“And I ask him if he’s found it yet.” by Melanie Ho

Photo by Daniel Lobo – Daquellamanera.org

My father tried buying a chicken farm after quitting his job suddenly.

It wasn’t a great job. Something that his friend recommended after coming to America. Crowns Production, 4 AM – 4 PM. Hard. It was either that or do nails but that was a job for his wife, not him.

His back slightly bent forward, he’d search for chicken farms for sale in the AutoTrader-for-chicken-farms that he picked up for free from SaveRite. He’d circle the cheapest chicken farms with a dull highlighter and tell me to call them. His legal pad was filled with various addresses from people who were confused as to why a child was calling them to ask about their properties and livestock for sale.

Every Saturday, we would drive an hour and a half, from Florida to the backwoods of Georgia. The paved roads turned into narrow dirt roads and I was worried that a deer would pop out of the middle of nowhere while we were in the middle of nowhere and how would people know if we were dead or if the deer was dead or if everyone was dead if we were in the middle of nowhere with a man who spoke no English and a dead deer?

But we never died. Or were never dead?

One of the farms that we went to didn’t have any chicken. Traces of chicken – feathers, nests, shit – were left in the long barn house chicken coop chicken home didn’t have any chickens where are the chickens were they dead they all end up dead you just have to start over it’s fine it’s all here just needs a fixing up
how much
lots of money
too much
But didn’t you know that going in?

Georgia smelt like shit. The chicken coops smelt like shit. My hair, after a day of translation, smelt like shit.

This is my chance at fulfilling my American dream, my father would say.
Not explicitly, at least. You could see it in the way that he thought about chicken. 50 cent profit off of 10 eggs times 1000 chicken. Eggs that came out of chicken were warm and always had a piece of shit stuck to it. My mother read in the Vietnamese newspaper that people got cancer from chicken shit  – you either get rich or die trying, right?
My family in Vietnam saw me as his American dream but I’m not
he’s still dreaming.

He bought a convenience store instead. It belonged to an Indian man who would light incense every morning with his palms pressed firmly together, bowing his head not in front of pictures of his deceased grandparents like we do but in front of the cash register. Profits are amazing, he said. Lots of money, I told my Father. With that, the Indian man got lots of money.

I worked every single day for three years but Saturdays always seemed like the longest.

I sat in the walk-in-cooler because my father didn’t want to waste money on air conditioning. Sometimes I would dream of drives to Georgia and hitting deer and chicken and eggs cracked open on dirt roads but I never knew who was driving and I wasn’t dreaming long enough, not like my father had, but it wasn’t enough time to dream anyways because I’d get yelled at for sitting in the walk-in-cooler do you want to catch a cold and die yes what’s the point the chickens are dead anyways.

The Korean lady who owned the laundry mat next to us introduced my father to Craigslist. You can buy anything you want on there, she said. My father would sit on an old plastic chair, in the corner of the convenience store. His back slightly bent forward, he’d search for anything. I saw him looking at chicken farms one time, thinking about chicken eggs, maybe he wanted to be a good father to a thousand chicken.

I bought him a cockatiel from Craigslist once. His back slightly bent forward, he’d cock his head to the side to get a better look at the red cheeks. My son, he’d call it. One day, I came home and there were eight additions to the original cockatiel. It was lonely, he’d say. The first time he saw an egg, he smiled with approval at his children. But his wife complained about their noise and smell and warned about cancer but wasn’t that chicken shit but he got angry anyways he’s always angry and he let all the birds out in the backyard their red cheeks gone. We still have the cages with some feathers, a nest with a rotting egg, and some shit.

The convenience store went in the red and we tried to sell it on Craigslist. We couldn’t sell it cuz no one wants something that’s unwanted. That Saturday, we couldn’t pay the rent and had to move all of the candy bars and beer and cigarettes back to the house. I sold the candy bars and beer and cigarettes to kids at my high school and wondered what it would have been like to have to try to sell chicken and eggs to high schoolers.

Ramona Flea Market. We’d call it the 50 cent store. Not because everything here was 50 cents but because the admission costs 50 cents. We used to only buy only one ticket because it was free for kids 12 and under but at some point, I couldn’t pass as a kid anymore and the lady sitting at the entrance turned us around when she noticed that my chubby face had a little more weight to it. My father always paid in quarters either way, so it still seemed like a 50 cent store to me.

My father spends his Saturday mornings searching through others’ unwanted.
Back slightly bent forward, arms reaching down,
always looking for anything

The blue tarp blanketing the ground had an entire life of leftovers laid out on it. A lamp. Old recliner. Mix matched wedding photos. TV’s marked as-is. My father would buy rusted over tools. He never seemed to have enough screw drivers. Like our house always needed a fixing up or something. I stood on the edge of the blue tarp, on the soft grass, too afraid to get into a trance like his to actually look through the things myself. Sometimes, he’d hand me a vase or a teapot and ask me to look for where it was made. Japan, I’d say, and he would take it back and examine it further, as if that new piece of information made it so much more valuable that he had to delicately consider its beauty.

Sometimes, I’d say China, and he’d be so disappointed that I felt as if I offended him. He’d place it back into the unwanted, further unwanted.

What does it matter which oppressor you buy?

But I’ve learnt not to question things, especially when it came to China. Even mentioning China made his face tense up, his jaw tighten, his knuckles, swollen with arthritis, swell even more.
The same response with North Vietnam. I never really knew why
but his fragments of memory dispersed was never enough for me,
it just seemed like an entire life of leftovers laid out on a blue tarp.

My biggest fear is being buried in rusty screwdrivers and
teapots from Japan and unwanted items,
in a home that smells like chicken shit
always needs fixing no one knowing that I’m buried underneath

My father is a hoarder. He keeps burnt out light bulbs, water boilers that don’t urge anything passed lukewarm, pens that have run out of ink. Eggs with shit on it. One day, I’ll lay everything out on a blue tarp. His back, slightly bent forward. Fervently, he’ll search. How much, he’ll ask. 50 cents, I’ll say. Too much, he’ll say. And place it back, on the blue tarp.

Author Bio

Melanie Ho [filmmaker | writer] aims to center the stories of those who are often on the margins. You can catch her most nights thinking about fish sauce and her nonexistent love life. meldangho.wixsite.com/meldangho


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