We continue with the thrilling recap of the week in Arizona, and the angst it seems to have produced. The angst, I should note, has abated, replaced by the normal angst.


It’s been an unremarkable week, except for the fact that there’s so much FAMILY about; all my wife’s siblings and the attendant hordes of kids are here for the holidays, and I’m not accustomed to such things. I like it, though. Always someone to talk to, always something to talk about. One of the non-family houseguests was a Marine who was heading back to Iraq in two days. Impressive fellow; smart, articulate, knowledgeable about matters arcane & practical, confident. You know: a soldier. (I am convinced that the previous two sentences produce automatic eyerolling in some people, so deep is their conviction that soldiers are big icky mean stupid brutes.) To say that the officer believed there was a disparity between Iraq as he saw it and the Iraq the papers reporter would be an understatement along the lines of “Pravda was frequently slow to report crop failures.”

Gnat has reverted to feral form, roving with the pack, and my authority has dwindled away to nothing. I’ve had to stand back, which is hard for me; keeping track of her in this whirling cloud of kids is nearly impossible, and given the size of the house where we’re staying I want to put a GPS tag on her, just to be sure. Wednesday we went to the Train Park and had lunch outside - in December! Without coats! Or loss of toes! – and everyone was glaring at a kid on an electric motorbike, whirring up and down the crowded sidewalk at unsafe speeds. Given the number of children about and the tendency of the smaller kids to dart around in oversugared excitement, this was a Clear and Present Danger. But there were no parents we could see; no authority to whom we could appeal. So we watched and clucked and tsk-tsked until I felt like a total hypocrite – I got up, walked over, and gave him the exact same gesture I got from a DC cop when he pulled me over on my scooter my first week in the nation’s capital: I pointed – yeah, you – and gestured to the side. Man, that’s magic. It worked. I told him this wasn’t safe. I said I’d been watching him, and while he obviously had good control of his bike (give him a little pride, make it more man-to-man) it was not a good idea. “Okay, I’ll go park,” he said. And he did. I left the area for a few minutes; when I came back the bike was still parked.

This is a bad state to tell kids to stay off the grass, though. Hey! Stay off my crushed rock! Doesn’t have the same impact.

The train park was a pleasure – a small train took you around the grounds, and if you liked you could spend the ride locked in a boxcar, for that off-to-the-death-camp touch without which no holiday would be complete. There was also a train car that once belonged to the Presidents – Truman, Ike, FDR, all used this train to roam the country and make speeches. The Husting-Stumper Express. You could stand in the back and grip the same brass rail they held as they whipped the crowd into the sort of ecstasy that inevitably led to thousands of straw boaters hurled in the air. Almost made you wish they had boater-launchers right there so you could get the same effect. Combine with trap shooters and you’d have a real attraction.

This is the pattern of the carpet in the Presidential Train. Don’t say I don’t give you anything crucial.

Other than that, and the aforementioned gatherings, I’ve been hanging out and reading in the sun, and trying to sort out the three questions mentioned above.

I’m no closer. And I have added two competing conditions to the answers, e.g., the answers must take into account two invariable truths:

I want change.

I don’t really want change.

So you can see why I’m not making much headway. Of course, a trip somewhere is no preparation for living there, and my subconscious is trying to warn me as well. Last night I dreamed I was walking in Minneapolis, and a car drove by with the windows down. “It’s such a beautiful town,” said someone in the car. It would have been perfect if the car had been spinning its wheels in snow, I suppose, but it was a summer night, warm (there are three per year) and the sky had an ochre hue. I was glad to be there. I was walking away, though.

We went to look at houses with my wife's mom, who’s a realtor. We had a price range. Just for fun. Just to see what we could get if we swapped Jasperwood for Casa Jasper.


House One had a great sloping roof that made the house seem like it wanted to eat you, if so inclined. The carpet looked like a cloud of cigar ash would rise if you stepped on it; there was a tiny in-home terrarium, uneven floors, a kitchen that could accommodate four people it three were two-dimensional, the usual depressing Home Office with the usual depressing beige Dell whose screen was spattered with 98 icons, and old books unopened since 1977 (I always look for one of my books; I’d love to find it, sign it, leave it out) and several dark bedrooms that functioned as negative charm-zones. Pass. The second house we didn’t get into, since the owner was home and sick, but from the glimpse through the door I could tell it had four huge white columns in the entry way, and this would require you to dress in Pharaonic robes all day, walking around worrying about Ra and wheat. Plus, it was right by the freeway. Like so many houses around here, it was stylish once; the neighborhood was a fresh new development, but they don’t all age well, and the stylistic variations date them, as with any suburban style. Off to number three. Better. Tiny winding streets, two story houses. Nice flow, but a whiff of gimcrack from the details. Very 1993. Lovely backyard. Horrible décor. Most people have no idea how to decorate. The paintings were awful, the house overstuffed with dolls and bows and pillows – so many pillows; this is the nation of pillows – and the dreaded, omnipresent Antique Suitcase Strategically Placed, so you can see its equally antique contents spilling out, artfully. That was the best house we saw, mostly for the nice flow and grand backyard. Then again, the backyard terminated in a wall high enough to be patrolled by sentries with Thompson guns, so it wasn’t all that. I left depressed.

Then we went to another place, just for fun. A newer development. This place was completely different in style, elevation, color, layout, and overall feel. It even had its own faux downtown complete with shops and angle parking. I was sold, instantly. I suddenly had the answer to the questions. What did I want to do? Hide. Where did I want to do it? Here. Of course! And by Hide I mean comfortably retreat.

Now all I need is a million dollars.

So I have a goal.


Tomorrow: tales of massive rhino bowel-evaculation, and a return of our gripping narrative to present times.



c. 2005 j. lileks .