Graham T. Autumn in Des Moines, 2003

    There weren’t any oceans around. It was full of white people. The buildings all went up in the last two hundred years. It was flat. So it was the opposite of Taiwan I guess.

    We shopped at Walmart a lot. I’ve never seen my dad so uncomfortable as when he shopped at Walmart. It was more confusing than the Jao Ho market to him. He wore his “what the fuck is going on here?” expression at all times.

    I remember him examining the shampoos. He’d lean toward the plastic bottles, hands crossed behind his back, and he’d squint the same way he did when he read Chinese. He’d push his glasses up on his nose and cross his hands behind his back again and squint hard.

    He’d pick out one shampoo for me. Some shampoo with a black bottle, because I was thirteen. They played this hideous muzak. Like smooth jazz but worse. If that’s possible.

    Then he’d pick one shampoo for himself. Some plain white bottle. Sometimes the generic brand, I don’t think he noticed the difference, he just threw it in the shopping cart.

    Then one for my mother. The time I remember, he picked an elegant pink bottle. Curved to suggest the shape of a woman. Curved into a shape my mother was not. He examined it closely, he put the bottle half an inch away from his face, just looking at the ingredients. Then he fixed his glasses, apparently satisfied, and he lied it down in the part of the shopping cart where some mothers put their babies.

    He was probably the only person in the Walmart on 5101 Southeast 14th Street wearing a Polo blazer. He was probably the only person in any Walmart in the Midwest wearing a Polo blazer. I still wonder if he ever realized that.


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