The flight out – well, it will be an indistinct recollection, since I’m writing this at 11:30 PM on the flight back, and we left a week ago. Nevertheless, some details of the flight out are seared, seared in my memory: not one but two squalling bundles of joy behind us, one an infant for whom one could have only pity, and one an older child whose whining churlishness could be laid at the parent’s feet. Or mine, since they let her crawl under my seat and I nearly cruncher her hands when they gripped the heel-rail (It’s not quite a Pennywhistle-beneath-the-sewer-grate sight, but it’s in the same genre.) Aside from the noise, which I tried to mask with Sony’s new line of Inadequa noise-cancelling headphones, it was fast enough with few bumps. The descent, the moment of silence, the squeak, the brake, the great gust of reverse, and we had arrived: Phoenix.

Oh, the barren hues of the desert:


And what did we do? We ate exceptional dishes in nice restaurants, splayed out at various pools, baked and drank and napped and soaked it up as deeply as we could. Went to the Paradise Valley Country Club (satellite view) for lunch and basting; the kids played in the pool while beefy capitalists did laps and golden-hued women chatted and minded the scions. I did not see Leslie Nielsen this time. I did, however, wander into the men’s locker room by mistake – I was looking for the loo, but mistook the clubhouse for the ordinary restroom – and I was in a different world. The world of golf. Shoes with tassels,  and the small Mayan men who buff them in silence. On the way out I stopped at a bar with a dozen bottles of various potions, and gave myself a splash of Bay Rum. I have my own, but I wanted to know what Millionaire’s Bay Rum was like. (Verdict: Bay Rum.) I can’t quite see the point of these places, but I don’t golf. The setting is beautiful, and it’s always nice to have a quiet underpopulated place to visit, but the cost is enormous. By my lights, anyway. I don’t know if I’m frugal or just cheap, but there are some things I can’t see spending money on, and this is one of them.

It’s possibly I’m frugal and cheap, of course. But even if I had eleventy billion I’d prefer a pool in the backyard. If I wanted the illusion of community I could hire some actors to be fellow club members and make them talk about things I wanted to discuss.

I love Phoenix. It’s a 21st Century American City. You want the future? Here you go. In the movies, America usually gets boiled down to three models – East Coast megalopolis, the Great Mysterious Inner Territories (which extend all the way from the Deep South to Texas to the Pacific Northwwest) and Los Angeles. The Inner Territories are useful for revealing various pathologies inherent in this horrible, horrible land – in the Midwest, for example, the very sight of a picket fence lets you know you’re in for the most rank form of hypocrisy imaginable, and you will soon learn that the values and culture of the majority will be shown as empty dank phantasms, thanks to the actions of a young suburban criminal or a middle-aged mid-level executive. If you’re in the South, well, say no more: everyone’s only a hair away from tying a noose (they teach that in the Boy Scouts) and looking for a stout tree limb. The Pacific Northwest usually gets a pass, because it’s generally progressive and also a good place for damp moody horror mysteries. The East Coast urban areas are home to Thriving Authentic Subcultures; Los Angeles is the great whiteboard on which anything can be scrawled and just as easily erased. But the Southwest? If there’s not a story about an old cover-up about American Indians treated poorly by a tall sociopathic sheriff (Tom Skerrit), forget it. I can’t imagine Hollywood setting many movies here unless they had a point to make. They’d make ten movies set in North New Jersey before they made two in Phoenix – yet the latter is more indicative of the country today than the former.

It’s new. It’s rich. It’s poor. It’s low and flat, it’s high and barren. It has broad new freeways rising high over barren canals, great empty stretches punctuated by high-tech office buildings holding dozens of incubating companies. It remakes itself with a speed that makes LA look like Paris. This is the future, but somehow when people want to capture the soul of America they go to Cleveland and film a shoelace factory that closed in 1982.

While reading things on the Internet, I came across a brouhaha re: this Absolut ad.

In this world, Phoenix and the environs would not exist as they do today, and that includes the Mayo Clinic.   Brilliant move, Absolut. I’m done with you. A few nights ago I found myself at a bar on the waterfront in Scottsdale – absurd as that sounds, there is such a thing, and I’ll talk about that in a few days. It was warm, and I wanted a cool clear beverage. To order an Absolut in such a place, surrounded by things Mexico never would have bothered to accomplish, would seem ungrateful. I went with the Reyka. From now on I will always go with the Reyka. I love Absolut, but I draw the line at giving money to companies that pander to the Reconquista - and manage to avoid any southward expansion of Mexico, so as not to irritate those developing markets.


Amusing corporate response:

"This particular ad, which ran in Mexico, was based upon historical perspectives and was created with a Mexican sensibility. In no way was this meant to offend or disparage, nor does it advocate an altering of borders, nor does it lend support to any anti-American sentiment, nor does it reflect immigration issues. Instead, it hearkens to a time which the population of Mexico may feel was more ideal.

"As a global company, we recognize that people in different parts of the world may lend different perspectives or interpret our ads in a different way than was intended in that market. Obviously, this ad was run in Mexico, and not the US -- that ad might have been very different.

"By Paula Eriksson, VP Corporate Communications, V&S Absolut Spirits"

I’m looking forward to Absolut Palestine, Absout Russia, Absolute China (Tibet AND Taiwan) and, as some wag noted on the La Times site, Absolut Germany.

I’d be curious to see what the borders of Absolut World America would look like. Ask people to consider the ideal, and they’d shrug: what it is now, pretty much. Maybe a little less Maine. It sticks up too much. 

Anyway. We looked at houses – well, it’s hard not to; they’re everywhere – but this time we weren’t looking out of gnawing curiosity. Scottsdale abounds with my wife’s relations, and some of them (I’m being indistinct simply because they didn’t ask to have their details broadcast on the internets) are looking to move to a slightly smaller house. Their current house has a living room that could house a cat-swinger’s convention, and it was either find something a little cozier or install light-rail to get from master bedroom to the children’s wing without having to pause in the auxiliary living room to regain your wind.

We went up to DC Ranch, which as far as I can tell is the uppermost of the topper-crust; the friendly fellow at the gate is just window dressing, because security is enforced by roving aerial drones equipped with Hellfire missiles. Incredible homes, nice architectural diversity, amazing views. But the downturn in the market has hit some of the top-end houses quite hard. Too many on the market +  too few buyers = steep discounts. One house was selling for $700,000 less than six months ago; another half a million less.  They’ll sell eventually, but I suspect more air needs to leak from the balloon. 

There weren't many for-sale signs. This is not sub-prime territory.Still, you have some sellers who are obviously in the yarble-press; one of the sellers came right out and said what he’d paid for the place, which was telling you that the already-discounted price could drop another 200K. That’s a drop in value of one third. The technical term for this is “sanity.”

It may not sound like much of a vacation, but it was; like touring Disneyland, walking around these enormous empty houses was like touring Bubbleland, an amusement park where unsustainable rises in valuation made the most absurd amenity a requirement. Well, it does have a pool the size of Monaco, but it’s not a negative-edge pool. We want a negative-edge pool. We’ll have to take out that wall to put one in. So knock off 100K from the price and we’ll talk.

So that was the first few days; sorry there’s nothing more exciting to report, but it was a vacation. I wanted only to read books and sit out in the sun and consult the occasional cigar in the warm twilight, and these things were accomplished. Oh – forgot to note something. At the Minneapolis airport, I saw the most jarring sight: a storefront from the late-60s / early 70s. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey plus A Clockwork Orange:

It unnerved me, somehow. Like Lauren Hutten wearing smoked aviator frames would be shopping for "Charlie" perfume in there.

On Tuesday wife and child went to the Grand Canyon; that morning my mother-in-law drove me through morning traffic to the airport to catch a plane to San Diego, where I would meet up with Mike Nelson from Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame. But that’s tomorrow’s entry. As promised, all features are firing this week; the matchbook is up, and I’ll see you at