می تونی من رو ال صدا کنی

کتاب: عطر سنبل، عطر کاج / فصل 9

می تونی من رو ال صدا کنی

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متن انگلیسی فصل

You Can Call Me Al

My father’s favorite spot on Planet Earth is Las Vegas. As a child, I had to endure endless “vacations” to that den o’ sin in the desert. Whenever a three-or-four-day weekend rolled around, my father would happily announce, “We’re going to Las Vegas!” I hated it, but Las Vegas was cheap and so was my father, so off we went.

Las Vegas was a four-hour drive from our house. The highway leading to this Promised Land cut through the desert, which meant that watching the scenery from the backseat of our Chevrolet rivaled the thrill of watching a fishing show. My brothers, both of them in college, were spared these trips. I envied them.

The ritual was always the same. We would have to wake up by 5:00 a.m. so we could be on the road by 5:15. The day before our trip, the gas tank was filled, the engine checked, the suitcases packed, and the windshield cleaned, all courtesy of my father. The most important part of our ritual involved my mother’s holding the Koran at the top of the doorframe while we each walked under it. For my parents, this ensured a safe journey—they hoped one without speeding tickets. I always found it unsettling to invoke religion in anything having to do with Las Vegas, a place that I’m quite sure the Prophet Muhammad would not have approved of.

We always drove for one hour before stopping for breakfast at Denny’s. My father’s devotion to Denny’s restaurants approached religious fervor. To him, Denny’s was a clean oasis where the waitresses were always friendly. We didn’t really like the food, but that seemed a small price to pay for a clean bathroom in the middle of the desert. After breakfast, we’d get back in the car, turn on the air conditioner, and keep driving. We didn’t stop until the next Denny’s, where we’d have a snack and my father would say how amazing it was that all Denny’s could be so clean, no matter where they were. “America is a great country,” he’d always add.

Once we reached Las Vegas, we always went to the Stardust. There, my father would go to the front desk and ask for his special friend, a man who had asked to be called Al. Despite the “No Vacancy” sign, the mighty Al would get us a room. This clandestine operation, however, required a handshake with a five-dollar bill enclosed. My father loved his Frank Sinatra moment and always told stories about the exchanges between him and Al, stretching a five-minute encounter into a two-hour story. I hated Al and always hoped he’d end up in jail, but he, like the decks of cards adorned with pictures of naked women, was a fixture at the Stardust. Years later, I asked my father why he never made room reservations in advance. “That would have been too boring,” he said.

Once we settled into our room, my father headed straight for the blackjack tables. Everyone except gamblers knows that gambling never pays. My father always believed that he was this close to the big one, but because of some unforeseen event, like someone else winning, he’d lost. Losing, like winning, only increased his determination to play. At the blackjack table, my father became strangely superstitious, blaming his losses on seemingly unrelated events. He never sat at a table where anyone wore a hat, since that was bad luck. Redheads were good luck, but only if they were women. Redheaded men were bad luck. People who talked too much were bad luck, as were people who were strangely silent. My favorite of his wacky beliefs was that non-Americans at the table were bad luck. I couldn’t resist suggesting that maybe he should stay home since, as a foreigner, he was his own biggest source of bad luck. My father never appreciated that observation.

A few hours after our arrival, my mother would declare that it was time to go find my father. Minors were not allowed in the gambling area, so like moons orbiting the earth, we circled the perimeter of the casino, looking for my father’s signature receding hairline. During our many revolutions, we noticed a correlation between receding hairlines and blackjack, as well as a relationship between outdated bouffant hairdos and slot machines.

Once we’d spotted him, I’d wait near the main entrance while my mother went to fetch him. My father considered the sight of my mother approaching him to be a certain sign of bad luck.

It was then time for the $3.99 all-you-can-eat buffet, during which we unfortunately had to listen to my father’s gambling stories. These didn’t change much from trip to trip and involved a lot of “almosts.” I hated these stories as much as I hated Al, because I had figured out that nobody leaves Las Vegas a winner.

The all-you-can-eat buffet, that American phenomenon, represented the only endurance exercise at which my family excelled. Even when my father had just lost hundreds of dollars at the blackjack table, we felt that we were beating the system by filling ourselves with more food than we were actually paying for. “These shrimp alone are worth at least five dollars!” my father would declare. “Look at those desserts! They’re worth the price of the buffet by themselves!” my mom and I would chime in. By stuffing ourselves until we ached, we felt we had outsmarted Las Vegas. And all for only $3.99!

What made Las Vegas even more awful were my memories of real vacations we had taken in the past. In Iran, “vacation” meant going to the Caspian Sea. Every summer, my father’s employer, the National Iranian Oil Company, allowed its employees the use of its villas in Mahmood Abad for one week. Mahmood Abad, a town on the Caspian shore, was a two-day drive from Abadan. Every summer, the five of us would pile into our Chevrolet, my mom making sure to bring enough sandwiches, cucumbers, fruit, and Coca-Cola for the long drive. We were always glad to leave Abadan in the summer, since its desert climate was unbearable. As we headed north, toward Tehran, the weather cooled off slowly, proof that we were indeed farther and farther from our home. We always reached Tehran in the evening and spent the night at relatives’ houses. The next morning, we set off again, complete with fresh sandwiches and fruit courtesy of my relatives.

The drive between Tehran and the Caspian Sea is one of the most beautiful stretches of land I have ever seen. The lush scenery offered more shades of green than I saw anywhere else. We passed by endless fields of purple wildflowers. The most exciting part of the trip was the many tunnels, which enabled us to pass through the Elburz Mountains to reach the Caspian. We knew we were almost there by the change in the climate: the closer we came, the fresher and crisper the air. The sight of villagers hawking cheap plastic pails, beach balls, and shell necklaces along the road meant one thing: we were almost at the sea. We could no longer contain our excitement.

The “villas” we stayed in were modest cabins lined up along the beach like dominoes. Days were spent at the beach, where we built sand castles, looked for seashells, and played in the waves. Knowing the children were safely occupied, my parents relaxed and mingled with friends. Meals were eaten in the mess hall, cafeteria style. At night, everyone returned to the cafeteria for the nightly movie. In retrospect, our vacation was like a family camp and everyone was sad to leave. “How can a week go by so quickly?” we’d always ask.

In America, we lived on the California coast but rarely went to the beach. The water was too cold and the waves too big. Longing for warm water one year, we decided to vacation in Hawaii. My father booked a one-week stay in Waikiki. “We’re staying right on the beach!” he announced. Having never been to Hawaii, I expected a relaxing tropical paradise, somewhere like Gilligan’s Island.

We arrived in Waikiki to discover that an “ocean view” room meant we had to stand on our balcony and crane our necks to catch a speck of blue in the far corner. In between the high-rises sat shops declaring “I Got Lei-d in Hawaii!” on T-shirts, mugs, and towels. Everywhere I went, I saw the same carved coconuts, the same seashell frames, and the same hats, all made in the Philippines. I tried to hang loose, but Waikiki felt more like 7-Eleven-by-the-Sea.

The following year, we decided to vacation on Kauai, an island in Hawaii that the travel agent described as a true tropical paradise. The description was accurate. Our one-story hotel sat in the middle of a lush forest. On our first day, we experienced quick tropical rains followed by spectacular rainbows. Vibrant flowers, so big and rich in color that they almost looked fake, dotted the plants around our hotel. We had found God’s hideaway.

On our second day, my parents announced that Kauai was boring. “There’s nothing to look at, just plants and rainbows,” my father declared. “There are no stores,” added my mother. Instead of staying for another week, we left the next day.

The following year, my father decided to take us to Yosemite National Park for a week. Uncle Nematollah was staying with us then. My father booked two cabins and off we went for another taste of paradise. Eight hours later, we arrived in the beautiful Yosemite Valley. We oohed and aahed at the spectacular scenery. The first day, we explored the surrounding area, wading in a nearby stream. All was perfect until my uncle, who didn’t speak English but who could nonetheless identify a picture of a bear’s head with a line through it, asked my father to translate the signs posted near our cabin. My father explained that the signs warned campers of bears that often came looking for food. Upon hearing this, my mother and uncle decided we had to leave Yosemite right away. My mother was convinced that the bears were lined up in the nearby bushes waiting for their chance at the all-you-can-eat Persian buffet. “We can’t leave!” I protested. “We just got here!” My mother was already packing the suitcases. I tried my best to reason with her. “The signs say that the bears are attracted by the smell of food, not people.” An hour later, we were in the car, headed for the bear-free suburbs.

After that trip, my father declared that, with the sole exception of Las Vegas, his favorite vacation spot was “right here on the sofa in front of the television set.” My mother declared that my father was a bore. And I decided that as soon as I was grown up, I would travel the world looking for rainbows and bears. But before that, I’d have to see Al one more time so I could suggest a great vacation spot for him. “Just keep plenty of food on you at all times,” I’d tell him, “especially when you sleep!”

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