Shopping for groceries with Mark took courage, endurance, and patience a mile thick. Large grocery stores were getting to be just out of the question. He always disappeared. However, he was predictable. It just took time. He could be found behind the meat counter, the restroom, or helping to bag groceries. But once, I found him riding in someone else’s cart! After convincing him to come with me, as if I was the stranger, I decided I could not shop like that anymore. The following week we went to the smaller, local Bonanza market. Of course it was more expensive than Albertsons, but my nerves could handle a market with two aisles and nowhere else for Mark to go. No matter how many times he turned a corner in Bonanza, he always bumped into me.
A sweet Chinese couple ran the Bonanza market. Gene was the Bonanza meat butcher as well. He was most helpful in assisting me with Mark. His solution was brilliant. Every time I went in to Bonanza market, Gene would give me the “knowing smile” and ask,” He like hot dog? He want?” He would be dangling a weenie the size of Mark’s arm and enough to keep him busy for the duration of the time I needed to shop.
We shopped at Bonanza until Mark was much more grown up and would stop in occasionally for emergency items. Even until Mark was in high school, just seeing Mark, Gene would happily charge over to offer Mark a hot dog. I assured Gene we didn’t need the hot dog anymore, but he would be crest fallen. “He want?” he implored of Mark.” “I want!” assured Mark. And there would be this short high school kid walking around the store eating a hot dog. “He happy,” Gene would say, “He happy now.”
Gene and his family spoke Chinese and/or very broken Chinese/English. Mark was always mesmerized when Gene spoke to us. Mark had and ear for English, which he nonetheless articulated poorly. He had had speech therapy his entire life. Poor kid could barely make half the sounds in the alphabet, and his rate of speech was so fast it wouldn’t have mattered. Another time, when he was in middle school, we had begun to tease him when we could not understand him; we would say. “Slow down and speak English please.”
Mark loved engaging other people. Once, in Bonanza, Gene had friends visiting. They were speaking rapid Chinese when we got there, and Mark must have felt something twitch inside and he loudly blurted out, “Slow down and speak English please!” They gave me horrified looks. I froze with embarrassment, and did what I always did when Mark did his things like he did. I swallowed my pride and gently tried to explain he had Down syndrome. They looked blank, so I did the really bad thing. I’d point to the side of my head and say he was retarded and didn’t know any better. ”Ahh so!” they mewled with more “knowing smiles.”
When Mark was a baby I swore on his baby blankets I would never sell him out like that, but it felt better to do it then, than to admit I was a crappy racist parent who let my kid insult people of different nationalities. Soon, everyone was smiling and bowing. After hearing Mark’s apology, I think they finally realized what was so funny! His English sounded like it came from Jupiter.