to go to their mom. This last fact humiliated him more than anything else, he said.

I’ve been broke many times, but I’ve never been homeless. More than once, I’ve gone to the supermarket with 26 pennies, the exact price for a packet of instant noodles. I waited until there was no line, so I could brave the cashier alone. Once, getting uppity, I counted out 159 pennies for a can of SPAM. As I added up, a line formed behind me. Once, down to two bucks, I bought a loaf of bread and stick of butter and survived for several days. I’ve made ketchup soup. Thankfully, those days are long gone. I’ve moved to the upper reaches of poverty. Never say never, however, which is, incidentally, the slogan of a new GMC ad. Bumper sticker in Detroit, “OUT OF A JOB YET? KEEP BUYING FOREIGN.” On license plate of the same car, “I WORK FOR FORD. I DRIVE A FORD.”

After a three-mile-hike, here we are, finally, inside Sugar House. Serving up drinks and cleavages, slim waitresses weave through the lardy crowd, made jiggly by decades of transfat and fizzy corn syrup. Baby boomers, most of them. Judging by weight per rear end, we’re not yet a poor country. In the semi dark, gamers are fixated, like dumb infants, by the cartoon characters, blinking lights and bright colors of the slot machines. GOLD RUSH. AFRICAN DIAMOND. FORTUNE COOKIES. CASH FEVER. CASH FOR LIFE. CASH INFERNO. Tired of being mugged, folks can take a breather by glancing up at a football game on TV. From an unseen corner, a live band plays classic rock, evoking nostalgia for less desperate times.

Ads for casinos are always filled with perfect, straight teeth smiles. White, black or beige, they are all tickled stupid by serial windfalls. For mere pocket change, they get to climax over and over, it seems, until Kingdom Come, at least. By contrast, real life chumps are uniformly grim. Suckers only laugh as they walk in, if that. Bored with this spectacle, I head back downtown. On the way home, I would pass a group of “Israelites” railing that the white man is the devil, and that God hates faggots. Next to them, a white guy holds a sign, “FUCK THESE ASSHOLES.” I would chance upon a man evacuating himself on Market Street, one of city’s two main arteries. By City Hall, I would see a woman coughing so violently that she may not make it through this winter, should she remain on the streets.

This is your America, America, but don’t worry. The recession is over.

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.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Gary S. Corseri said on September 28th, 2010 at 11:45am #

    Thanks for the first-class writing, Linh Dinh…

    A sad, true picture of where we are now!

  2. Don Hawkins said on September 28th, 2010 at 3:32pm #

    I just watched Glenn Beck and it came to me not only him but a few more in old twenty ten have become The Pied Piper. Beck talked about the story of stuff and said something like we are brainwashing our kid’s.

    Just in case you never saw it…


    In 1284, while the town of Hamelin was suffering from a rat infestation, a man dressed in pied clothing appeared, claiming to be a rat-catcher. He promised the townsmen a solution for their problem with the rats. The townsmen in turn promised to pay him for the removal of the rats. The man accepted, and played a musical pipe to lure the rats with a song into the Weser River, where all of them drowned. Despite his success, the people reneged on their promise and refused to pay the rat-catcher the full amount of money. The man left the town angrily, but vowed to return some time later, seeking revenge. Wiki

    Heck let’s change some words;

    In 2010 while we were all going down the drain in not such slow motion men dressed in suit and tie appeared, claiming to have the answers to our problems. These few in all there shapes and sizes promised the human race a solution for their problems listen to us buy our book’s come to our rally’s listen to our speech’s and put us in power and we will make it all better. Well the human race figured out these few were full of shit and didn’t buy there book’s didn’t go to there rally’s and no longer listened to there grand speech’s. The men who were now thought of as well dressed fool’s left the top floor yes no more free lunch high on the hill, but vowed to return some time later, seeking revenge. Get out the vote nothing worst than a well dressed fool voweing to return and seek revenge.

  3. Don Hawkins said on September 28th, 2010 at 3:40pm #

    I forgot to add buy our product’s call call now.

  4. Don Hawkins said on September 28th, 2010 at 4:12pm #

    Yes the well dressed fool’s want to do the same thing over and do they expect a different result? No more on the lines of short term thinking and expect a different result for us while they enjoy the orange chicken as long as possible and go on TV and have fun doing it, it’s called using instinct to overcome reason.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on September 29th, 2010 at 3:25am #

    Yes, the usual dreary, Communist whinging. Fortunately, in the real world, the world of enterprise, entrepreneurship and self-esteem, luxury good sales are up,up, up-all around the world. The market in trophy wives has never been more robust, and the solution to these problems of voluntary idleness is right before our eyes. Learn from history, from those halcyon days of yore, before the Communists ruined everything by giving the serfs ideas above their station. Re-introduce domestic service. Get the gardeners and maids to do it. They are less carbon intensive, if fed on left-overs than ‘labour-saving’ devices as well. Win-win. Those not fit or presentable enough for domestic servitude, could be indentured as agricultural labourers, say to pay off their debts. These obligations could be made heritable, and this caste renamed something evocative, like Harijans or dalits. And the more robust types can always be trained as killers for the Empire, particularly with the big wars to maintain Western dominance forever, those against China and India (if the latter forget their place,) to come. All I can see is opportunity smiling warmly, just waiting for the individual who can ‘think outside the box’.

  6. mary said on September 29th, 2010 at 3:58am #

    And if you need a change from your marriage partner Mr Biderman can arrange things for you. What a vile trade to conduct. There is a market for everything and a niche for the self described entrepreneur.


    I just wanted to congratulate Linh for the excellent photographs. They capture the very soul of the unfortunate people cast aside by our capitalist system. Many more will be joining their numbers. Across Europe today, and especially in Spain where unemployment has reached 20% of the working population and higher for the 16-24 age group, massive strikes and protests are taking place. In the UK, we woke to the ‘news’ of another Alki Ada terrorist plot (ha ha), endless repetition of the planned ‘cuts’ and how we should be prepared for a period of pain. Why, when the vast majority of us own so little of the wealth?

  7. Don Hawkins said on September 29th, 2010 at 4:19am #

    Linh went to your pictures on your blog and in some of your pictures people walking by dressed nice and in not to many years those people will also be fighting for survival. Once a few problems kick into second gear it will start to happen fast. Here’s two numbers 3 and 1. What needs to be done to make a real try is not happening not even close yes maybe a few are making plans for themselves and will those plans work maybe maybe not. 3 is the number of barrels of oil we use worldwide and 1 is the number we find. Alaska maybe one year just what we burn in the States and tar sands yes adds to the supply still 3 and 1 and the water needed to get the oil out of the sand along with the destruction of the land is big. Natural gas same water and solves little the Earth keeps warming and just the loss of crops get some boot’s. I guess we will know more after these elections in November here in the States and I saw a report on TV where pictures of so called leaders were showed to people and most didn’t even know who they were and how many people here in the States the numbers good question and of course the tea party to take care of a few more. Not good signs for our survival just on the off chance. So far the number 3 is going up and the number 1 is staying the same. Is there a secret plan for this maybe but only for a few; can someone please help Mr. so and so on the plane.

    Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on. Vonnegut

  8. Don Hawkins said on September 29th, 2010 at 5:09am #

    Am watching CNBC this morning and they just had on a congressman I guess that said we need to think about long term deficits and tax’s. That’s called crazy talk with known knowledge and do these so called leaders know this most do I think and not a one stands up and tell’s the truth. A real try will take an enormous effort a Herculean effort and at the same time working together using reason and imagination and that is from so called leaders Worldwide. Should be easy to see if we do try. So far it’s crazy talk and a few talking about themselves in almost a child like way. On this path if we wait yes in will be right in our face it already is if you look and see then something will have to be done. At that point to late nature of the beast and I guess that’s where can you help Mr. so and so on the plane part happens. I’ll bet many who we see on TV think they get to get on the plane sorry only so much room probably why we see so much ass kissing in old twenty ten.

  9. Don Hawkins said on September 29th, 2010 at 5:28am #

    Again should be easy to see if we try below I tried to use the knowledge of the best minds we have that you never see on TV unless you watch the History Channel or National Geographic and not to find out if Obama was born in Africa. Thank’s Newt for using known knowledge that was also used in the dark ages.

    This came to me from far far away,

    From the beginning of preparedness in 2011 , American leaders recognized that the stakes were too high to permit the change over from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy to grow in an unfettered, laissez-faire manner. American manufacturers, for instance, could not be trusted to stop producing consumer goods and to start producing materiel for the change over.

    To organize the slowdown of the economies Worldwide and to ensure that it produced the goods needed for the changeover , the federal government spawned an array of mobilization agencies which not only often purchased goods (or arranged their purchase) , but which in practice closely directed those goods’ manufacture and heavily influenced the operation of private companies and whole industries. On going talks with China and India were spawned with agreement’s to share all research working together was for the first time achieved.

    Solution therefore required a rising fee on oil, gas and coal – a carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies at the domestic mine or port of entry. All funds collected were distributed to the public on a per capita basis to allow lifestyle adjustments and spur clean energy innovations. As the fee increased, fossil fuels were phased out, replaced by carbon-free energy and efficiency. Farming practices Worldwide began to change and those that needed help got help. Did we all live happily ever after no but it was a start and America for the fist time began to lose weight.

    A fig for partridges and quails,
    ye dainties I know nothing of ye;
    But on the highest mount in Wales
    Would choose in peace to drink my coffee.
    ~Jonathon Swift

  10. Don Hawkins said on September 29th, 2010 at 5:44am #

    The book of knowledge if there is such a thing has an interest part about it. Can make changes when more knowledge is gained not written in stone. There’s also one chapter on making everything as simple as possible but not simpler that requires working together and reason along with imagination for more than 2% of life on this Earth.