Joe Biden and the disappearing America

Some of us obsess over disappearing places and moods. If you live long enough in one place, you will read about this all the time — a restaurant closing, the last holdout, a reminder of the way the neighborhood was or when the city was vibrant, or when so-and-so was still alive, an era that’s ended, even if it was a nasty time. We live in an endless parade of throwback uniforms, reboots, and ancestry sites that many people would not have needed in 1960. There’s something American about it, really; many of the greatest, most American authors of the 20th century — writers like Grace Paley, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison — balanced seeing inside and being outside someone else’s platonic America, preserving a distinct but now fading voice, connecting two times at once.

If you spend enough time reading the old clips about Biden, and his books, you will find such places. The pool Biden lifeguarded at in 1962 is still open; they’ve renamed it the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Aquatic Center. Years and years ago, when Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford became president, Biden finally got his mother to visit Washington, a trip which she delightfully recounted to the Scranton paper. After all the business on Capitol Hill, Joey took her to an Italian restaurant. “The food was good, but not as good as at Preno’s in Scranton,” she said. “It can’t be beaten.” Italian immigrants founded the restaurant in 1923, when you had to slip alcohol in paper cups. JFK campaigned there! “Does anyone know if Preno’s still exists?” someone asked on a message board almost 20 years ago. “It seemed, at least at that time years ago, it was run by two women that were frozen in time from 40 years before that…They were great and the food was wonderful.” Preno’s had closed, a casualty of redevelopment…

The candidate has promised, first and foremost, to beat Donald Trump — to win. It’s a promise to right the old wrong, to unwind the clock. Time will begin anew. And yet, if Biden catches you at the right moment, it’s like you can see every bad hospital hallway you’ve walked down, the kitchen in a house that no longer stands, that old place by the beach. For a second, it’s almost like you can go places that just aren’t there anymore.