Happy New Year! You can probably guess where I’ve been, based on the picture above. The land of red rock, hardscrabble foilage, December petunias, great green spiny golems draped with Chinese Christmas bulbs, blue pools, tan people, and wine in the grocery stores. Arizona, the Church of the Holy Photon. I’d been looking forward to the trip for weeks, which was a peculiar thing; I don’t like to travel. Or rather I don’t like the prospect of travel, the mechanics of travel. I like being somewhere else, now and then. But mostly I like to be home. Over the last few weeks, however, I had been gritting my teeth over the cold and snow and wishing I could be someplace hot and dry – bad emotions for December, which is merely the overture to Winter. I was ready to go. I was happy to be there. I am content to be back. All’s well, ends well, et cetera. Or not. I've either constructed a roadmap to things yet to be, or a statement of goals and ambitions soon lost in the petty scrum of daily life. We’ll see.

Best plane ride ever. Usually exhaustion + turbulence leads to unhappiness unless I have seventy drinks before flying, but I don’t fly spifficated anymore. (I almost typed “pixilated,” which was a word for intoxication in the old aren’t-drunks-funny days, but the word has been called up for active duty once more, albeit in a different branch of the service.) I had but five 1/2 hours sleep, and was expecting no more than a thin little nap punctuated with constant irritations, such the zipper on someone’s jacket brushing your forehead as they walk towards the bathroom. (That would YKK you up, no? Ha ha!) But I fell asleep right away. I missed the beverage cart, with its thin coffee and tepid soda. I missed the snack cart, with its endless array of grain products pressed into novel salty shapes. I didn’t care. I set the iPod on an ambient playlist, the usual murky burbling gassy stuff, turned on the cheap-but-effective noise-canceling headphones, and floated away. It was a thin but oddly narcotic sleep, the sort you can access again almost instantly if you’re roused, and I was dimly aware of the music for all but the thick deep middle portion of the journey. I felt like I had smoked a Carlos Castanada book. And then shudder, lurch, drop, thump, screech, scream, decrescendo and exhalation. Full stop. Arizona.

Walked outside by the baggage area. It was 78 degrees, and the bright sun had heft. This is just what I thought it would be, I thought. Uh oh.

Let’s go back a few days.

Christmas – if the very mention of the word doesn’t make this sound like a dispatch from the Bronze Age – went well. Best Ever, if you take Gnat’s opinion. We watched “The Polar Express,” and she found the train portion quite exciting, but the North Pole stuff less so. I agreed. Santa had a bit too much Ian McClellan in him, and I mean the standoffish Magneto sort, not the Gandolf. Most of all I question jarring crapticious moments such as this: Santa makes a great exit, piloting his sled around the great tree, zooming down to set it ablaze with light and vanishing into the sky, after which you want – what? Well, of course, a hideous elf- rock band:

It’s Steve Tyler from Aerosmith, whose Panavision mouth always says Christmas to you, no?

Santa brought Gnat an “Amazing Amanda” doll, a creepy little robot with elemental voice-recognition software. It asks a question – what shall we play now, Mommy? Patty Cake? Make a Face? Disconnect the carbon dioxide monitor and start the car in the garage? Plunge a Knife Into Daddy’s Eye socket? – and it understands your reply. It does not shut up unless you tell it to sleep, whereupon it obligingly switches off. It knows what time of day it is, too. Knows the date. Why? Because Daddy set it. It’s like setting any sort of electronic device, except that it answers back in a baby voice. This is all very cute until it says, in the same voice, “Do you want me to observe Daylight Savings Time?” Yes, I said. “Okay! I’ll observe Daylight Savings Time!” Damn thing knows more than it’s letting on, I’ll tell you that.

Christmas morning I brought it to Gnat as she was sleeping, and woke it up. “Good morning Mommy!” it said.

“Go to sleep, Amanda,” Gnat groaned.


“Now I know what it’s like to be a parent,” she said later.

Oh, you have no idea, kid; wait until you’re walking around a busy park calling out Amanda’s name, and she doesn’t answer, and you feel that familiar dank wet snake curl around your heart for just a second, maybe two. Then you’ll start to begin to have an inkling of the emanation of the penumbra of knowing.

Christmas day was quiet. Cloudy, damp. I drove north to drop off Jasper at Gnat’s Nana’s house, and on the way back took some pictures, looking for new ways to look at things. Because everything looks familiar; nothing is new. The gum hasn't just lost its flavor, it’s gotten to the point where it starts to resist chewing. Every picture I took looked like this:

One day later I was sitting in the guest house, looking at green trees and blue skies and an adobe wall washed with color of lemons. It was warm enough to sit outside and read, at least until the sun goes down. I took a nice long nap with the screen door open, and just before I drifted off I finally spelled out what’s been nagging me for the last year. Simply put:

Where do I want to be?

What do I want to do?

Most important: Why am I asking these questions?

We’ll get back to the thrilling conclusion tomorrow, complete with pictures of genuine Presidential Carpet. Right now, some site news – obviously I’ve changed this page a little, and I will be screwing around with it for a few months as I tweak this site for its tenth anniversary. New site: the American Motel is up and running. It’s a replacement for the old motel site, with 50% more pictures, and larger images. This week I start with two states, Alabama and Arkansas. The Quirk should be back; ditto the matchbook section, which kicks off a year of WW2 books See you tomorrow. High hopes for 06? Yes. It’s an even year. I don’t trust the odd ones. Never did.



c. 2005 j. lileks .