An Accidental American Odyssey
Mark Budman

An Accidental American Odyssey

  144 pages

ISBN 978-1-60489-288-8, paperback,$17.95 Sale $10

978-160489-289-5, hardcover, $27.95 Sale $17


Sometimes migrants/immigrants must share their experience with the people who are fortunate enough to reside in their countries of birth. Not just to take off the load from their shoulders, but to make the others aware of the plight of hundreds of millions who leave their countries annually worldwide. I’m one of those immigrants. In this collection of twenty-one stories, I share my own experience and the experience of others like me through the lives of my composite protagonists.


Excerpt from Book:

A Perfect Rhyme
Translated from Scratch

The waitress, who came from China five years ago, likes her menus to rhyme. The restaurant manager leans against the wall and listens. The waitress is watching the lone customer, who chews his cheeseburger as if it’s a dish made with $3,600-a-pound European truffles. The waitress is trying to find rhymes for the daily specials. She says, “lamb chops—shooting cops.” Then she whispers something in Chinese, and says aloud, “broiled sole—go
on parole.”

She does this every day. She has time to spare; no one comes to the restaurant except for a few burly frackers who reek of secret chemical compounds and whose bellies quake like the cracked earth. The manager knows not a word of Chinese except for bu hao, which the waitress told him means “no good,” but might as well mean “go, play with yourself, round-eye.”

The manager wonders what forces brought her here to the small hamlet in northern Pennsylvania by the New York State border, a place full with mostly white folks, second or third generation Slavic im-migrants, and with Native American names like Susquehanna, Towanda, and Owego. He doesn’t ask. He’s afraid to embarrass her or unearth something unpleasant.

During her breaks, the waitress sits leaning on a pink pillow she brought from home; she says it was antique, from the Ming Dynasty, and she bought it soooo cheap. She spreads cream cheese, straw-berry jelly, and honey on a piece of toast with a spoon, and then licks the mixture off with her tongue.

The manager knows he’s a poet, albeit unpublished. No one else knows that. His poetic soul runs wild, maybe even unhinged. He imagines the waitress wrapped in red raw silk, swishing around her slender arms and lean thighs when she dances for her own pleasure. He imagines her sitting in the lotus position, her navel holding an ounce of frankincense, needles dotting her back, incense burning, though that image could have come from another civilization—1,001 Nights, maybe? He imagines her smelling not of the kitchen but of plum blossoms, camellia, and chrysanthemums. But maybe plum blossoms come from some haiku? He forget if haiku is Chinese or Vietnamese? He has to look it up.

Sitting in his office, a converted broom closet but with a newish glass door so he can see and be seen, he tries to follow her lead and diligently whispers “cream” and “dream” or “eggs” and “begs.” That’s as far as he can go. He checks the online thesaurus on his office computer—Windows XP, duh!— for a synonym for “porcelain,” but he can’t find a better word to describe her skin. After all, his degree is in anthropology and women’s studies.

At home, in his iron bed, the restaurant manager is covered by a regimental-style woolen blanket, itchy and thin. Ironically, they call this type of bed and blanket twin. His pajamas stick to
his skin in sweaty patches. Above him hangs a framed photograph of his wife, who ran away with a corporate audi-tor.

“I like him because he plays guitar in a restaurant band after work,” the manager’s wife said be-fore she left. “And he writes comments on Yahoo! His handle is Melody123. That’s creative.
As for you, you have no imagination and no talents.”

The wife’s eyes that can come only from a nightmare—overly large irises, misty-gray with iron speckles, and bloodshotwhites—drill the sleeping man. Because of that, short-skirted big-bosomed women, armed with steak knives and broken wine bottles, chase him in his dreams, and he wakes up with a headache
and red eyes. That’s been going on for at least 1,001 nights.

His wife was a smoker. He imagines what it is like to inhale smoke. Won’t it burn his lungs? He coughs.

Good thing he cleared their mutual bank account after she made this announcement, while she was packing her suitcases. After all, she made only 81% of what he did.

When the waitress tells the male customers about the house specials, she leans low. At least it’s low for the manager. Her breasts—the little he can see of them—are gold diluted by milk. His ears turn the color of the Chinese flag. When she walks, she sways her hips, causing his head to swim. She is taller than he is,
though not by much.

Sometimes, she pours herself a shot of whiskey, and he watches her swallow it, imagining it go down her silky throat. Once, he saw her taking $10 from the register. He put his own money in to replace it.

He’s never seen her with either a man or a woman. Is it possible that someone is not interested in sex? He dismisses this possibility. It would ruin his world without an opportunity for fixing it.

He imagines her marrying him and tending to the fire of his heart at his home hearth. He berates himself that his thoughts are too patriarchal, but then retorts that it his desire doesn’t come from the out-dated male ego, but because it would be so poetic to marry someone who is so deep in poetry. He’ll buy a wider bed. Maybe bu hao means “my love?”

Later, she tells him about her boyfriends. She had three so far.

The manager is envious of all three though they are probably worthless dudes. He bets that’s what they call themselves. They certainly are not poets.

The manager watches a flash of the waitresses’ legs and the flaunting curve of her spine, and he’s ready to flip. She doesn’t see him watching her, he hopes. On the other hand, she never sees him. Never! He’s Mr. Cellophane from the musical Chicago, but who can’t even sing. Maybe he also needs to get her something antique, something with a romantic, poetic story attached.

Like about a loving couple that shared a quilt for forty years, who dreamed under it, made love under it, conceived children under it, warmed their bodies under it during the cold nights, kept a genera-tion of cats on top of it, but a thief stole it while they went on their first vacation in years, and sold on e-Bay for peanuts, and now the couple is searching all over the country for the stolen quilt.

The manager steps away, covers his face with the menu, and tries to find a perfect rhyme for “smitten.” “Bitten” smacks of a vampire movie. “Mitten” is totally irrelevant. “Written?” “It has been writ-ten that you and me will be together forever, my sexy kitten.” That’s just plain stupid. The day he finds the rhyme, he will ask her out. But this is as hard as finding a perfect rhyme for “orange” or “silver,” which every student of poetry knows is impossible, but which every student of poetry wants to crack.