Jack's vision involves Wal-Mart.
"Would you give up Vietnamese food for life in a small town? Because there are no Vietnamese restaurants in small towns", he says with the authority of one who has visited every small town in each state I find acceptable to call home.
"I would not. I love pho. Maybe I could learn to cook it myself".
This portion of the conversation is now over, Jack is laughing too hard to return fire.
The girls and I return home from picking up the dry cleaning and a stop at the tea cafe nearby. I'm aglow, basking in the kindness of those who always remember my children, and almost always have a small something for them to stuff into their pockets. This week it is a hair bow, from the dry cleaner, a trinket her daughter picked up in Korea. "Imagine the familiarity in a small town Jack, imagine how friendly it would be and the sense of community...", my voice trailing off, wandering miles from our apartment.
"There are no dry cleaners in small towns. There are no people with daughters who randomly stop by Korea to pick up some hair bows", he counters.
But there are cafes, and women working there who smile often and pinch cheeks and ask if I'd like my English muffin toasted or on the griddle. There are farm fresh eggs and local honey, hotcakes and corn cakes and pure maple syrup. There's a guy named Sam who sits outside the cafe in the morning, reading his paper and waiting for Wilma, his wife of 58 years, to finish having her hair done next door at the Curl N' Cut beauty shop.
Jack's small town breakfast is a ham, egg and cheese biscuit from the Burger King drive-through, tossed to him by a pimple faced teenager, working on Saturday morning to pay off the final installment on his girlfriend Jessie's tattoo. Just a few more Whoppers to go before her backside reads, in full, Jessie n' Josh 4Ever, with entwined hearts and roses. The biscuit smells of cigarette smoke; Josh has been sneaking a few in the break room, the stress of tattoos and parenthood at 17 are really getting to him.
Jack grew up in a small town, I did not. He is deeply familiar with crossing highways on foot to get to the school, Dominoes pizza as the sole option (in both delivery and ethnicity) and the eternal ache of wanting to find something bigger. I am familiar with strip malls, dual turn lanes, subdivisions and the easily replicated vibe of modern suburbia. My ache was in wanting to walk to town to visit my dad at work, waving to Floyd and Goober as I ambled along the dusty roads. Impossible, my dad worked in an office building in the middle of a huge parking lot, surrounded by overpasses and faux woodsy bike paths. Not once did I walk to his office, or anywhere; there is no walking to actually get anywhere in the suburbs, all walking is reserved for laps in enormous indoor malls and designated walking trails (frequented by the suburban villain, the flasher).
The battle continues. I search the internet for Vietnamese pho recipes and online sites that deliver nuac mam, sawgrass and sriracha sauce. Jack savors the shrill of sirens on our street at four in the morning. The girls wear hair bows from Korea, Sam and Wilma celebrate another anniversary and Josh and Jessie make wedding plans.
We will never move.