Wandering in the Desert – Passover in Albuquerque [California Seething]
The rantings of a non-driving theatre professional living in altogether the wrong city
It takes a special kind of asshole to scream on the phone to a total stranger:
“Fuck the Air Force, lady- we had a contract.”
On April 11, 2011 at 10:45 AM, I became that asshole when I was told that the short-term apartment rental which I had arranged for my Passover trip to Albuquerque for me and several family members was not going to be available after all. Evidently, the Air Force officers occupying the space would not be departing according to the previously established time-frame (insert Iraq joke here.)
After a brief, stunned silence, Loretta from Albuquerque Apartments responded:
“Sir, here in Albuquerque we honor the Air Force.”
The courtesy in her voice was stretched to the breaking point by revulsion and shock, like a waitress explaining to a party of cannibals that human testicles are not on the menu and politely recommending they try the patty melt instead. I felt appropriately sheepish.
Here’s the amazing thing, though. Despite my incomprehensible and utterly revolting disrespect for the Boys in Blue (or whatever the fuck color they wear in the Air Force), Loretta was incredibly accommodating. She found a replacement apartment, cut the price and even got me extra toilet paper when I asked. This is because Albuquerque is home to the nicest people in the world. I’m not just talking ordinary nice, I’m talking creepy nice, weird nice, Invasion of the Body Snatchers nice. People who actually take the whole Jesus said to be nice to each other thing REALLY seriously. People in Albuquerque are as nice as people in LA want you to think they are- as you will see below:
What they say: Have a nice day!
What they mean: I hope you don’t die in a terrible accident today because it’ll totally fuck up my ride home later.
What they say: Have a nice day!
What they mean: Have a GREAT day!
LA Best Buy Employee
What they say: Can I help you?
What they mean: If you dare to ask for help, I’m going to mumble something, then go hide out in the back until you get tired of waiting for me and leave.
Abq Best Buy Employee
What they say: Can I help you?
What they mean: Can I help you? With anything? And maybe tell you my entire life story? Please???
So, why exactly was I, a man so rude that supermarket checkers use me as a cautionary tale to scare their kids (“If you don’t do your homework, you won’t go to college and the sweaty, fuzzy man will scream at you when you crush his Combos”) headed to the Land of the Nice for Passover? Simple — my parents live there.
Albuquerque, from the old Spanish word meaning “cut-rate filming location” was originally settled by Conquistadors who were running out of places to colonize and willing to settle for anything. It’s the largest city in New Mexico, a state known for things that can only happen in the middle of fucking nowhere — atomic bomb testing, UFO sightings, Breaking Bad, etc. It’s the type of town where you can show up to synagogue with a bolo tie, straw hat and a walker and nobody bats an eye (in fact, they look at you funny if you don’t.)
Before my parents moved there, all I knew about it was that it is consistently ranked in among top 10 American cities by Funny Place Names Magazine (between Rancho Cucamonga and Kickapoo) and that Bugs Bunny really should have turned left there. Now that they’ve been living there for a while, though, I know every ice cream place, emergency room and Whole Foods in town. My parents decided to move to Albuquerque from Albany because a friend took them out there and they thought it was neat. Really. They actually have a track record of capriciously moving to the desert. In the late 70s, they moved the family from Cincinnati to Israel after a friend took them there and they thought it was neat. They are awesome and suggestible that way.
I’ve been going out to Albuquerque for Passover for the past few years, but this year, my sisters and their respective significant others and kids were coming out as well from the East Coast. This was a momentous occasion — the first ingathering of the exiles of the Sims Diaspora in many years. I was excited, certainly, but a little unsure of what to expect. What would it be like to all be together for the Seder in this weird little city with the funny name after so many years apart? Would it feel like home?
My wife and I chose to drive out there. Odd as it may seem for an impatient non-driver with irritable bowels, I love a good road trip: the ever evolving landscape, endless flow of conversation, unrestricted consumption of beef jerky — it’s like hanging out in a very small dorm room watching Koyaanisqatsi over and over again on a big screen TV during a mild but very long earthquake (that’s a good thing.) On the surface, it may seem that I made my wife give me a 13 hour piggy back ride to New Mexico, but I am surprisingly useful on the road, having mastered the passengerial arts of making snacks (I work culinary miracles with Cheez Whiz and Mini Pepperoni), keeping the driver conscious (the secret is starting pointless arguments, i.e. “Tori Spelling was so on Saved by the Bell”), looking to see if anyone is coming from the right, selecting playlists on the iPod, pumping gas, and not farting too much. In the past, I would have added rolling joints and navigation to this list, but, age and the Garmin have made those archaic skills obsolete. Plus, what better way to kick off Passover than with a long schlep through the desert? It just feels right.
We left last Friday night and reached Barstow around 11. Barstow is where Douchebag California meets Scary California. There are still a smattering of Kobe jerseys, Bluetooth headsets and velour jumpsuits but increasingly the human terrain is made up of dead-eyed Indian gas station owners eking out a living selling misogynistic stickers to truckers and wishing they’d studied the map more carefully before moving to America; frosted blond motel clerks with brittle smiles and lipstick on their teeth who admire Sarah Palin and wish they could pimp out their own pregnant teens and retarded babies; and teenage fast-food cashiers with more acne than hope.
Needles, where we stayed overnight, is the epicenter of Scary California. There are 5000 people in Needles and 4000 teeth. It is a town which exists solely to be one tank of gas away from Los Angeles — so they are going to make that tank as expensive as they possibly can (TRAVEL NOTE: The gas station owner with the enormous stack of tires who tells you that you absolutely need to buy four new tires because your current tires can’t possibly survive the journey shouldn’t stand too close to the gas pumps because he’s a LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE.)
We got an early start Saturday morning and made our way past the Arizona Welcome Center. Shortly thereafter, I was personally welcomed by a Swastika scrawled on a bathroom wall – which was disturbing but unnecessary, since a Swastika in Arizona is redundant. Still, it was a nice reminder that we wanted to get through Arizona as fast as humanly possible in a small hatchback loaded with luggage and jerky.
Say what you will about child molesters, for my money, there is no worse human being than a truck driver who pulls into the left lane in front of me on a two lane highway to pass another truck while going uphill, slows me down, and then goes at EXACTLY THE SAME SPEED as the truck in the right lane so I can’t get around. Look, I know that truckers are in a hurry — they have long distances to cover in tight timeframes and a dead hooker in the cab that isn’t getting any fresher no matter how much Binaca you spray on her, but — YOU’RE NOT GOING TO PASS EACH OTHER GOING UPHILL. It’s never gonna happen. All you’re going to do is block the flow of traffic and piss people off. It’s maddening. Now I know how blood feels during a heart attack. I think I’ll take my Lipitor.
All the way through Arizona, there were quaint Native American roadside stands selling blankets. Fortunately, my wife and I never get tired of making smallpox jokes, so the miles just flew by.
As we rolled past the Arizona Border and the Last Chance Fireworks Outlet (“Last Chance to Lose Your Thumbs”) and entered the Land of Enchantment and Salmon Colored Overpasses (New Mexico), I started to get nervous. I hadn’t seen my sister’s two young daughters in many years and had no idea how they would react to me. Would I scare them? Would they hide from me? Would they stare at me awkwardly with pity in their eyes as I tried to win them over with dumb jokes? Should I have learned magic tricks? (That answer is always no.)
I shouldn’t have worried about it. Twenty minutes after arriving at my parents’ house, I was walking through the living room in the manner of Godzilla with one niece hanging off each leg, sliding along the floor, screaming their lungs out. Turns out, that in order to develop a meaningful relationship with these girls, all I had to do was:
- Do absolutely anything and everything they wanted me to do at any time, no matter how stupid, embarrassing, dangerous or painful.
- Let them treat me like a human amusement park ride.
With these two simple principles mastered, I was quickly on my way to becoming the Fun Uncle and Bad Example of the family — two beloved and cherished roles that I had long aspired to fill. It was easy! All I had to do was get them totally hyped up right before bedtime and then hand them off to their mom, while I went back to my clean, spacious apartment with the other childless adults to sip Chardonnay and quietly chat about the affairs of the day. Piece of cake! I wonder why my sister looked so tired all the time?
The Seder was also delightfully effortless. We easily fell into familiar patterns: the same old sibling type-casting as Wise Child, Wicked Child and Simple Child. We told my uncle’s dirty jokes about the House of Bondage and, in the tradition of my grandfather, substituted “Month of Datsun” for “Month of Nissan” (that one KILLED in the 80’s.) There was a new generation to sing the Four Questions off-key and to join in the traditional, heavy metal inspired rendition of Dayenu (DIE! DIE…yenu, DIE! DIE…yenu) In a nod to our surroundings, my mother added Green Chili Chicken Stew and BBQ Beef Ribs to the menu and my brother-in-law saved us from the barbaric indignity of Gel Fruit Slices and Canned Macaroons by making a flourless chocolate torte. Elijah was a no show, no matter how many times my niece insisted we open the door for him, but, frankly, it was his loss. He missed a great time, and I even brought him a lovely Sonoma Zinfandel to pour in his cup (don’t worry, we didn’t let it go to waste.
Passover is about going out into the desert to find where you belong. This year, that was Albuquerque. Next year, well, who knows? Hopefully no one will take my parents to Dubai, because I’m pretty sure they would think it was neat and I’m not sure how we’d find Gefilte fish there, much less Green Chili Chicken Stew. Still, I’m confident now that wherever we all wind up, we’ll be able to celebrate Passover together.
For those that think I’ve gone soft, next time I’ll be posting about how much I hate the goddamn fucking Lakers and how much I would love to see the homophobic rapist Kobe Bryant choke to death on a Cub Scout’s dick.
featured image credit: Wolfgang Staudt