Farrah Fawcett and the Chicken Man
Editor’s Note: March signals spring and beginnings. The theme of this post is of beginnings and how trust can transform the mundane into rare moments of beauty. This article is dedicated to every person who is starting from zero.
A bearded giant was in the middle of our kitchen flapping his arms like a chicken. Farrah Fawcett, with her feathered hair and red bathing suit, watched from her perch on the back wall of our kitchen.
The bearded giant, who after today will be forever known to us as the Chicken Man, was named Daniel and built like a linebacker. Dressed in his crisp white shirt and tie, he looked far sterner when he first rang our doorbell.
My family finally moved into our new home in America. We landed at O’Hare Airport a week before Thanksgiving then “couchsurfed” for a month on strangers’ living room floors. (More on this in future posts.) Two months before, we were Lao refugees living a world away inside a refugee camp in Thailand.
At the airport, in the middle of a Chicago blizzard, we stood huddling in our thin cotton shirts and shorts and flip-flops, while all around us, people were bundled up in thick coats and snow boots. I still remembered the stunned look on my parents’ faces. They thought they were going to California. Perhaps they agreed to Chicago because they mistaken it for a city in California. I’m smart enough not to ask.
Each day, a new person – caseworkers, missionaries, and church volunteers – rang our doorbell. A caseworker might show up to take us for dental check-ups; another day for medical exams. These visits did not garner the same level of enthusiasm as when someone took us to Mack-Don-Nose (McDonald’s), or to pick out clothes, or even to enroll in school named after a dead President.
At eight-years-old, my English was barely above pre-kindergarten level. My parents’ skill level was a grade above. They carried with them a battered Thai-English dictionary all the time that it became like another appendage.
If the language posed a few challenges, the cultural difference is best explained this way. It was like transporting the Flintstones into the future world of the Jetsons. For these reasons, my family had little control over the decisions made over our daily life, and we welcomed it.
Some will call this naiveté. Placing absolute trust in the kindness of strangers. It is unimaginable to anyone living in our modern times; and for those who repeatedly have their trust broken, a dangerous and foolish exercise.
But a funny thing about vulnerability. It creates trust. Sometimes when you believe the best in others, they do their best to not disappoint you.
On this particular day when the Chicken Man paid us a visit, it was a week after we moved into our new apartment. The apartment was still completely bare. Seeing the makeshift blankets on our bedroom floors, Daniel’s face turned a deep shade of red. He tried to explain to my parents that he was having difficulty finding donated furniture.
Mom touched his arm gently and said, “It is good.”
He started to protest, and she squeezed his arm again. “We love.”
Daniel cleared his throat and seemed to have trouble with his eyes. He walked quickly out of my parents’ bedroom and into the kitchen.
“Stove working okay?” He asked mom, still avoiding her eyes.
Mom nodded, hesitating with a question. She knew how to work the stovetop but the oven was still a mystery.
Daniel saw her eyeing the oven and immediately understood.
“This is for baking things like cookies and turkey…”
“What is turkey?” I asked.
“You’ve never seen a turkey? Hmm. ”
He scratched his beard, and after thinking for a moment, he said, “It’s like a big chicken.”
Blank look from the refugees.
“You know, pock, pock.” Then the giant man flapped his arms for emphasis. This immediately threw my five-year-old and three-year-old sisters and me into complete hysterics. Seeing an appreciative audience, the giant hammed it up even more by bobbing his head in a pecking motion and scratching his foot like a rooster.
In the middle of his performance, the doorbell rang. Dad went to answer it. A young guy wearing a “Make love, not War” t-shirt stood outside with two lawn chairs. Daniel acknowledged him with a nod, and without missing a beat, went back to crowing like a rooster.
Dad and the visitor shook hands and introduced themselves. After he was let in, the new visitor carried the lawn chair across our living room and headed toward the sliding door leading to our tiny patio. He stopped in his tracks when he saw dad settled the other lawn chair right in the middle of our living room.
“Outside too cold to sit.” Dad said matter-of-factly.
The man thought about it for a moment and sat the other one down next to dad’s. He disappeared out of our front door and came back with a six-pack of Coors. He took out a can opener from his jean pocket and passed an opened bottle to dad. The two of them sat in the lawn chair in comfortable silence drinking their beer.
In the kitchen, mom was stir-frying something on the stove. Daniel was now doing his best charging bull imitation. The Bee Gee’s were singing “Staying Alive” on the radio. And Farrah Fawcett smiled and watched our antics from her perch on our kitchen wall.
A week later, Daniel and his friend returned with beds for all of us, a dining room set and some chairs. I think on that now, and I believed those men bought the furniture out of their own pockets.
But the lawn chairs still sat in the middle of our living room. My parents liked how they made every visitor smile.