Don't let the grumpiness scare you. These two pieces are memorable for at least the following reasons:
1. I reconnected with Bar on this trip. We hadn't been in contact since more or less right after we met, on the first day of orientation at grad school.
2. Thank God I saw "Layer Cake" instead of "Crash" at the theater.
3. Deleted Scene: As I just mentioned, I ate a grilled cheese sandwich featuring green chilies for the first time on this trip.
4. The absolute strangest comment was left in response to part one. An anonymous man really wanted to chime in with his thoughts on wheeled luggage, and the art of luggage in general.
5. Deleted Scene: The book I was reading was short stories by Julie Orringer: "How to Breathe Underwater". I bought it after reading that Nick Hornby liked it.
6. I got an insane amount of site traffic from lonely hotel guests searching for the titles of the porn movies listed. I can't really blame them for researching the films online. If you're going to throw down $14 for a rented movie, you should try to make sure it's a good choice.
7. Deleted Scene: I went to find a place for dinner one night. I started walking down Route 66, figuring it's a hugely famous highway and therefore a taco shop or something yummy would show itself promptly. After walking and walking, I finally found a place.
I had a chili cheese dog. I should have bought a T-shirt - they were pretty dope. This establishment was featured as a drug deal spot in an episode of "Breaking Bad", which is also pretty dope.
8. Note how heavy I lay on the grumpiness and symbolism in the last sentence. DO YOU GET IT, GUYS? MY GIRLFRIEND BROKE UP WITH ME AND I WAS SAD.
9. The title for these posts were also the title of a planned detective movie (or TV series?) by my pals Floyd and Jack Serpentine.
Okay, enough. Please enjoy:
Dry Heat - Part One
This is the second consecutive trip in which I have been randomly screened by airport security. After passing through successfully, I sit and watch as others are pulled aside. No one is nonchalant. They shoot flabbergasted looks toward their traveling companions.
"Oh my God, me?! Selma, look! They think little old me could be a terrorist!"
"For gosh sakes! That Latino man just went right through!"
"Look! He's making me spread my arms like I might have a weapon!"
One man finishes the screen and walks toward the seats to my left. A woman his age and a teenage girl are waiting for him. He is speaking in a foreign language - East Europe sounding. Maybe they are from Strawberry Hill, across the river. I listen to him speak, wondering if it's profound or useless chatter. If he was speaking English, I would assuredly be mocking his words. Since it is Russian or Croatian or else, I give him the benefit of the doubt.
The mother begins to assemble lunch. Empty paper cups appear from her carry-on bag. Hen House lunchmeat, possibly bologna, definitely smelly. Bread. One half gallon of milk. She builds modest sandwiches and hands one to her daughter and husband; she pours the milk. I consider the logistics required for their rushed meal - I calculate the odds of a resulting foodborne illness. Is there an ice pack in the bag? What are they doing with the leftovers?
The flight is Southwest. I am among the last to board, but get a decent isle seat next to a thin woman with a book - an ideal neighbor. The first short story in my new book is about death. The second is about low self-esteem. The third is about death and guilt. This trip will not be relaxing.
I do not want to stop my session mid-story, so I close the book as the plane descends. Almost by mistake, I catch a glimpse through the window at the earth below. There are mountains, and for a moment I am shocked. I have not seen mountains in more than five years. This is my first trip to New Mexico. I've never been near it. The airport floor is brick, or, more precisely, has been fashioned to look like red brick. Wheeled luggage clicks relentlessly. I want a word with the architect.
It will be hours before my room is available. The clerk stores my luggage, and his associate gives me directions to the old town district. I turn right and walk to Lomas. I turn left and walk for about 15 minutes. It is hot but I don't care - this is what people mean when they say, "It's a dry heat." I picture myself as a local, tanned after a few days in this sun. I am the bassist from Albuquerque's own The Shins.
Hispanics are gathered in the quad of Old Town. A nearby church has something to do with the celebration. Music plays over a PA as a man in the gazebo sings. He looks like bullfighter, minus the cape; he sings different songs in Spanish. They sound the same to me. I sit on a restaurant patio and eat flat chicken enchiladas. I can't see the entertainer from here, but I can see much of the crowd, and I can hear him all too well. He makes very brief conversation with the crowd between each song: he has been here many years in a row, his family has come from Dallas to see him today, he is happy to be here. I pay after sopapillas, looking at photos under the glass at the cashier's stand. John Kerry is in two of them. Gloria Estefan is in one. These should all be on the wall.
I make a lap in Old Town. Some shops sell jewelry. Others sell jewelry. A few even sell jewelry. He is still singing - the man's voice is tireless. This is why they keep asking him back.
The museums are on my way back to the hotel. I choose the natural history museum. It is a mistake.
I walk through neighborhoods on the return trip - the multitude of law offices on Lomas (immigration?) were not nice enough to see twice. The Shins are in my head. I can't relate to their lyrics - I do not smell the engine grease and mint the wind is blending. I don't smell anything. I am suddenly aware that I don't hear anything, either. No dogs bark. No lawnmowers run. Even the breeze can't be bothered to make a sound. It's three o'clock on a Saturday but quiet like a snowstorm. I consider if desert is an insulant, like snow. I reject the hypothesis.
Downtown features a handful of tall office buildings, almost all of which are named for banks. They are squatting, hiding behind the mountains that circle the city, apologetic for their non-adobe abilities, a tall man between yourself and the movie screen.
My hotel room faces south. I can see baseball stadium lights a few miles away. Every time I look at them in the next few days, I will think, "You hear that, folks? He said, 'Go 'Topes!'".
I'm too late to see Crash, so I decide to see Layer Cake. The movie ticket costs $9.25, and my $.75 of change goes to a charity that seems to be supported by a smiling black and white photo of The Rock. I start on two generous scoops of Dreyer's rocky road ice cream - my dinner - as the trailers begin. Later, The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" is used perfectly. If I could show everyone this scene, they would understand why I was disappointed with Garden State's use of "Caring is Creepy".
My walk home takes me past the bus station. A vagrant is yelling at a better-dressed man who wants the bus to take him away from the situation. Two uniformed policemen watch from twenty yards away.
Don't blame the architect. Wheeled luggage sucks. It's automatically heavier, has less interior space, and is hard to stuff into overhead compartments, because it has to be at least semi-rigid. It just generally slows you down. Think more about what you really need to take with you and save weight. Lighter is better and faster.
Dry Heat - Part Two
I want to get a nice late breakfast before the conference starts at noon. I walk around downtown - nothing is open. I abandon the morning constitutional and eat at my hotel.
The conference room is crowded. The panel of experts is seated, and their tables form a U, facing the Powerpoint display. Myself and the riff-raff are behind them, squeezed next to one another, chairbacks against the wall. I am among the last to arrive, so I have a poor view of the screen. The woman that is seated to my right has an even worse angle. She compensates by leaning into my personal space whenever she feels like seeing what the speaker is reading. She is the exact opposite of the woman I sat next to on the flight to Albuquerque. She's constantly fidgeting, and preferring both the standard leg bounce and the unconventional lateral knee touch - the latter performed as if there is an invisible Thighmaster in her crotch.
I meet Nathan and Julie in the hotel bar shortly after 5:00. I knew they were inside after seeing their large truck in the parking lot, loaded for their cross-country drive. The bed is packed high, and a blue tarp covers everything but part of a bicycle frame. I think of the Joads.
We enjoy beer as we wait for our food to arrive - we're on a patio off Central Ave, also known as Route 66. I am three feet from the neighboring table, where a bikerish woman is straddling a bikerish man. My boss walks by on the sidewalk, and I say hello. She approaches our table and sits down. Damn. A best friend, his wife, a liter of Sam Adams Summer, a warm evening on the Route 66 patio, my supervisor. One of these things is not like the other. It's over soon, and I show Nathan and Julie the theater's ice cream selection before they drive further west.
The hotel has HBO. Unlike the host cities of my last two conferences, Albuquerque does not sponsor a hotel channel that features local restaurants, museums, and landmarks. I take this as another bad sign.
For the past handful of years, I've tried to surround myself with my favorite things during my birthday. I listen to my all-time favorite albums, I watch my favorite movie, I bathe in my favorite champagne. This year, I battle my peers for complimentary bagels and muffins before sitting through plenary and breakout sessions.
A well-dressed, gray-haired gentleman sits a few seats down from me during the opening presentation. The speaker tells an anecdote involving Senator Robert Dole for some reason - a reporter asks Mr. Dole if it's effeminizing to be second fiddle to his newly elected wife. She pushes him away from the microphone and says, "Move over, cupcake, I'll take this one!" The crowd laughs, starved for something resembling humor.
"Heh heh. Savoir fare..." the man says creepily.
A speaker uses the phrase, "Not sure if the juice is worth the squeeze," and I try to think if I've been previously exposed to that wording.
There is a reception at 6:00 with a cash bar, appetizers, and a mariachi band. Why would a culture that lives in such a warm climate choose to uniform their bands in restrictive suits? Barbara, a friend from grad school that I found earlier that day, tells them it's my birthday. They ask me to stand as they play "Happy Birthday". The pacing of the mariachi version is far superior to our slow, pained, American chorus.
Later that night, Barbara and I try to find alcohol. A hotel shuttle driver takes us to Seven-Eleven, where we purchase two bottles of Yellow Tail. We drink the cabernet and catch up on the past two years of each other's lives. There are about a dozen adult films available for rent through the hotel, including Swallowing Shanks, Cream on my Face, Hot Young Snatch, and Hairless Honeydrippers. $13.99 is greater than our curiosity.
Tuesday lasts forever. Eventually, I am in a hotel bar with Barbara's female peers. The British-sounding one looks at me.
"Why do men ask 'Do you swallow'?"
It is unprovoked and accusatory, but at least we are not talking about risk ratios. The other girls talk about feelings of power/submission/control. I give my opinion, which I adopted from Loveline's Adam Carolla.
"It has little to do with power. It's more flattering. It shows that you're not disgusted. I don't care what you do, just don't seem incredibly disgusted by the process."
I'm sure she doesn't hear any of this.
I am waiting for a cab to the airport. I'm tired of feeling cold in the hotel, especially because it's so warm outside. I stand on the sidewalk by the entrance. There is an abundance of shade, but I want to spend my last minutes in the sun. The dry heat is nice, but it feels like there is something missing.