I could get used to Scottsdale. I just don’t know what I’d do there.

The plane out: fine. I like night flights. They feel cozy and somehow safer than day flights. If we can’t see the ground, we can’t crash into it, that’s my theory. Gnat slept on the floor, and I watched MST3K on my iBook. My wife read a book – and nothing swelled my heart more than to see my lovely wife spotlit by the reading light, soaking up a collection of Victor Davis Hanson essays. Landed at Sky Harbor – a great romantic name for airports – and off we sped for a week at the home of my wife’s brother, his wife, and their three fine kids.

My first time to their new shed. Nice. Unbelievable, frankly. Lacked only a monorail between the wings.

If I lived there, I would wear a white suit all the time with a big straw hat, and I would sit on the broad shady porch in back beneath a fan with a glass of tequila and a cigar the size of rolling pin. I would play with the children who came to offer fresh fruit to me, El Padrone. I would put down my book at sunset to contemplate the mysteries of love and life while a guitar softly played a ballad. If the guitarist displeased me, I would shoot him. Because I am El Padrone, after all, and this is the porch on which I spend my wise, cultured, rich and sentimental existence. Idiot sneaks in “Chopsticks” in a minor key because he thinks I’m not listening. Fool. Well, he has paid for his foolishness. Note to self: have servants remove the bullet before the body is buried. That was my favorite bullet. It was a gift from a very great man. Who, regrettably, I shot. But not with that bullet. Such a thing is not done, not even today when the old ways have fallen apart, and a new breed threatens to undo all we have accomplished.

Anyway, that’s where they would find me dead, knocked back in my chair, the cigar grown cold, the drink spilled, the dog licking my face. The culprit would have been an errant golf ball, shot at high speed from the adjacent course. That’s the only bad thing about living out there, if you ask me. Golf. I don’t golf. Won’t golf. Shan’t. People look at you differently once you admit this. They think they misunderstood you, that you actually said I don’t play golf today, or I don’t golf this week because I had my leg off and the prosthetic’s on back order. It’s like walking up the altar at Mass and saying “nope, don’t touch the stuff” when the cup is offered. Why then are you here?

Because I love it? I don’t know quite why. Phoenix is sprawl on a scale I’ve never seen elsewhere, but it’s such lovely sprawl, such new fresh unspoiled sprawl. Broad roads, muted signage. One or two hues, at most, by law. All tiled roofs. All so low. Cactii are everywhere, daring you to touch them. You’ll pay! You’ll bleed! Nature’s dickheads, really. But you have to admire the way they’ve repositioned themselves as decorative plants. Next up: a craze for rabid, elderly, flatulent pitbulls.

Hold your “beauty of cactus” letters; I kid because I love. Really. They fascinate me – and they fill Gnat with alarm, who warned me every time I got near one to snap a picture. No no no! It’ll stick you! That it will. Such is life, child. Sometimes that which is beautiful can hurt as well.

But is not booful.

Hm. Yes. You are correct, little one. But sometimes it flowers, in the spring.

There aren’t any flowers.

You are right, Gnatita. Let us chop it down and set it on fire, and step on the parasitical insects as they flee. It is the way of El Padrone.


So what did I do? I sat in cars, I looked out the window at mountains; I ate, a lot (three Mexican meals in a row – but then I thought, well, why not? Who in Mexico ever sits down to dinner and says “aw, not Mexican AGAIN.”) I spent a lot of time with my head in an armoire, fixing my brother-in-law’s entertainment system. They asked if I could take a look at it, since they couldn’t use the DVD player since they added TiVo. Can we fix it? Yes we can! Short version: my brother-in-law ended up having to buy a new TV. How did I screw things up that badly? That’s the long version, in Sunday’s Backfence column. (Which I wrote last night, while on vacation. I wasn’t kidding about having deadlines – wrote a piece Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, in between lunches and dinners.) One night we went to the Zoo for a “holiday” lights display; it was charming. Interminable, but charming. Gnat was a little goat for much of the trip, as she had been throughout the trip. Not evil, not sullen or nasty, but just goatish. She had a cold – all the kids had something or other, with the standard fevers and nostril-fountains. Urg. Each night was punctuated every half hour with loud raw bring-up-the-oysters coughing sessions. No fever, no whoop, no croup, no strep, just a plaster-cracking cough that woke us up every 29.5 minutes. That put her in a bad humor. And she became accustomed to running with her new pack – her three cousins accepted her right away, and formed a peer hierarchy outside of the laws of Dads and Moms. One day your child is your own, and the next she's operating according to the morals and bylaws of the Spongebob Club. The what? The SPONGEBOB CLUB, :P

They're all good kids - I don't mean to suggest otherwise. It was just interesting to see Gnat throw her lot in with the kids, and hang the consequences. (Note: later, we had consequences. Can I sit in a room for half an hour to enforce a time-out? Yes I can! Iron Pants Molotov Padrone, that's me.)

After the Zoo lights: a venerable Scottsdale institution, an ice-cream parlor called the Sugar Bowl. Opened in 1958, it still has most of its original décor. The pink striped wallpaper. The pink booths. The pink stools. Pink, black and white linoleum in squares – that nearly made me weep, right there. Original pink linoleum from 1958. In terms of Scottsdale’s short history, that’s practically the stone floors of the baths of Caracalla. The napkins and menus seemed to have the original artwork, and while it wouldn’t strike anyone today as “fifties,” it was more fifties than much of the stuff we think is fifties.

Oddest detail: lots of original artwork by Bill Keane. Yes, that’s right: original “Family Circus” cartoons, all of which referenced the Sugar Bowl. Apparently he was a patron over the years, and worked the joint into the comic from time to time. The thrust of each brief narrative seemed to be that the children enjoyed visiting the Sugar Bowl, because they had ice cream. (Roar of canned laughter, applause) The ice cream wasn’t very good, to be honest – too fifties. Not enough butterfat. I’m serious. The ice cream of this era preceded the SuperPremium Era of delicious arterial spackle. It’s the ice cream I remember growing up, the stuff we all rejected when we first got a taste of Haagen Daaz. You realized that this was all your tongue had to look forward to, back then– commercial roast coffee, underwhelming ice cream, egg-salad sandwiches cut into triangles. And those mild tastes had to fight their way through a three-millimeter-thick carpet of tar-fur on your tongue, the day’s paving from your pack of Chesterfields. Is it any wonder that the renaissance of American restaurants began when smoking started to be frowned upon?

I’m not saying this is good or bad – personally, if smoking wasn’t bad for you, I’d choose Winstons and burgers over a lifetime of caper-infused mushrooms with basil-ginger sauce. You can only have those once in a while. But you can have 40 Winstons a day!

There’s more, but it’s midnight now, and I’ve had a long day. The plot, such as it isn’t, concludes tomorrow.

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