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American English

(The Casino Queen, East St. Louis)

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They exquisitely capture the details: Paul McCartney's left-handed Hofner bass, John Lennon's unique stance with an acoustic guitar, the mop tops and string-bean ties, the pop-song perfection, the tidiness of the harmonies.... It's an eerie window into an absurdly clean-cut America, a bygone time when teens unabashedly did the Twist.

I'm talking to a guy who works for KLOU. I ask him why, no matter where you go in America, the same songs are played on the local oldies radio station. It seems preposterous that with three decades of music to choose from, "Red Rubber Ball" and "I'm Henry the VIII, I Am" are repeated within the same week, much less the same day. But it's too loud and I can't make out his answer, which comes out like a toot from a trumpet with a sock stuck up its bell. His sympathetic expression registers, though: He agrees. And: There is, in fact, an answer. And: That answer is horribly sad. Or maybe he's humoring me.

Meanwhile, just beyond these walls, in the bowels of this beached aquatic beast, a multitude of bleary gamblers are reeling amid the game-show-garish lights that surround them, drunk on cheap wine and tumbling toward financial collapse. You don't need to see them to know they're here — and this is why (as if you need another reason) it's so much fun to live in America.

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