Raleigh Review vol. 6, no. 1 (spring 2016), pp. 3-6.
Sad and American
by Siamak Vossoughi
I remember how we would go places, and my brother would tell me about the correct sad and American way to look around. That’s what he called these places, sad and American. I was just a kid, and he was six years older.
Once my family was driving back from Mount Rainier, and we stopped at a Dairy Queen.
“This place,” he said, “is truly sad and American, Leila. There is as much to see here as there was at Mount Rainier. It is called Dairy Queen. It has great meaning for the people of this town. They say, ‘Let’s meet at the Dairy Queen after the football game.’ Things like that. The faces they see here are known faces. They might be dreaming of leaving the town. That is one of the most sad and American things.”
As he was talking, we didn’t notice a woman come up behind us in line. We turned around and saw that she had a furious look on her face.
“Where are you from?” she said.
“No. Where are you from?” she said.
“Well, maybe I should make up some stories about Iran.”
“I don’t mind if you make up stories about Iran,” my brother said. “As long as they’re nice.”
The woman’s face became even angrier. “You don’t know about this town. You don’t know if we say, ‘Let’s meet at the Dairy Queen.’”
“You’re right. But how am I not supposed to imagine? It’s beautiful.”
“Beautiful?” the woman said.
She went to the front counter, and we watched her tell the manager that my brother had said the town was beautiful. The manager looked at us. He looked very tired, like there was something in what the woman was saying that he knew and understood from his life in the town but that he was tired of having to think about.
“Maybe we should go,” I said.
“We haven’t done anything,” my brother said. “All we did was wonder about this place.”
The woman came back and stood in line behind us. She didn’t say a word.
When we got to the counter, my brother made an order for us and for my mother and father waiting in the car.
The manager came toward us. “Excuse me,” he said. “Did you say this town is beautiful?”
“Yes,” my brother said.
"Why did you say that?”
“Because it is. And because I’ve read the books of Jack Kerouac.”
“I don’t know who that is,” the manager said. “Did you also say it’s sad and American?”
“I said that the Dairy Queen is sad and American. In a beautiful way.”
“I’ve lived here all my life. I raise exotic birds. I have peacocks and toucans. I have an African gray parrot. So I know about beauty. You can’t go around calling things sad and American like that.”
“Why not?” my brother said. “There are American writers who do that.”
“I don’t know who these American writers are. But I know that Americans don’t like to be told by somebody else that something is sad and American.”
“What if it is out of love?”
“Doesn’t matter. Look, it doesn’t matter much to me. My concern is with birds. But I thought I should tell you.”
The woman who was in line behind us nodded.
“Well,” my brother said, “I’m sorry. I think things are still going to hit me that way. We just went to Mount Rainier, and there were things along the way that were sad and American. I liked all of them. I liked them a lot. Sometimes I feel like I can do something with how much I like them.”
“I don’t advise that,” the manager said. “I don’t know these American writers you’re talking about. If they called things sad and American, well, I guess they got away with it because they were American. I’m just telling you that Americans don’t like to hear it from anybody else.”
“When you come to this country, you’re supposed to go along,” the woman said.
“I am going along,” my brother said. “Sometimes I can’t believe how much I’m going along.”
“Well,” the manager said, “that’s not the way to do it. Don’t call things sad and American. How old are you anyway?”
“You’ve got a few years. I just wanted to let you know. I’m trying to help you out. This isn’t the way to do it.”
My brother looked at the woman. “You really think I’m saying something bad about this place?”
She didn’t say anything.
“Here’s your order,” the manager said.
I looked at him. I had never heard of somebody raising peacocks before. I would’ve liked to see them.
My brother took the bag and we went out to the car. My brother was quiet. We drove to a rest stop and got out to eat at a picnic table.
“I still think I’m right,” my brother said. "Look at this place.”
I looked. It was a pretty nice rest stop. I liked the blackberry bushes at the edge of the grass.
“Maybe if you just said American,” I said. “That’s true after all.”
“Nope. It’s both. It’s sad and American. It’s not my fault. I didn’t make it this way. But I’m not saying it to be mean. Why the heck would she think I was saying it to be mean?”
My brother looked very sad.
“Why would she think I’ve never thought about a Dairy Queen before? Why would she think I haven’t thought about all the Dairy Queens before?”
It was funny and nice how my brother would forget that sometimes people didn’t think about all the Dairy Queens. Sometimes they just went to one Dairy Queen to get a hamburger. My brother wasn’t like that. He went there to think.
“I still think I can do it,” my brother said.
“Prove that the Dairy Queen was sad and American.”
“How are you going to do that?”
“I don’t know.”
It was exciting to hear my brother talk like that, but I thought of how the Dairy Queen manager had warned him. When he said it, when he called things sad and American, it made sense to me, but I didn’t know if maybe I was the only one.
After we finished, my brother and I walked over to the blackberry bushes and picked some berries and ate them.
“I don’t mean everything that’s American is sad,” my brother said.
“I know,” I said. “Maybe you should talk about it in Farsi next time you’re at a Dairy Queen.”
He laughed. “OK. I guess that means you’re the only person I can tell.”
That’s how it was anyway, but I didn’t say it. We both already knew.