Column #011 – Special Days in America

From the series: Dispatches From A Damaged American Teaching English Abroad in Vietnam


I was sitting at Relish and Sons drinking a gin and tonic with a healthy slice of lime and thinking about the potential applications of adequately-sized and appropriately attired air-mobile hammocks when a familiar waitress came over and prompted me to help her practice her English, which I obliged. We talked for a bit and then she started to ask me questions about America… which I figured – given the recent events and her status as a petite woman of the world – would lead to Trump. Boiler plate stuff. Nothing unusual, but then she asked me this: “In America, you have a special day where anyone can kill anyone they want. This is true?” Her lip curved a bit, but out of curiosity, not flirtation – I know this because I had asked her to have coffee with me sometime but she confidently and politely replied that I looked like a fat Harrison Ford and was too big for her. I appreciated the imagery and let it go. So, back to what she asked.

“No… wait, what do you mean? What?” I realized I should have responded: “That’s everyday in some circles.”

She looked at me, expectantly, not realizing I had in a way answered. Not that she was in any way stupid – which people often mentally accuse people of when they don’t speak their native tongue – I just wasn’t using language that would be understood by her.

“Yeah… right…. I know what you’re talking about. The Purge. Haven’t seen it. Have seen parodies. Probably a waste of time.” I spoke too fast, again, probably. She seemed to puzzle a bit.

“I know what you mean.” And then. “No, we don’t have a special day when we can kill anyone we want.”

“I think maybe it is just in movie then.” Her lip uncurled a bit, but she still seemed intrigued at my opinion. I was intrigued to. At the very moment, I didn’t have one. That’s a lie. I didn’t want to have one.

We kept talking but that stuck with me through the next few places I went: a burrito restuarant run by two young Vietnamese entreprenuers with amazing hearts and a good sense of what makes a burrito taste good, and then the barber I go to who likes to sing in Vietnamese while he does his magic, and finally my apartment.

Incredible to think about. I couldn’t tell if she was joking… she probably… well, yeah… was she? But just the idea that with a curious smile she would ask any foreigner that type of question – as if it had some chance of being true…. Bothersome. And the fact that I’m not sure she was joking is telling of an obvious problem, or one that should be obvious to Americans – a problem that much the rest of the world sees and even if they don’t recongize it as a problem we, as fucking Americans, certainly should.

The lenses that the world at large has available to view America and Americans through is kinda shitty with grease and oil, to understate. Because nowhere in the world should someone be revered simply because they are from America – period. Revered for many reasons, sure. Vilified for many others, okay. But not simply for being an American.

But… That happens in Vietnam sometimes. In the past… taxi drivers, com tam saleswomen, xe om drivers, Vietnamese teaching assistants, heads of families in Da Lat, motorbike renters, kids who like Disney movies, college students in school to avoid the military… have all liked me simply because I am from America. That, simply put, is a bullshit reason. But that’s what the world has to run with, to go off of (and I HATE writing “off of”), to make snap decisions with.

And the glasses that the world uses to viddy America through are odd ones for sure. They have to be… right? Because America is a fucking weird country. Our media, sports, movies, and TV programs are largely infotainment and hyperspectacle shock shows that unless you grow up innoculated to the demented sense of entertainment a lot of the developed world has, and you take what you see at face value because where you live that’s common practice, then… yeah, it kind of makes sense to ask an American if they really have a special day when people can fucking shoot whomever they want. That’s really not an absurd question in many people’s eyes.
After all America in a foot-in-mouth-head-up-ass kind of way began as a colony of witch burners and native slaughterers. Other countries certainly have varying kinds of bad histories, some worse than America’s, and some not, but there is value… great, great value… in remembering our histories. Between DAPL, and the way student loans are raping a generation of its future, the rollbacks on progress for women that are possible to come, the treatment of minorities, the dislocated sense of justice people have when they see white cops continually not convicted of even manslaughter in the shooting or choking deaths of black men – let alone even being brought to court, the fact that a man with hair made from a scalped orangutan won presidency and a woman who had a cleared court and plenty of time to shoot missed her shot at sitting in the oval office, the antiquated – or should be antiquated – rhetoric spewing like moldy incomprehensible shit out of people’s mouthes about illegal voting and redistricting and much of what’s going down in America right now… is all history that America has at times been through before in various ways. The late 1800s and early 1900s are worth re-examining.

Most of us do have our doors to lunacy. But most of us also have ways to bulwark ourselves. I, for instance, keep steel glasses quarter-full with ice in my freezer so that whiskey and ice is always on the table. Is this important? Not really, just a matter for the public record, but what is important is that a 22 year old Vietnamese woman asked me, possibly seriously, if there is a special day in America during which I could kill someone, anyone, I wanted too. That’s important.

What I make of that, I’m still figuring out. More to come, and a very late Thanksgiving post.