A guest may often ask his or her host this question: “Do you have a bathroom?” Some people call this an inane or insane question. I, however, think it’s both perfectly ane and sane. I am suspicious by nature and can sympathize with someone afflicted with reasonable doubt as to whether his host possesses a bathroom. Some people might suggest that the question “Where’s your bathroom?” is more suitable, but those people are naïve, because the question “Where’s your bathroom?” assumes two facts not in evidence: one, that the host actually has a bathroom, and two, that the host is willing to share that information. Like I said, I’m suspicious. I can all too easily imagine a host being gripped by the sadistic impulse to withhold the answer to that question. I’ve certainly had that impulse towards certain people in my house. I can also imagine a scenario where the host has no bathroom. That is a terrible thought but I find comfort in the notion that that depraved person will someday encounter a just God.
I like the question “Do you have a bathroom?” just fine. But it is precisely this sort of pleasant question on which I can only reflect nostalgically, because at every semester’s beginning I encounter more questions that I don’t like than questions that I do like. One of these is “Where are you from?” I have found that I am unable to answer this question without hesitating, no matter how often I am asked it. So, mental mouth agape in confusion, I hesitate. Probably, since it’s a pretty easy question, I look like a ditz—or like someone with something to hide. The truth is nearer the latter.
The safe, half-truth answer is that I’m from Massachusetts. Insofar as my family lives in Massachusetts, this is true, but prior to that, I have lived in Ohio, Michigan, Mississippi, Michigan again, Washington, and Connecticut. That’s a can of worms that I seldom open, but if I should do so, the follow-up questions are predictable. No, neither of my parents was in the military. Were we in the Witness Protection Program, ha-ha?
Well, funny guy, I answer, you’re not so far off.
Since 1986, my family has been on the run from the Los Angeles Armenians.
It all began at my sister’s third birthday party in the mid-1980s, in Glendale, California. The birthday party was supposed to take place at a local park, and so early that morning my dad and my two grandfathers ventured there to stake their territory and escape the party preparations. After an hour or two, a large contingent of the local Armenian population came upon them. (How my forefathers determined that they were part of the Armenian population has escaped my memory—maybe they were waving flags.) The Armenians claimed the territory as theirs for a family reunion. My Irish forefathers claimed it as theirs for a family birthday party. The Armenians made a case for theirs being the greater need. The Irish cited the policy of first-come, first-serve. The Armenians said something to the effect of, those who serve last serve best, and muttering darkly (or so I imagine), retreated, but set up camp within spitting distance of the Irish. Every time my parents glanced in that direction, they were met with Armenian glares, and when they left, the Armenian glares followed them. The Armenian glares have followed us from California to Washington to Ohio to Michigan to Mississippi to Michigan to Washington to Connecticut to Massachusetts. My parents are even now plotting their next move.
Do you really think that a gang of California Armenians are out to get you, after thirty-five years, over a measly park table, you ask? No. I don’t think they’re out to get us over the table. I think they’re out to get us with the table. A sturdy park table is a great battering ram, and he who finds one finds a treasure. I think I’ll know when my time is running out. I think I’ll wake up some morning and find a park table out in the yard. Then the next day I’ll wake up and find a little toy park table on my pillow, and that will be the last thing I ever see.
L.A. Armenians, if you’re reading this, let my people go. Let the park table stand between us no more.
And as this semester begins, and I arm myself with the required biographical facts, I still don’t have a satisfactory answer to the question “Where are you from?” Satisfactory for me, anyway. I can tell you where I’m not from, though, and I am definitely not from Massachusetts. On no planet, am I from Massachusetts. At the risk of offending the Massachusetts people as well as the Armenians, maybe that’s a good answer to give.