The Bible tells us that there is a time to be silent and a time to speak. It does not, however, come with a comprehensive set of flash cards to help you navigate the grey areas. Most places you go have some shameful calamity that mars their psychogeographic grandeur and you’ll never know when it’s too soon to make light of any of them. New York City had 9/11, New Orleans had Katrina, Germany had Hitler and Arizona has Meth. So, let me present flash card number one, when you’re in hour three of sitting on the tarmac at JFK ready to blow your next five paychecks in a state full of half-hippies and your boyfriend is going on and on about his soon-to-be sister-in-law and how everybody hates her and how she likes to wear butt plugs while she’s cooking don’t say, in your I’ve-had-too-many-Bloody-Maries-to-conduct-myself voice,
“Gee Elroy. That story would be so much funnier if you said ‘she likes to wear butt plugs while she’s cooking meth.”
Though numerous, there are two particularly potent reasons the previous sentence is a bad choice. The first is that you just happen to be sitting next to the mother-of-the-bride who you have not previously met but who looks like she hasn’t had a Bloody Mary since before her first divorce or her second face lift, and the second is that one in four of the middle-aged parental types littering the seats around you has or (morbidly) has had a child who just can’t get enough of shooting, snorting, smoking or selling the stuff.
You’ll soon discover that your behavior, which in New York is often categorized as moderately obnoxious, will be deemed blatantly offensive in the three cities of Arizona you are about to intersect. You see, in some ranges of the human spectrum, drinking on an airplane is considered unladylike, traveling without an appropriate amount of disposable income is reckless and using your outside voice to discuss S&M paraphernalia in front of children is downright vulgar.
But don’t worry about the venomous eyeballs you will encounter at the wedding once sober leatherface distributes this tale, because it will be the least of your problems. Shortly after the plane takes off, you lean over to one of the four beatnik simulacra you call a friend and tell him he better slow down on the bourbon and Xanax if he’s going to drive that rental car you reserved with your magic credit card to which he responds:
“I just realized that my driver’s license expired last week on my birthday.”
You’re thrilled that this guy has somehow fooled the universe into letting him progress past the age of twelve, but of the five of you only three know how to operate a vehicle. You cannot drive because of that pesky congenital disorder that makes you blind as a bat and slightly vampiric in appearance. Your boyfriend is one of those dilettante New Yorkers who never had a reason to learn much less get a license. Your other friends cannot drive because the good people of the New York City Police Department have decided that, after suspending one’s license due to multiple traffic violations it would be permanently revoked due to an inability to appear in court. Since she was off the wheel, the last of your lot was called upon to transport the mother of Miss Suspended License to a more mentally-ill-friendly artist colony in upstate New York while carrying and consuming a slightly more than modest amount of a controlled substance, which was not meth, but equally successful in getting his licensed revoked for eternity.
But it’s okay. It’s all going to be okay. Because when you get to the rental car pavilion at Sky Harbor International Airport four hours after your scheduled arrival time and try, unsuccessfully, to flirt your way into a sport utility vehicle the clerk explains that his system won’t allow him to release a car to a driver with an expired license but licks his lips, leans over and says:
“I think I might know a guy who can help you out.”
Ten minutes later you are waiting for some guy named Mike to pick you up in a silver minivan and take you to an undisclosed location where you will supposedly be granted the privilege of renting some form of automotive contraption that will transport you and your four degenerate companions to Sedona so you can attend a wedding where you will stick out like four leprous thumbs. Hooray.
When Mike The Rental Car Guy arrives, everyone’s afraid to get in the van for fear that the doors will close and y’all will be swept off to some middle-of-nowhere ritual that leaves you dismembered in the desert. No one is thinking about how Mike must be feeling having just picked up a gang of vodka-soaked punks who should be old enough to know better. No one asks Mike how he’s doing, we just launch into a retroactive play-by-play of the last seven hours and demonize the flight attendants who had the nerve to deny us access to the first-class bathrooms. In fact we are all secretly but collectively too busy judging Mike for being so careless with his livelihood that he would make business with the likes of us that we fail to notice that our romp through Arizona in a 2004 Kia Sorento is going to cost us $110-a-day plus mileage.
Everybody is too relieved to be on the road to truly appreciate the brick of gold that is sailing us down the desert highway. Everybody has sobered up and is immersed in their smartphones, listening to hip-hop as the state of Arizona puts a wide-angled lens on our lackluster identities and decides it hasn’t seen enough of us yet. Your phone rings while you are engaged in a harrowing game of Words With Friends and the guy watching your dog tells you that a category one hurricane named Irene is headed to the east coast. Another phone rings within minutes and someone’s terminally effeminate roommate sobs to the rhythm of muffled chuckling via speakerphone unable to handle the technicalities of Mayor Bloomberg’s suggested evacuation procedures for parts of Brooklyn. And then another phone brings news of someone’s totally isolated and somewhat insane mother who has no food, no flashlight and no friends with which to weather the storm.
You decide to table the issue of inclement weather until after the wedding, which in the next twenty-four hours does what weddings are supposed to do, marries your sense of inferiority to your impending sense of doom, creates unsustainable relationships built on a mutual love of hot tubs and Jagermeister, and fortifies the myth of mutual trust and companionship that lasts a lifetime but is based on a couple of lines of coke you did off the backside of the stripper you hired for the bachelor party.
When the dust clears you call the airline to check on your flight to discover that it, and all of its little friends, have been grounded for the weekend. At least you’re not alone, all 150 or so guests with the exception of those who smugly live within driving distance are experiencing the same sense of displacement and irritability as they sit on hold with US Airways awaiting their chance to battle it out for the least awful solution to this act of God.
So where do you go? Sedona doesn’t want you. It’s made that clear by charging you $2.50 for every bottle of water you find it necessary to consume in the 102-degree heat. Phoenix is the most obvious solution because one more day of paying for Mike’s car is going to prevent your future children from going to even the most pedestrian of summer camps. And you can forget college, future offspring, because that trip to the grocery store you took to tend to everybody’s barbeque needs has created the type of acute stress necessary to spontaneously abort any zygotic potentiality that has the misfortune of landing in your womb.
Like all good children of the media landscape you turn to the Internet and make a rash decision. Knowing nothing of the geographical layout of Arizona because your particular pocket of public education neglected to include geography, it doesn’t occur to you to aim a critical eye at a map. So, you book a suite with two double beds in Scottsdale at a place that claims to be just a short drive from the Phoenix airport. But, it’s not. Not even close. But, by the time the groom clues you in to that fact and offers to pay the cancellation fee on your reservation so you can book a room at the hotel in Phoenix where everyone else is staying it’s too late to get your deposit back.
As you pull in to the Scottsdale Plaza Resort full of resentment and woe you begin to wonder who a massive complex of faux adobe such as this had to pay off to acquire those four stars it boasts on hotels.com. This isn’t a luxury tourist destination; this is where you go to get murdered. This is where golf pros go to nurse their beer guts and hire underage prostitutes and the only person besides you and yours at the hotel bar is a she-male begging for a Newport. This is where you go if the culmination of your life’s dream is to get strangled by a fat man’s bolo tie under an oversized fake cactus by the ice machine.
You spend your time smoking cigarettes in the stairwell and taking a tour of the five deserted swimming pools that you now refer to as drowning depots and when you return to your suite the room is empty. The bathtub is full of toads and the TV is blasting the 9/11 tribute where Dick Cheney’s head looks so big in the frame your first reaction is to use it for target practice. Your boyfriend is nowhere to be seen and the car is gone and, more unfortunately, you can’t find a lighter. After asking at the front desk for matches and being told that you are welcome to purchase a fancy-pants Arizona-branded butane torch in the hotel gift shop but no, we don’t have any matches, you consider rubbing two sticks together before acquiring the location of the nearest shopping center. Luckily the local supermarket, which is easily accessible by crossing three poorly lit and completely barren parking lots and two perilous thoroughfares, gives a discount on liquor when you buy it in bulk. It’s like a rebate for the nasty look the checkout clerk gives you when you commit to buying it. You can’t possibly finish it all but you can spill some on the surface of the Earth and pray to the gods of the 48th state that all your trespasses may be forgiven and at the very least you can forget that any of this ever happened.
Your plane leaves in less than 12 hours and you do not yet know that, after dropping off Mike’s SUV in an abandoned dirt lot and getting into another non-descript, off-brand airport shuttle you will arrive at the ticket counter to discover your flight has been cancelled because the pilot overslept. When you finally arrive home after three hours of terrorizing the clerk at the check in counter at Sky Harbor to the point that her manager gives her the rest of the day off, two hours of waiting for a three-hour flight to Charlotte, North Carolina where you and your now former friends will be put on separate connecting flights, one and a half hours of waiting for your boyfriend at the overpriced wine bar at JFK and a $60, forty-minute cab ride back to the Bronx, you discover that Hurricane Irene has spared the dog but flooded the basement.