Welcome to Phoenix
We're going to Phoenix.
Did you fail geography?
I was sick that day.
Can you read a map?
But it's a dry heat. Not so bad as you'd think.
Um. 120F is 120F.
It won't be. We're going in June. 104F max. Hey. Did you know that if you put an ice cube on the sidewalk it won't melt?
You just said 104F.
Right. I said dry too, remember?
It evaporates! No puddle. Nothing to show for it.
There's a pregnant woman in a pink dress on the sidewalk. Did you see her?
Yeah. That's Heather, she's evaporating ice cubes.
Because she can.
Bob. The water in the swimming pool is warm.
I guess it takes a lot of ice cubes to cool it down and since you've evaporated the hotel's supply we're sitting in warm water.
Feels like pee.
I have to go in.
Too hot in the pool.
So get out?
Too damn cold!
That's the water evaporating.
Never mind. Get dressed and meet me in the lobby and dry your hair or you'll freeze to death out there.
Two Years Later
Airplanes stopped being a novelty when I was six; especially the sort that climb to 9,000 feet with an open door. I'm freaked out about the process anyway. The airport screens scare the shit out of me. How the hell does anyone make their way from the parking lot to the correct gate? The process is elusive but I'm securely fastened into my seat and the flight is longer when you're alone. I land at Sky Harbor and follow the signs to baggage and transportation. Huzzah.
There is exactly one ambulatory human at the Budget Rental counter but he's perky and patient and I'm hopeful until he hands me an 8x11 piece of paper that reads PHOENIX. The patient perky person highlights a squiggly path from the airport to my hotel. The squiggly path traverses the entire map. He is earnest. I am exhausted.
In 1992 you can stop your car in the middle of the road in the middle of the city in the middle of the night because the city took two Tylenol PM with a Jack Daniels chaser at midnight.
There are Circle K convenience stores every third block and a fast food chain I don't recognize. Theirs, and the traffic signals are the only lights illuminating the city and I. Am. Lost. At 2 AM I pull into a drive through lane and purchase and consume the only fried okra I will ever eat; it is soggy, cold, and insanely slimy. I fail to ask for help and at 3 AM I'm right back where I started. The patient perky person is not at all surprised to see me. If I'm willing to wait until the shift change he'll lead me across the city and this is how I spend the first of a nearly inconceivable number of nights out cold on an airport floor.
The patient perky zombies at the front desk don't blink when I stagger into the lobby at sunrise.
I don't discuss the incident on Shea Boulevard until I've made friends at the hotel bar. I could be a cab driver on the Island of Manhattan but I cannot traverse the subjectively diminutive Phoenix without a guide. Mountains don't belong in congested metropolitan areas any more than Okra belongs in my mouth. I can explain the Okra but I'm 99% certain that the mountain at the end of Shea Boulevard is a mirage. My new friends pat my shoulder and buy me another drink. The bartender shakes his head and walks off. He spends the next two years shaking his head and walking off. The only thing that ever changes his demeanor is the Naked Man incident.
I have driven to Casa Grande and Eloy and I have driven through Sedona and Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon. I have done all this without any visual or verbal aids other than highway and street signs. Many years later I will drive out of Athens and into the mountains in search of the Oracle with a mostly useless (to me) map. The concierge at the Marriott said this:
Take a left and get on the highway (he points north-ish). Drive two hours, exit, turn left, and drive some more. You'll know when you get there.
He wasn't lying and I still can't find any sign of a Shea Boulevard Bypass.
He wears a red cap with a giant letter A and hasn't said a word all evening. My bartender fills his glass when it's empty and presents the check when he places his wallet on the bar. This goes on all week and I feel I need to say something because the man is occupying a seat at my bar, in my living room, being served by my personal bartender. My drink and I sidle one seat to the right and the bartender sidles my drink right back to its condensation puddle.
Don't. Just don't.
All rooms are suites and all suites have the same layout: Oversized kitchen, mid-size dining room, a closet with enough room for a TV and a murphy bed, and your standard hotel bathroom. All suites are on the ground floor and have a sliding glass door facing a beautifully landscaped walkway. All sliding glass doors are locked and shuttered except for the door at the end of my walkway.
Mike slaps a coaster on the bar and raises an eyebrow.
Same. Usual. Please.
Usual arrives and I try this again.
Did you know there's a naked man in one of these suites?
Mike raises the other eyebrow.
Sweartogod, Mike. He shocked the shit out of me this morning but I was late so I couldn't hang around to figure out what the hell he was doing.
What was he doing?
Not sure but I think he wanted out.
Yeah. His drapes were open but the glass door was shut and I think he might have been trying to crawl up the glass.
Well. He was suctioned to the glass and he seemed to be struggling so I made assumptions but didn't hang around to check.
He was suctioned to the glass?
Yeah, bud! Sure was. Stark raving lunatic style naked and stuck to the glass. Looked like some sort of green jello adhesive.
Mike points an elbow toward the end of the bar and hands me a check.
In the morning I don't see Naked Man because his drapes are closed and I'm worried. I shouldn't have been, he was in the laundry room folding my underwear. Neatly. Into tiny little triangles which were left on my bar seat in a mostly clean Applebee's bag. Mike tells me I just missed my new friend and wants to know what's in the bag. I want to know what's in the bag. I put the bag on the bar and unfold the top but I'm afraid to look in. Mike is not afraid but abruptly vanishes behind the bar. I am handed a flashlight and told to hush.
There's one pair missing, Mike. The purple ones. They're not here.
Are you wearing them?
No. It's commando day.
Do you want me to call his room?
No. I'll find him.
The hotel is funded by the Mayo clinic and I am their only corporate customer. Naked Man is the only other paying guest without egregious medical bills and Naked Man has just aged out of the Farm League. He showed up for fall training, got bounced on day two, retreated to his room, and quietly lost his shit. Mike is convinced that Naked Man's sun salutation was not meant for me and his fumbled attempt at a discrete apology was just that, a fumbled attempt at a discrete apology and nothing more.
It would have been best if I'd left it alone. Not everybody can deal with me on a good day, theirs or mine. Naked Man was having no more good days and my purple panties were still AWOL.
When in doubt, dive right in. That strategy works if you're not picky about collateral damage. I wasn't picky about collateral damage.
Naked Man! Good to see you! Got my panties?
Mike throws a coaster at my head and points at the grieving couple at one of the corner tables.
Oh. Sorry. Didn't see 'em come in.
They've been in here all day.
Well I haven't been in here all day, have I?
psst. Naked Man.
Where are my purple panties? Wait. Are you actually crying? They're just panties, man, totally replaceable. It's OK if you lost them but it's definitely NOT OK if you're wearing them. ARE you wearing them?
Take them off. Now.
I'll turn around. So will Mike.
Naked Man points to the grieving couple.
They're not looking either.
Naked Man leaves his wallet on the bar and wanders out onto the terrace.
Mike. I'm afraid I don't really want them back anymore.
Somebody got a blanket and housekeeping retrieved his clothing and my underwear from the terrace when he was gone. In the morning his room was empty. I know this because the drapes are open and I press my face up against the glass. Empty. Entirely devoid of life, naked or otherwise.
The usual is on a damp coaster next to a pair of purple origami panties.
But where is he?!
Nice little facility just outside Sedona.
Well that's pretty.
Can I visit?
Not if you've got a shred of compassion.
He can keep the panties, Mike! I'll deliver them personally.
True Story. And I'm still sorry.