Raising Hell In Arizona

It’s about 1 AM here in Phoenix, and I’ve only got a few more minutes before boarding, but I’m just checking in to say:

ATHE. was. AWESOME.

Though attendance was down (700 as opposed to 1400), it’s the quality of the people that I met, the sessions and workshops I attended, the performances I saw, and the time that we spent together at the bar, in the conference rooms, at the pool, or commiserating over the expensive hotel and its isolation from the rest of the world. There were several people who I missed that were there, several I missed who weren’t there, and several with whom I had extended conversations with for the first time. I met scholars, actors, dramaturgs, and playwrights. I saw and made friends all over the USA and the world: UK, Ireland, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Trinidad & Tobago, off the top of my head. I roomed with three of the funniest and nicest people I know, and my stomach hurts from laughing so much. I feel full; inspiration percolating, heating me like a coffee urn and breathing life into me.

The oasis rejuvenates.

That’s the dream, and the message I left everyone with, along with hugs and “see you in Montreal, or sooner.”

Next up is leg 2: Phoenix to San Juan via Charlotte.

Welcome to Planet Scottsdale, Population: ATHE

Scottsdale is one weird place.

In other words, perfect for the ATHE conference.

Time to head to the opening reception now, but an update is forthcoming, watch this space.

And welcome to my first visitor from Laos.

Off to get changed now.

This. Is. ATHE.

Good afternoon from Flight 409, seat 15C, rocketing towards Phoenix. I’m feeling ambitious so I’ll start recording today’s adventures until we land or I get bored.

7:45 AM – I wake up to a quiet, empty house. I tiptoe to the kitchen; Anna must have gone to work. Back to bed.

8:00 AM – Dozing, I hear footsteps nearby. Anna appears, up and making some coffee before jetting out the door for work. Josh has already left for the day. My flight is not until 2:15 PM, so she suggests I make myself at home, eat, watch TV, etc. We hug goodbye and I sit back down on the bed. You can probably guess what happened next.

10:00 AM – After a strange dream involving my car being broken into, subsequently breaking into a woman’s house as revenge, who finds me, yells at me, makes me work out in her basement, and then sends me to Chicago for a seminar (where, in my dream, I remember that Anna lives in Chicago). Just as dream me is about to text Anna to see if she can host me for the night, I wake up at 10 AM on the dot, in Anna’s apartment. What are the odds?

Remembering that Anna said I should head out around 11 to be safe, I shower, pack myself up, and am just leaving my bus snacks for Anna and Josh with a note when, surprisingly, here comes Josh. He needed to change clothes for a presentation and was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. Fortunately I was showered and dressed so he could do the same. I pour myself the coffee that Anna left me, still warm, and finish the note. Just as I’m heading for the door, Josh appears, ready to go, and offers to give me a lift around the corner to the South Evanston post office so I can mail the book to Portugal. No line at the post office, and I try out the Uber app that Anna suggested to get myself to the airport. Ten minutes later, a Mercury arrives, driven by Taiwo, a friendly and chatty Nigerian. We pass the time spent in traffic talking politics in America and Nigeria. Taiwo is passionate and in tune with world affairs, and he offer his predictions that Nigeria is headed for civil war and reveals his plans on how to fix the country. I am impressed. Some of my best conversation partners have been cab drivers; seriously, they should rule the world.

12:30 PM (approx.) – Taiwo drops me off at O’Hare Airport, Terminal 2. I check my bag through to Phoenix and suddenly feel naked, carrying only a backpack, an iPad, and toiletry bag. Even though it’s the Delta Airlines security point, I go through anyway, only to find that it’s a long, long walk to Terminal 3, where my flight will be leaving from Gate H14. I pass by US Airways security, which is super long.

1:00 PM (approx.) – After walking what seems to be a mile, I arrive at H14, all the way at the end of the H concourse. A bathroom stop, and then a $15 airport meal of a tomato caprese sandwich, couscous, and Starbucks iced caramel macchiato. Nearby gates show flights to Tampa and New York-La Guardia. I have an hour or so until boarding, so I set up and begin writing down yesterday’s events.

2:15 PM – Boarding and takeoff. I am in 15C, aisle seat, left side. My seatmates are two older gentlemen, one who is snoozing as I type and another who is reading the in-flight magazine. Weird to write up what a stranger next to me is doing. I better wrap this up so he doesn’t look over and catch a glimpse of me being weird. It’s 3:39 PM CST, so we’ve got two or three hours to go, so time to get out a book.

I’m in Chicago…And All That Jazz

Greetings from Anna’s place in Chicago. More in the AM but I made it in one piece.

Currently typing this from O’Hare Airport in Chicago, where boarding is due to start in 7 minutes.

So here’s how my day went down.

6:30 AM – Wake up. Realize that I have so much to do before I can leave today, so plan to catch the 1 PM bus instead of the 11:30. Put the finishing touches on the 34 boxes I’ve packed (not 35, thanks to me randomly forgetting the number 20). Then, some food and stupid time-wasting on the Internet while I wait for the movers.

8:35 AM – Wonder where the movers are. Go downstairs with my first load of car stuff to see the movers just pulling up. No one is in the office so I tell them to just park the truck and start loading. There are 3 guys: Max, Nick, and Anthony. Very nice and young, unlike the old sweaty guys from Mini Moves who loaded me up in Houston. I take them upstairs and tell them what to do. Relatively painless move, owing to the fact that it’s early morning and no one is tying up the elevators. One of the final pieces of furniture is my night stand, and I tell Max, “here’s my one night stand, you dirty piece of furniture.” It takes him a minute but he gets it, then repeats it to his eye-rolling friends. He writes “one night stand” on the receipt for the next guy to see.

10:35 AM – Exactly 2 hours later, my apartment is devoid of 34 boxes, plus bed/couch/table/chairs/bookshelves and a few other things. I proceed to run my final errands before loading up the car and leaving. I return my Internet router to the desk at Steve Brown (ResTech has moved elsewhere and not told me; typical, glad I’m done with them). Head to the gym to pick up my green water bottle and get my pre-trip weight, 151.2 lbs. Yay.

12:00 PM – Leave gym, still lugging a suitcase of books. Realize I have no chance in hell of making the 1 PM bus, so I slow up, return my books leisurely, and stop at Walgreens for contact solution, Twizzlers (I deserve the sugar) and some sparkling water.

12:30 PM – Arrive back at the apartment and start loading up the car. Donate my frozen fish and leftover cleaning supplies to the building staff, and start cleaning and gathering trash/recycling like a madman, fueled by candy, sparkling water, and a bottle of Prairie Fume I have sitting in the fridge. Also discover a bottle of River Gold. Guess who’s getting drunk on the bus to Chicago?

1:00 PM – Borrow a cart from Georgeo, load it with stuff for the car, take it down the elevator and drag it up the stairs. Push it up the hill, starting to sweat. Arrange items in the car and return to the apartment. Do a few trash/recycling runs. Aim for catching the 2:30 bus.

2:00 PM – Finishing the cleaning, sans sweeping/mopping and realize I’m probably not going to make the 2:30 bus either with all the stuff left to go to the car. Sweating like crazy and pushing stuff towards the door, frantically gathering trash and recycling in one spot, car stuff in another, and stuff for the trip in another.

2:30 PM – Another cartful of stuff up the stairs, up the hill, and to the car. Perspiration from my eyelashes is dripping in my eyes and I can barely see. My dark green shirt is now black with sweat. My car is now full of stuff from linens to broom (given up on a final sweep) to alcohol. Place my Tanach on top for good luck in warding off potential looters.

3:00 PM – Final trash/recycling run. Return my printer table to the dumpster outside the sorority house, from whence it came. Bring empty boxes and luggage down the stairs, turn in my keys, and say goodbye to Alicia and Chad. Too sweaty for a goodbye hug. It’s been a good year with them. Load up with suitcase, backpack, iPad, and sundries and gear myself up for my last trudge up the cursed Carroll Street incline.

3:12 PM – Top of the hill. The worst is over. I am free, and the next bus to Chicago (also the final bus of the day) is at 4:30. *Update: I’m on the plane. Now back to the story.” No real rush; I head to Espresso Royale for a slice of pumpkin chocolate chip bread and the best iced vanilla latte ever.

4:00 PM – Pop over to the post office to mail some stuff, then onto the bus stop.

4:30 PM (approx.) – Bus leaves for Chicago. I update Dad and Anna on the plans, and now that I’m coming in at night instead of afternoon, Anna can pick me up from downtown Chicago rather than have me take the L to her place in Evanston, where we will have pizza and wine. I remember my River Gold and offer it for dinner, so I guess I won’t show up smashed. I chat it up with Kai, an 18-year-old intern from Tokyo who’s heading to Janesville, where I learn I will have to change buses for Chicago as this bus is heading for the airport, rather than downtown. This bus is almost empty and the connecting bus from Janesville to Chicago is even emptier. It’s a double decker and I spread myself out over the back row. I start The Diving Bell and Butterfly, a book I have promised to a bookcrosser over in Portugal. We stop in South Beloit and Rockford, shortly after which I finish the book, short and sweet, and proceed to pack it. Only a bookcrosser would travel with packaging, tape, and a Sharpie.

8:15 PM – It’s still light, and we arrive in Chicago fifteen minutes early. Anna is still in Evanston and estimates it’ll be 30 minutes before she arrives, so I head into the station to try to find an outlet because my phone is at 15%. I do so. The train station is not very busy, except for the occasional commuter zooming past at lightning speed. A slight break for me, sitting on the cold marble floor.

8:45 PM – Anna arrives at the station and picks me up, and we catch up on life as she drives back to Evanston. It’s been 2-3 years since we’ve seen each other, and last time, Anna was the one traveling through; I picked her up at Bush Airport in Houston, drove her to lunch, and then took her down to Meyerland where she spent Shabbat with Abbie. For all that WUJS didn’t give me, it gave me (well, all of us) a worldwide network of friends, united through their (and Israel’s) shtuyot.

We get back to Anna’s lovely home, I meet her adorable cats, and soon I meet her boyfriend Josh, who comes bearing Chicago-style deep dish pizza. According to Anna, my moving efforts earn me “ALLTHECARBS” so I enjoy it guilt-free, along with Lillet, River Gold, and birthday cake Oreos, the kind that have tempted me from the shelves at Metcalfes and Walgreens for ages. Josh is a wonderful guy and he and Anna make a cute couple. He looks a lot like Don from dance class, boyfriend of my instructor, also named Anna. Ironic!

Catching up over dinner is so much fun. I dredge up the WUJS memories and we relive the good, the bad, and the weird, in complete disbelief that it’s been FIVE YEARS since that happened and we’re all legit grown-ups now. Anna gives me updates on Abbie, busker-turned-supermom who lived in Houston when I did but never did our paths cross; now she’s in Ohio. One of Anna’s roommates, Priscilla (also a Houstonian, who I saw exactly once even though she lived across the street from me) is living in Paris with her boyfriend, and her other roommate, Sarah, is getting married in Los Angeles pretty soon; Anna will attend as a bridesmaid. She didn’t update me on their other roommate, Shira, but I assume she’s doing okay. Anna has also stayed close with Ross, and went to his wedding on the East Coast. I’ve managed to stay close with Rael, who stayed in Israel, married her boyfriend, and is teaching kindergarten, and I occasionally hear from Adina, who also stayed in Israel. Anna has also hosted Dayna, who I hear from now and then. Between us, we remember everyone’s names. Anna has such a vibrant personality and is so likeable; it’s easy to see how she was friends with everyone. I was, too, but I have no idea why.

11:30 PM – Anna and Josh have to work in the morning, so it’s bedtime. I fall asleep at about midnight. Given that I slept about three hours the night before, which now seems like ages ago, I sleep like the peaceful dead.

Adios, Mendota

Just a quick update.

The apartment is fully packed (well, 90%) in boxes and bags. Some will go into my car; most of it, though, into storage.

I have about half of my paper down, which I will finish tonight come hell or high water so I can print a copy, then pack up the printer.

I still need to eat the dinner I just cooked, put laundry in the dryer, and take books to the library.

Tonight will be my final night in 620 N. Carroll St., Apartment 409, ever.

Tomorrow morning I will return my Internet box (too stressed to think of what it’s called), get some money from the ATM, retrieve my water bottle from the gym and possibly take a shower if I feel so inclined, pick up some contact solution at Walgreens, shove some stuff in the mail, and get the 1:00 PM bus to Chicago (already paid for!), or, if I play my cards right, the 11:30 AM bus.

I will have no fixed address for the next month.

Adios, Mendota…hola, being a hobo.

Pushing the Envelope

Today, I went to a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch. I hadn’t been there before. The food, though overpriced, was good, but my waitress?

Pushiest waitress ever.

She shows me to a table, and gives me about eight seconds before asking me what I want. It takes me a little while to look over the menu, so eventually she gets the picture and leaves me alone for a few minutes. She comes back and takes my order, and the food is there before I know it. I’m kind of taking my time; the place advertises free WiFi, so I’m having fun on Facebook and taking a bite every minute or so, in no rush.

After a little while (not sure how long), the waitress comes over and asks if I want a box.

WTF?

I have like half my meal left, and since there are about five other occupied tables in this twenty-table restaurant, you’ve been basically watching me take my time in eating. So I politely tell her that I’m working on it still, but if she needs to get me out, I can pick it up. She says no, go ahead.

But a few minutes later, she’s back again, offering a box. I guess I can’t say she isn’t persistent.

Before she comes back a third time, I dump the remainder of the rice onto my tofu plate and eat a little quicker, so at least when she arrives with the check, I have an empty dish to give her, like giving a toy to a toddler to distract them.

I finish pretty quickly, pay, and up and leave without saying much.

Okay, I would’ve understood if there were a line or something, but the place was practically 3/4 empty, and nowhere near closing time. So what’s the rush, Mary Lou?

 

China, Can You Hear Me?

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a real book review, mostly because Reading Like Crazy didn’t work out so great, especially considering that I had to Write Like Crazy to get through the rest of the semester. I have been reading though, mostly for research instead of pleasure. Today, I managed to finish reading an English translation of the Chinese folktale Liang Zhuknown in English as Butterfly Lovers and written by Fan Dai.

Before I get into talking about the book itself, there is the issue of authorship. In the preface, Dai notes that Liang Zhu is a 1500-year-old folktale. So technically, it’s not her creation, but she did credit herself as author. Of course, “Anonymous” generally doesn’t bode well for book sales and library card catalogs, and Dai did translate it, I’m assuming. In general, like other public domain works, the statute of limitations is long gone. Again, Dai is listed as the author on the cover of the book, but acknowledges that it is a folktale. Nonetheless, I will be putting the author on the back-burner for this review, so consider yourself lucky, Dai.

Butterfly Lovers opens in the Jin Dynasty (906-960) in Zhejiang Province, China. Zhu Yingtai is a teenage girl with a thirst for education that is unquenchable by what is at her disposal; like in many cultures, women were not allowed to study in schools past a certain age, so education stopped at a certain point, leaving girls to wait for marriage and children to consume their time. Yingtai, the ninth child and only girl of the Zhu family, implores to go to study at a secondary institution in Hangzhou, proposing that she dress herself as a boy. After much drama and a prophecy, her family consents, with three conditions: one, that she remain disguised as a boy at all times; two, that she return home immediately when summoned; and three, that she must submit to a medical examination upon her arrival to prove her virginity. She agrees to these terms, and, suited up like a boy with her gal pal Yinxin in tow, sets off for Hangzhou.

On the way there, she meets Liang Shanbo and his servant Sijiu, who are coincidentally heading to Hangzhou to apply to the same school. They quickly become very close friends, and upon getting admitted into the school, opt to become roommates, with their servants rooming together next door. Why they didn’t just stick to rooming with their servants, especially for Yingtai and Yinxin who could use the additional privacy, is beyond me, but it builds character for both Shanbo and Yingtai, and heightens the stakes, so there you go.

Over the years, the two grow ever closer, becoming blood brothers. Yingtai spills the beans to Mrs. Zhou, the wise wife of the school’s headmaster, who knew all along, and things get tricky when Yingtai falls ill and Shanbo insists on nursing her back to health almost by force, sleeping by her side until she feels better. It’s a beautiful gesture, but spells trouble for Yingtai in terms of temptation and the discovery of her secret, so she puts water bowls between them to keep them apart, and refuses Shanbo’s help when using the bathroom, for obvious reasons.

Yingtai receives word that her mother is ill, and as a dutiful daughter, announces that she is leaving the school and returning home. Both Yingtai and Shanbo are heartbroken. After Yingtai proposes that they stay together until death, Shanbo starts to get weirded out a bit, but then Yingtai mentions her identical twin sister, who she’s completely neglected to mention all this time, and that Shanbo should go and ask for this sister’s hand in marriage, who will turn out to be you-know-who. She doesn’t plan on keeping this a secret until he gets to her; rather, she gives a piece of jewelry shaped like a butterfly to Mrs. Zhou, and its identical piece to Shanbo, telling him to see Mrs. Zhou the next day, who gives him the other butterfly and tells him the truth. Ecstatic about this news, he heads out, presumably to Yingtai’s home to propose marriage to her.

At the Zhu home, Yingtai arrives to find her mother alive and well but her father waiting with the news that a local, wealthy man named Wencai Ma has asked for Yingtai’s hand in marriage, and he has accepted on his daughter’s behalf. Distressed, Yingtai tells them about Shanbo, even though it’s too late. Even though Yingtai followed all the instructions (well, the virginity thing remains a mystery when Yingtai’s father says that he was bluffing about the medical exam, and that he’ll just take her word for it), she still gets the short end of the stick despite what her parents think is best for her.

Meanwhile, Shanbo shows up not at Yingtai’s home but at his own home, where he tells his parents about Yingtai, and they’re all like, “why the heck did you come here and tell us, go get her before someone else does!” He does so, and shows up at the Zhu home soon after. It turns out to be his lucky day, as Yingtai’s father is away and Yingtai’s mother is enough of a believer in true love that she not only allows them to meet, but have alone time together (a big no-no). Shanbo sees Yingtai as a woman for the first time and falls in love all over again. He proposes marriage, but when Yingtai drops the bomb that he’s too late and she’s been promised away, he gets so sick that he has to go home. You should’ve just followed her, dammit.

Yeah, because that always looks perfect on the first try.

Anyway, more stuff happens, Shanbo becomes sicker, Yingtai sends medicine. Shanbo recovers a little and goes to Wencai Ma to ask for him to change his mind about Yingtai, but is humiliated and emasculated so badly that he gets sick again, and this time he dies. When Yingtai learns of this, she’s angry and upset, and still engaged to be married. She threatens to kill herself rather than marry Wencai Ma, but relents when her parents allow a detour on the way to the Ma village, stopping at Shanbo’s grave in Huqiao County. Arriving at the grave, Yingtai makes a death wish, to be united with Shanbo for eternity. Some crazy mystical stuff happens, and she falls into the grave, which conveniently sprouts a second headstone with her name on it. Now joined together forever, two butterflies – one blue and one pink – emerge from the gravesite, flying together, free. In the epilogue, Yinxin and Sijiu, their servants (remember them?!) return to the grave with a new, joint headstone. They kind of luck out, because not only are they alive, but now that their masters are out of the way, they’re out of jobs, so they marry each other, with Yingtai and Shanbo’s blessing from beyond the grave as the butterflies perch on them. I’m starting to think that maybe this was just an elaborate scheme by those two; you can never trust those sneaky servants.

Oh, Mandy, will you kiss me and instead of this shaking?

Though it’s billed as the Chinese Romeo & Juliet, it’s more like Yentl with a bizarre Chinese twist, only instead of Barbra Streisand belting her heart out on a boat in the New York Harbor, she ends up six feet under. Elements of both stories appear in Butterfly Lovers, but I would not say that it’s close enough to one of the two to outrank the other. Still, overall, it’s a wonderful folk tale with a lot of realistic and valuable information, at least more so than those other two stories. It promotes girls getting education, which is a good thing; no Disney princesses here. The characters are also pretty real, with sitcom-level situations rather than total fantasy, at least up until the very end when Yingtai gets sucked into the earth, but I could see that as a dream sequence, plus it’s a cool visual. It doesn’t sidestep the issues, and the language that Dai utilizes is straightforward enough that a middle-schooler could understand it, and frankly, it has a lot more mileage than R&J. So middle school and high school teachers, if you’re reading this, check out Butterfly Lovers for your next summer reading list.

 

Also, I’m sure that there are some really awesome movie versions out there, so here are a few posters of said productions.

Sing us out, Barbra.

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