I woke up around 10 and groggily went down to breakfast in my scrubs. Anjali gave me props on my choice of nightwear, and I filled her in on the game after she'd left. Dhea was also at breakfast. It was good that I had made my official goodbyes at the reception because the actual last times we saw each other were uneventful.
At breakfast, Jonathan (barilosopher) made the keen observation that I appeared to have a bagel, which inspired him to get one himself.
"Hey, Ryan," I said. "Do you want to hear a spoiler? Jonathan's going to have a bagel."
When Jonathan returned, I made the keen observation that he appeared to have a bagel.
The plan for the day was fairly loose. We knew that lunch would have to be had, and we knew that we would be picking up Lauren. I also knew that Cory (shpyum) had managed to get herself down to Phoenix from Tucson in order to meet me.
There were all sorts of simultaneous phone calls and real-time planning going on, as Dave asked Lauren about a restaurant and then looked it up on his laptop and I relayed the information to Cory. Ryan was particularly entertained.
The plan was this: I...don't remember all the details of the plan. But the destination was Macayo's. Dave and Ryan would go pick up Lauren, and Jonathan and I would wait in the room and listen to our respective iPod products, and I have no idea where Shari and Emily (tigeremme) figured into this. Cory would meet me at the hotel.
When we got the call to come down, I did a final check (even the drawers that Ryan had unpacked his clothes into, a practice that had never even occurred to Jonathan) and found a belt on the floor and five dollars and change on the nightstand.
Downstairs, the car was ready, but Cory was almost literally just around the corner (this trip was just full of episodes of great timing), so we waited a minute. And then there she was! I gave her a hug and got in as we followed the others to the restaurant.
I felt somewhat awkward at first; although I had known shpyum for a year or two, we hadn't talked very much. Once or twice on the phone. And her LJ posts were sporadic. So I felt weird. But that passed as I became more comfortable with her, who seemed more than comfortable with me.
She told me that Macayo's was a chain, which was unfortunate, but at least it was an Arizona chain!
In the parking lot, introductions were made, and we met the rest of the group, who had already gotten a long table outside. Our portly waiter, according to his nametag, was named, I shit you not, Deano. He was very good-natured and made several cracks about his weight being affected by eating all the great food at this restaurant. Looking at the menu, I saw that this might not have been too far from the truth, given that the "Light" options were 800 calories.
I decided on the Baja Burro, as I had not had a burro in a long time. That was my meal of choice at Chi-Chi's when we lived in Pittsburgh. Shari told me they had gone out of business, which I think I had heard before, but it was still sad to hear. I was happy to hear from Deano that the refried beans had been vegetarian for three years now, although he was a little unsure about the rice when Cory asked. To be safe, he offered to bring her extra beans.
It was a very Baja table, as we had ordered a Baja Chimichanga, a Baja Burro, and three orders of the Spinach Queso Baja Enchiladas. Also, margaritas.
So, seating order! I sat at the head of the table. On my left were Jonathan, Emily, and Dave. Ryan was all the way across at the other end. On my right were Cory, Shari, and Lauren.
What, you don't think I could have visualized the table in my head correctly? HAVE SOME PROOF:
...so I may have cheated. But I could have done it without the pictures! Really! Because obviously I knew Jonathan and Cory were on either side of me, and I also knew where Emily was because we conversed, and I knew where Shari was because we also conversed, and I knew Lauren was on the other side of Emily because of a scene to be described later. That left Dave and Ryan, whose placements I would have taken note of when I first arrived and asked who had left a belt (Dave) and who had left five dollars and change (Ryan). Don't question my semi-eidetic memory!!
To my pleasant surprise, Cory fit right in with my Rice friends, who were not put off by this random girl ("from my posts," as Emily would say) joining our lunch. It helped that she was clearly one of us at heart. Jonathan's ears perked up at her study of mythography, her totally made-up major about the writing and reworking of myths. Shari was a kindred spirit since she was going to get a graduate degree in library science. And Lauren was just as interested in children's fantasy as Cory was. Also, I pointed out to Shari that Cory was further confirmation that Shari's assertion that there were cute girls in Phoenix was true.
I missed the origin of the conversation, but Jonathan and Emily and Lauren were doing something that involved winking and sexual innuendos, the way that by adding the appropriate pause, you could turn anything into something sexual: "Hey, Lauren, could you get my...luggage?" (Wait for it, wait for it...*wink*)
"Did you hear the ellipses?" I said.
At this, we got into a debate about punctuating pauses and how the words on a page indicate delivery. I believed that if the author intends a pause, he should punctuate accordingly, or else the reader has no idea! That's what commas are for! They're grammatically useful for keeping your entire sentence from being a string of incoherent words!
Jonathan didn't have a book to use, so I pulled out Midnight's Children as an example. Jonathan opened it, took a look, and hilariously noted, "Well, this guy just puts it everywhere." Rushdie's sentences have four thousand semicolons and dashes and colons and all sorts of punctuation marks. Jonathan searched and then picked a sentence to read aloud, inserting a pause that was not in the text to prove his point. And it was certainly his prerogative to pause, but there was no indication that Rushdie meant the sentence to sound that way.
Our food arrived. The sauce on my Baja Burro looked kind of nasty. All white and congealed. And it didn't taste much better. I scraped most of the sauce off, since the inside was good.
The sauce on the Spinach Queso Baja Enchiladas, to our surprise, was spinach queso. We had expected them to be spinach enchiladas with queso on top. I argued that they should have been called Spinach-Queso Baja Enchiladas, and Jonathan wasn't too sure, but Emily agreed with me because I'm the one with the English degree!
When Deano asked me how my food was, I honestly replied that I didn't like the sauce very much, but other than that, it was good. He looked kind of horrified and apologized, and I felt kind of bad for saying something, but now he knows! He'll know to perhaps mentally move that dish down in the list of things he would recommend to unsuspecting customers. When Deano took Jonathan's food, Jonathan said that it was excellent or some other superlative, and Emily joked that he was trying to make up for my response.
We spared Deano by not getting eight separate checks. Jonathan was going to charge it, and we would give him cash. My share was thirteen dollars, and in my wallet, I had a few twenties, a five, and eight ones, in addition to the two-dollar bill for luck. I put down the five and singles.
Since I had my wallet open, I took out Emily's note and handed it to her to see. In November of 2001, she had written me a note at a production of Hair and folded it into the shape of an envelope. She had even penciled in a stamp (34 cents at the time). Later, I tucked a little confetti bunny from her recital into the fold. The letter had a permanent spot in my wallet behind a couple nice fortunes.
She unfolded and read it, smiling. "Oh, I was so cute back then!" she said, as if she weren't anymore. Lauren asked her what it was, she wanted to see, but Emily didn't respond. I resisted the urge to say something because I trusted Emily to understand. Lauren stretched her arm out, wanting to see what was so cute. But Emily paid her no heed, simply folding the note back up and giving it back to me.
Because, you see, what makes it special is the fact that there are only two people in all the world who know what is written inside. There is nothing secret about the content, but the content is secret all the same. It's ours, a symbol of our friendship I carry around with me wherever I go.
After the bill was paid, all the cool kids were going to the bathroom, so I followed suit. In the bathroom, I learned lots of crazy facts I have now forgotten but whose credibility was called into question by the misspelling of "pangram" anyway.
I rode back to the hotel with Cory. We discussed how much she loved trickster gods, and when I asked her who the trickster god was in Hinduism, she said it was Krishna, which made a bit of sense. She loved that the trickster god was also the died-and-reborn god; no other religion was like that. Hell, in Christianity the trickster god was the Devil. She remarked that Loki had originally been a mischievous figure; it was only when Christianity hit the Norse regions that he became an evil figure.
Unfortunately, after dropping me off, Cory had to leave, so we said goodbye.
What, is that not good enough? Do you want to see our feet, too? FINE.
I mostly include this picture to point out my red backpack in the lower left corner. I have had it since seventh grade. Which comes out to...holy shit, almost fifteen years.
For an afternoon excursion, some people had suggested the Desert Botanical Garden, whose prices we checked online to make sure they weren't exorbitant. Even better, Dave noted, it was actually in between the hotel and the airport, so it was convenient for the people who had earlier flights. On the other hand, the sky was threatening to rain, which was annoying because the past two days had been sunny and nice.
Someone had also suggested some sort of football game that could be watched. I don't remember what game it was or what two teams were playing, but I was informed that it was a rematch. "Was it a rematch made in heaven?" I involuntarily quipped without even realizing what I was saying. The joke was scarily successful.
On the way, Shari stopped to fill up gas and asked if we would chip in since she was shuttling everyone around. Jonathan pulled out ten dollars. I only had twenties at this point, so I gave Jonathan the twenty and took his ten dollars, which comprised a five and five ones. They looked familiar.
"I think these are my ones," I said. He chuckled, realizing they were.
We followed Lauren. Shari had discovered the alternative station in the area, which was having a '90s weekend. Ah, the music of my youth. Strangely enough, during "Monkey Wrench," they didn't censor the "shit"! I didn't know how they could get away with that, but good for them! It was so jarring to hear it uncensored on the radio.
At the Desert Botanical Garden, I totally whored out my University of Michigan ID to get the student discount. But in the end, aren't we all students? In the SCHOOL OF—wait, I already used that joke.
So. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't really interested in the Desert Botanical Garden. I figured it would be a bunch of boring cactus, whatever.
But then the first thing we saw was this:
OCTOPUS CACTUS WTF.
There were all sorts of crazy fucking cactus there besides your basic Saguaro, which was also on full display:
We also saw a cute little jackrabbit! Two, actually.
I thought this one looked like the tall cactus in the back was being worshipped by all the lowly ones below, so I showed it the deference due to a cactus of pedigree.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before I had to randomly exclaim, "It's the quenchiest!" Which pleased Emily greatly.
"How did we get out here in the middle of the ocean?" she said.
"Who lit Toph on fire?" I responded.
Later on, I misquotingly cried, "No! You've doomed us all!!"
"No, he hasn't," said Emily. Then she waited the appropriate amount of time for the animation. "Oh, right," she continued.
Both of us, together: "BENDING."
"Is it sad that we know all that?" she asked.
Emily was definitely glad to have some around to get her Avatar references, as was I.
Although the Succulent House was closed (Shari made the "Is it tasty?" joke before I did), we saw some aloe plants outside. I'm sure I learned a lot of things that I have now forgotten. Which all goes to show that learning things is pointless.
We even took a horribly touristy picture with a Desert Botanical Garden sign because there was a helpful camera stand and Lauren's camera had a self-timer. Someone made the suggestion to Photoshop Alexis in. Ryan added that we could also change what the sign said! It could be a contest.
Maybe it was the margarita, but Emily was finding my jokes far funnier than she should have. Even I knew what I was saying wasn't extremely funny, but each time, she said it was "funnier than she'd expected." I wish I could remember my hilariously lame jokes, but the only one I can remember is the one that was legitimately funny and got laughter from most everybody, not just Emily: "I tried to ford the desert but my cactus died."
Emily thought it was funny, but it was not as funny as "I've been promoted?" I was slightly flabbergasted because I had just been reading my notes about the Rice visit where I said that and had mentioned the other hilarious thing I said that night to Kelley and Elisabeth during Scrabble the other night. I couldn't believe she remembered after two years, that my joke had stuck with her. I love when people remember things; it shows I've made somewhat of an impact on their lives. Lauren randomly threw out "Sfiretruckunil" at one point, which was something from even longer ago (we were in Emily's room passing the phone around to talk to Lauren, and I told her to guess who I was: it began with an S, ended with -unil, and there was a firetruck in the middle).
"Scheisse!" I said at one point.
"No swearing, young man!" said Emily.
"Or else I'll never find a wife?"
It's the cactus that ate Tokyo!!
There's even a Dahlia Cactus!
We encountered the Herb Garden, which was not as exciting for the people with stuffed-up noses, since part of the fun was rubbing the leaves of the plants and smelling them. That's where herbs and spices came from! They look like that! Craaaazy.
There was even garlic. "One garlic, two garlic, three garlic, four," I said to myself for no particular reason.
"Five garlic, six garlic, seven garlic, more!" said Emily in the cutest way possible.
Did you know prickly pears came in purple?!
We came across an art installation that reminded Ryan of Riven. Words can't really describe it, which is why God invented pictures:
We spent a lot of time messing around in there and taking pictures. It was so otherworldly, and the holes felt like windows into other worlds. We took a group picture inside one of the...things. At first, I said we should all look out the hole curious and/or menacing, but smiling made for a better, less confusing picture.
There was another art installation that was far less interesting but had bonus quails.
It had started to drizzle a bit, and Emily was the only one with an umbrella, so Shari and I tried to squeeze in under as we made our ways toward the exit and into the gift shop, where, after much deliberation, I bought some prickly pear candy for my boss, because I hear it's nice to give your boss gifts, even though I don't think my boss could love me any more anyway.
Dave, Jonathan, and Emily all had to leave for the airport, so we said our goodbyes in the parking lot. Honestly, saying goodbye was strange because I knew for certain I would be seeing Emily soon enough, I could see Dave fairly easily as well, and Jonathan would be in town for a week afterward. The majority of our group had ended up in the Bay Area or was from there to begin with, but it was still rare that we could all get together like this. It took a wedding.
Ryan, Lauren, Shari, and I were left. We went hunting for coffee, heading toward ASU. We found ourselves on Mill Road, which had lots of eating establishments and coffee shops. Shari took a left turn and parked by a meter. Some guy helpfully drove by shouting that the meters were free today, but we didn't take any chances, filling the meter till six.
A couple blocks away, we spied Coffee Plantation, which probably had coffee. They also had gelato, and I tried some, but it wasn't the right consistency. It was very soft, like frozen yogurt. What was awesome about Coffee Plantation (besides the college kids shilling coffee) was that they had BOARD GAMES. I brought out Risk at first, but we decided it was too complicated to even start playing, and we didn't have time for a full game. Lauren had never played Chutes and Ladders before, though! So I went to get that but changed my mind and brought back Battle of the Sexes instead. (They also had chess, but that wasn't really an option with four people.)
I read the rules and attempted to figure out how to play. It seemed simple enough. We just asked questions. The strategy, however, was in the fact that the card you picked up had three questions, and you had to pick what order to give them to the other player. This became important because of a Wild Card space that, if you landed on it at the end of your turn, would send you back some number of spaces.
So because we were sitting with Ryan and me on one side and Shari and Lauren on the other, we had to make a backwards Z to alternate sexes for turns. We complicated things for ourselves by switching off the reader so that you weren't always reading to the same person. So, see, the first time around, I would read to Shari, Shari would read to Ryan, Ryan would read to Lauren, and Lauren would read to me. But then Ryan would read to Shari, Lauren would read to Ryan, I would read to Lauren, and Shari would read to me. It...looks so simple written down like that, but oh my God was it confusing in practice.
Shari was kicking ass, and Ryan was getting all the questions I knew. Meanwhile, Lauren and I were stuck at the starting spot for a long time. It took me forever to even make it off the start, and even longer to make it past the middle of the board. The questions were stupidly hard at times. Like I know names of dresses or desserts! I was pretty proud of myself for figuring out some of the ones I didn't know immediately, like what season you were allowed to wear white shoes (I knew you weren't supposed to wear them after Labor Day, and I figured, then, that the beginning was the last major holiday, which was Memorial Day, meaning...summer!) and whether junior miss dress sizes were odd or even (I knew that regular women were always talking about size 2 and size 6 and size 8 and stuff, so the miss sizes must be odd).
As Ryan started getting closer to the end, Shari and Lauren started conspiring to select questions he wouldn't know!
The game turned out to be much more fun than expected.
Shari and Lauren went to the restroom while Ryan and I waited outside. When Shari came out, we tried to scare her by popping our heads out in front of the window. It was fun.
I had seen a burrito place down the street, so I led us to sustenance. We passed an ice cream sandwich place. God, they have places for everything, don't they? There's probably some specialty dessert shop that only sells crème brulee.
The burrito place was called Taco Del Mar, and I knew I had chosen wisely when I saw that they had FOUR-DOLLAR BURRITOS. It was amazing. I could have got an Alaskan fish burrito, but I didn't want to jump right in, so I stuck with chicken (braised chicken, there).
On the napkin, I learned that their middle name is Delicious. I guess that's what the Del was for.
As Ryan and I ate, the four of us discussed who could get married so we could to this again. It couldn't be one of us because, as we had seen, we hadn't gotten to spend much time at all with Ravi and Laura. But it had to be someone who would invite us all. Or at least enough of us that the other people had an excuse to come visit. It was hard.
Then it was off to the airport. Mill Road had been a nice little place; we talked about its similarities to the Rice Village, which is how I found that Nit Noi had gone out of business! Nit Noi was a Thai place we had often gone to. Rice Epicurean Market had also disappeared, but Shari said that had happened while I was at Rice; I just never noticed since I only went there maybe once the entire time I was there. It's so sad when that happens.
The airport was not very far away. Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to Shari and Lauren, two people I don't get to see often enough.
It was down to Ryan and me, which was ironic in that Ryan is the one I have the least individual connection to. Group dynamics are lovely, but they sometimes mean you don't get to know some of your friends one-on-one very well. (In contrast, Ravi is someone I made friends with before our group even formed.)
I learned that programs from whatever bowl game was being played were setting off the TSA alerts for whatever reason, so people were supposed to put them in their carry-on luggage. I have no idea what the hell a football program could contain that would set off alerts. Dynamite samples?
Lauren had told us that Phoenix airport security blew, and that's why we had gotten to the airport an hour earlier than we would have. She was right, as we spent a half hour in security in a line that really didn't even seem that long. We sat there and watched them pat down their own wheelchair and force an old lady to walk through the metal detector. And then they made a big deal about a little kid. And then one of their own personnel walked through it and set it off. It was completely stupid, and a man behind me was one of those ornery guys who likes to complain to anyone who'll listen, so I got to listen.
Although Ryan and I were both Southwest, we were going to different airports, so our gates were on different sides of the terminal. We parted ways.
I walked to my gate, sat down, pulled out my spiral notebook, and started writing.