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SOAPBOX: I know of what I speak

On KJZZ's SOAPBOX, The Show  turns over the the mic to listeners. For the summer 2022, writers tackled the theme HOME.

"This neighborhood looks dead," I say to my son, closing the car door behind me. "Don’t you want to live somewhere a little livelier?"

After a brief glance down the street, he shrugs.

"It’s fine, Mom."

We’re here to check out rentals in Tucson, where my son’s about to start graduate school.

I carefully look around. Except for a few agave here or there in a dirt yard, there is not a blade of green grass in sight. Everything — the landscape, the buildings, even the air — seems to be bathed in a dreary salmon hue. This area near the university would fit the image of what most non-Arizonans imagine living in the desert is like.

"I’m getting a graveyard vibe," I say.

I know of what I speak. My first home was a squatter’s shack in a graveyard in Da Nang, Vietnam. Unable to afford a place for their young families, my father and his fellow South Vietnamese soldiers simply set up homes in a cemetery. Even now, decades later, my mother still complains about my throwing a "Terrible Two" tantrum loud enough to wake up all the dead neighbors.

My son and I head toward the leasing office, a small brick duplex within walking distance to the science buildings where he will be spending most of his time.

"I like it. It’s a decent place,” he says when we finish the tour. “I’ll put a few potted plants in front to liven it up. It has AC and — "

"Do you not see the security bars on all the windows?” I interrupt. “Look around. All the houses have iron bars on the windows."

"Architectural decorations, Mom," he says.

"We’ll keep looking,” I insist. “I’d rather you not live in a place that looks like a fortress."

I know of what I speak. I’ve lived in a real fortress. As my father moved up in rank, we got housing in the army base. With bomb shelters and everything. I still remember how naively proud 6-year-old me was, during the Tet Offensive in '69, being sent out to buy food for the family during a lull in the bombings.

Our next Tucson stop is a newly built in lively downtown."Luxury apartment-home living," the sign says. The green, lush courtyard even has an area for pets to play. Instead of bars on windows, the unit comes with a private balcony and a cityscape view, with the Catalina Mountains in the distance. Amenities include a fitness center, a rooftop lounge and a movie theater.

I love everything about the place. The minute the leasing agent leaves us alone, I tell my son. "You should put a deposit down today to reserve a unit."

"No. It’s too ..." He hesitates.

"Too what?” I say. "It’s perfect!"

He shrugs. "It’s too bougie."

I’m speechless. Most young men his age would kill to live in a place like this.

He continues, "I’d be embarrassed inviting people over to hang out and study."

"What?" I say. "But you’ll be so comfortable living here!"

He replies with, "When I started college, didn’t you tell me to always be 'comfortable with the uncomfortable'?"

"That’s different!" I say. "Graduate school is harder."

He wraps one arm around me and nudges me toward the exit. “Look, Mom. I’m the son of a refugee. There’s no way I’d feel comfortable with 'luxury-home living.'"

Well, that’s my kid. I have to admit that was a proud moment for me as a mother. We’ll keep looking.

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