آمریکا، سرزمین آزاد

کتاب: عطر سنبل، عطر کاج / فصل 13

آمریکا، سرزمین آزاد

توضیح مختصر

فصل سیزدهم

  • زمان مطالعه 12 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

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متن انگلیسی فصل

America, Land of the Free

Every Thanksgiving, my extended family and I gather at my cousin Morteza’s house. My mother brings her traditional shrimp curry, my aunt Sedigeh brings her lima-bean rice with lamb shanks, and my aunt Fatimeh brings her homemade baklava. All the other relatives prepare their favorite Persian dishes and we place them next to the stuffed turkey with all the trimmings. Everyone then proceeds to catch up on the latest family gossip, which usually involves rumors of impending marriages. Once all rumors have been spread and subsequently denied by all involved parties, we give thanks for our lives here in America and for the good fortune of living close to one another. Then we talk about turkeys.

“Turkeys have no flavor.”

“The trimmings are worse.”

“Do Americans like turkey?”

“I don’t think they do.”

Meanwhile, all the food, including the turkey and trimmings, gets eaten and we all share the American tradition of feeling more stuffed than the bird. Then it’s time for dessert: baklava, fruit, pastries, and pumpkin pie, which we serve with Persian ice cream. With its chunks of cream, roasted pistachios, and aromatic cardamom, Persian ice cream serves as a reminder that Persia was once one of the greatest empires in the world. I believe peace in the Middle East could be achieved if the various leaders held their discussions in front of a giant bowl of Persian ice cream, each leader with his own silver spoon. Political differences would melt with every mouthful.

During our Thanksgiving meal, my father gives thanks for living in a free country where he can vote. I always share gratitude for being able to pursue my hopes and dreams, despite being female. My relatives and I are proud to be Iranian, but we also give tremendous thanks for our lives in America, a nation where freedom reigns.

But although “land of the free” refers to the essential freedoms that make this country the greatest democracy on earth, it could also refer to the abundance of free samples available throughout this great land. In our homeland, people who taste something before they buy it are called shoplifters. Here, a person can taste something, not buy it, and still have the clerk wish him a nice day.

A few months ago, my father mentioned that he had gone out to lunch with his brother Nematollah. I was quite surprised, because my father’s idea of eating out is going to his sisters’ houses. My two aunts, who live in small, modest homes with tiny kitchens, are always ready to serve whoever drops by around mealtime, a term loosely defined as anywhere between breakfast and bedtime, give or take two hours. Their generosity and genuine delight in feeding others prove my theory that the more modest and impractical the kitchen, the more likely one will be invited to stay for a meal. Show me a fancy house with a top-of-the-line gourmet kitchen, and I’ll show you a family that eats out a lot.

“So where did you go?” I asked my father.

“Price Club,” he said.

Price Club is a chain of huge warehouses that sells items in large quantities. Toilet paper comes in packages of thirty-six rolls, and one box of muffin mix yields 144 muffins. As far as I know, Price Club has no restaurant. Puzzled, I probed further.

“What did you eat there?”

“Samples,” he replied.

Price Club has samples, rows and rows of endless samples. Itching to try the latest frozen chicken burrito or those mini hot dogs that come in mini buns? How about some instant soup, icecream sandwiches, spaghetti sauce, or pork buns? It’s all there and it’s all free. The mind-boggling generosity even extends to second and third helpings. I have witnessed people hanging around the Mrs. Fields sample table far longer than it takes to actually chew one and walk away. These anonymous people who shamelessly eat their way through the store now have a face: my father’s.

“So what did you actually eat?” I inquired.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “It all tasted the same.”

Under normal circumstances, my father would not eat a frozen Western-style fish enchilada, but give him a free sample and all rules of judgment and taste are suspended. The same goes for airline food. Once he finishes his own tray, he is more than happy to finish ours. “You’re not going to eat that?” he asks, referring to whatever the rest of us have found to be inedible. “Give it to me.” My father is every flight attendant’s dream, simplifying the stacking process by thoroughly emptying each tray.

A few years ago, my brother Farshid sent my parents on a first-class vacation to Japan. They weren’t as impressed by Japan as they were by the food service in first class. My father did admit, though, that he felt ill after the flight. “I ate nonstop,” he said.

When my parents returned from their trip, they presented me with, among other gifts, fourteen mini jars of jam.

“What are these from?” I asked.

“Breakfast in the airplane,” my mother replied. “We each got two jars.”

“What about the other ten jars?” I asked, not wanting to know the answer.

“Those are from the other passengers who didn’t want theirs.”

I envisioned the first-class passengers, spreading their cloth napkins on their laps, when suddenly, “Doo you vant deh jelly?” My mother, with her thick Middle Eastern accent, could just as easily have asked for their passports, which the passengers would have handed over gladly, just to get rid of her. It is fair to assume that by the time my parents shuffled off the airplane, their pockets laden with a bounty of wrapped sugar cubes and tiny bottles of ketchup, the entire cabin knew that my parents usually fly coach.

My parents’ hunting and gathering instincts are not limited to the freebies in first class; they also get their money’s worth in coach. My children know that a visit from their grandparents means a dozen packets of American Airlines peanuts. How do they get so many? My mother has a system. “I tell them that I’m visiting my grandkids and they love peanuts.” I assume that works better than telling the truth: “I’m paying $150 for this seat and I would like the equivalent in free food.” Evidently, my parents are not the only ones unable to resist the pull of a free meal. Denny’s, one of my father’s favorite American restaurants, serves free birthday meals. Denny’s assumes, of course, that nobody would go to eat a birthday meal alone. It is fair to expect that a person celebrating his birthday would bring along a few paying friends. Of course, there is an exception to every rule, and Kazem is his name.

My father has no idea of his exact birthdate. Whenever a child was born in his family, someone made a notation in the family Koran. The flaw in this system became apparent when someone lost the Koran. My father and his siblings have had to rely on one another’s memories to approximate their ages.

“He was born the year of the flood, which makes him seventy-five.”

“No, that can’t be right. He was born the year I learned how to read, so he’s seventy-seven.”

“No, he was born the year all the chickens died. He’s seventy-one, maybe seventy-two.”

When my parents were coming to America, my father had to choose a birthdate. Ever the practical man, he decided on March 18, my mother’s birthday. This way, he figured, filling out paperwork would be considerably easier since he would only have to remember one date. His system was flawless until Denny’s marketing gurus started offering those free birthday meals. Every March 18, my parents would experience the same scene. “Isn’t that adorable?” the waitress always said. “Matching birthdays! Hey, Oscar, check this out!” To get their free chicken-fried steak, my parents had to endure the inquisition.

“How did you two meet?”

“When did you realize you have the same birthday?”

“That is the cutest thing I have ever seen.”

Rather than go into the whole “We somehow lost the Koran and that’s why we have the same birthday” story, my parents just smiled and hoped the waitress would go away. Eventually, my father decided to go to Denny’s alone on his birthday, thus avoiding the entire “Ain’t it romantic to have the same birthday?” scenario.

When my father retired, he found himself with lots of free time. Retirement traditionally brings out men’s true passions: golfing, fishing, spelunking. Ever since he retired, what was once a mere pastime of my father’s has now become a full-time mania that can be summed up in one word: time-shares.

My parents still live in Newport Beach, an affluent community full of tanned, yacht-loving, tennis-playing people named Fritz and Binky. My parents have nothing in common with any other resident of the town. They’re not rich, they play no sports, and I’m quite sure that neither one knows how to spell or pronounce “yacht.” But they have one thing in common with their neighbors: a ZIP code that means money. My parents are regular targets for marketers looking to sell anything to presumably wealthy retirees. When my father was working, my mother got rid of the nasty telemarketers with a standard response delivered in her thick accent: “I am the maid.” Any mail soliciting anything was thrown away before my father came home. All this changed after my father retired. Now a cheerful, eager immigrant greets any marketer who calls the house.

People hawking time-shares are the most insidious, luring their prospective victims with far more than the usual free T-shirt or can opener. They offer everything from a free overnight stay at a nice hotel to a free dinner to a $50 gift certificate. All you have to do is attend one of their “seminars,” which are basically long infomercials without the benefit of a mute button. Far better trained than the CIA and more persistent than Hare Krishnas, these salespeople know how to corner their unsuspecting prey and make them sign away their life savings. One minute you’re laughing with the nice salesperson, the next minute you own a time-share in Des Moines.

Somehow, my parents survived their first time-share experience without buying anything, but the sales tactics were so forceful that my mother swore she would never go again. My father, the taste of the free filet mignon still lingering in his mouth, wasn’t ready to quit. He was upset that my mother did not want to make time-shares a regular part of their twilight years. “Why can’t you just go and have a good time?” he asked her. Perhaps the same can be asked of patients going to the dentist for root canals.

Time-share seminars have a certain addictive quality. Unable to convince my mother to join him, my father recruited Uncle Nematollah, who brought with him the added advantage of speaking less English than my mother. This was a good thing, since his inability to understand the sales pitches rendered him far less likely to sign on any dotted line. My uncle just wanted to know when the free lunch would be served.

My father and uncle managed to see Palm Springs for free, twice. “All we had to do was listen to two half-day seminars! It was great!” They also saw San Diego and Santa Barbara courtesy of time-share seminars. They did, of course, give up several days of their life, but, as my uncle said, “I’m recording all the shows we’re missing on my VCR!” Once they had honed their skills, their tactics were simple. As my father explained to me, “I just go and tell them I have no money and my brother doesn’t understand English.” Sadly enough, my uncle Nematollah recently decided to return to Iran. This departure has left my father without a partner in crime. Despite his persistence, his sisters refuse to join him because, frankly, they’re too smart. My father, never one to give up hope, recently announced that he is trying to convince my mother to give time-shares another chance. “If she understood less English, she would enjoy the seminars a lot more,” he told me. In the meantime, he has a lot more time for his other hobby, watching television, which, unlike yachting, fishing, or spelunking, is completely free.

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