Christmas With the Cacti

Ah, Christmas.  A time of lights, worship, gifts, family, and friends.

My Christmas was a bit different this year.  I have three brothers and we’re spread all over the map and the other 3 have spouses/families that also need a little togetherness time, so getting everyone in one place for the holidays can be a little difficult.

This year we had an early Christmas which meant that, for the first time ever, I had no plans for Christmas Eve and Day.  Then it hit me.  I could go to Arizona to visit Mat and Carolyn.

Mat and Carolyn have been through some wonderful changes since I had last seen them in March.  The two are set to become the parents of twin girls in February.  As such, this seemed like an ideal time to spend the holidays with friends and have one more traditional round of shenanigans before the twins arrive.

While Mat and Carolyn were glad to have me come for a visit, their home would be a bit snug as they had already converted one of the guest rooms into a nursery and Mat’s dad, Barry, would be staying with them for Christmas plus Carolyn’s brother, Alan, would also be visiting for Christmas.  Mat also was slightly concerned that the twins might decide to come early and didn’t want to leave me at the house alone if he and Carolyn had to dash to the hospital.  As such, he recommended that I find a hotel for the duration.

When our mutual friend, David Sundberg, announced that he, too, wanted to visit Mat and Carolyn for the holidays, we began to make plans.

Like in March, the plans came about after the sweet spot of air fare had passed.  Dave also had to wait for his time off to be approved so I went ahead and booked a flight and would help Dave rendezvous with me in Arizona.

Then I began a search for hotels.  For kicks and giggles, I did a search on Embassy Suites, fully expecting to see a $200 or more per night rate.  Imagine my surprise when I found an Embassy Suites about ten minutes from Mat and Carolyn’s home advertising an $87 a night rate.  During my recent trip to Scotland, I had become a Hilton Honors member which meant that the rate would be about $81 a night after tax.

Hot diggety!!  A comfy suite with a free cooked to order breakfast every day.  Can we say jackpot?

Dave had decided to stay in Arizona for two weeks so opted to find his own accommodations as he didn’t want to change hotels after I left, so I would be on my own.  I ended up booking a 2 room king bed suite and I was ready to go on a Christmas adventure.

Day 1

I flew Southwest out of Omaha, nabbing a window seat close to the front of the plane.  I made some good time and even got to Phoenix a little early which started this adventure off on a much better note than the previous one where my initial flight got canceled.

Mat greeted me at the gate and we collected my bag and headed off to the homestead.

Shortly after my arrival, Carolyn and Mat wanted brunch so we headed off to a NY deli called Chompie’s.  I decided to have a corned beef half sandwich with some fries and lemonade.  The menu called it a jumbo half and they weren’t whistling Dixie.  Nobody without the name of Pac-Man was going to be able to fit this thing into her or his mouth.  I took one of the slices of bread and made a much smaller sandwich out of it and ate the rest of the fixings with a knife and fork.

With a tasty meal digesting, we headed back home and enjoyed some conversation while Mat and Carolyn’s cat, Tuna, continually swatted and climbed the Christmas tree.  Barry arrived a bit later in the afternoon and about 4pm, Mat took me to Embassy Suites to get my keys and drop off my bag.

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Embassy Suites Tempe

The Embassy Suites Tempe is a three story adobe style hotel.  Thanks to my Hilton Honors membership, I had checked in the day before and was able to pick my own room.  On the rare occasions I stay at hotels, I prefer rooms on the highest floor possible so I had picked Room 310.  The clerk checking me in told me there was a problem with the room so I moved to the more secluded Room 338.

As I walked to my room, I noted that Room 310 had a stellar view of the courtyard where the heated pool and hot tub were located.  But 338 would give me a bit more solitude.

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I was impressed when I entered the room.  The living room had an easy chair and couch sleeper plus an office area with a plasma TV mounted on the wall.  The bedroom was spacious with a king-sized bed with a pillowtop mattress and another plasma TV set up in the room.  I put my bag into the closet and rejoined Mat.

We returned to the house where more conversation ensued.  Early evening we went out to Venezia’s Pizzeria where I had a slice of pepperoni pizza.  We returned to the house for more conversation, got the word that Dave made it to town.  Due the delay of getting his time off, Dave was reluctant to pay last minute prices for air fare and a car rental.  So he had decided to make the loooong drive to Phoenix and back (40 hours round trip).  Understandably, he was a bit exhausted and would not meet up with us until Monday.

Mat and I took an “old man walk” as he called it where we talked and I took pictures of Christmas lights.  Afterwards, Mat drove me to Embassy Suites where I unpacked my suitcase, put away my clothes, and went to bed.

Day 2

I had a fantastic night of sleep.  Limbs splayed out.  Slack jawed.  And out all night.  I opened the curtains and noticed an overcast day.  I decided to go exercise in the gym and followed the signs and went around in a circle a few times before stopping at the front desk and asking where the heck was the gym.  Turns out it was actually inside the pool area.

I did 30 minutes on the elliptical, pleased at how much stronger I had become since using the HasFit regimen as I didn’t even start to breathe heavy until the brutal final few minutes and recovered my wind pretty quickly when I was done.

I took a hot bath and shaved and then went to breakfast.

Embassy Suites is known for a free cooked to order breakfast and it has a pretty good spread.  Breads, cereals, juices, milk, oatmeal (with fixings), bacon, sausage, eggs any style you want, homemade omelets, French toast, breakfast potatoes, and an amazing homemade salsa are available every day.

After a small meal, I returned to my room.  Mat and Dave came to collect me about 10am and made a stop at Hurts Donut where Mat picked up an apple fritter for Carolyn and we each got a donut of our own.  I went with Mint Oreo this time.

We dropped off the fritter and then went to Castles N Coasters for a day of mini-golf.  For the first time ever, we played all 4 courses which took over five hours, including a lunch break at In N Out Burger.

I played a pretty pitiful game to start.  One front 9 didn’t have me shooting anything lower than a 3.  Mat started off red hot as he made 4 aces in the first six holes.  He ended up running away with the win and it became a battle for second place and I had fallen 15 strokes behind Dave.  Miraculously I managed to slice his lead down to 5 by the final round, but could get no closer.

We returned to the homestead where more conversation ensued before a quick meal at Panda Express where I had a small order of black pepper chicken and mixed vegetables.  Shortly afterwards, Dave drove me back to the hotel for the night.

Days 3-4

Ah, Christmas Eve Day.

Mat picked me up about 9:30am and we met Dave at the homestead.  We made a stop at Safeway to pick up the pre-made Christmas dinner Mat and Carolyn had ordered.

Most of the day was just conversation.  Mat drove me over to Our Lady of Mt Carmel so I could attend Christmas service at 4pm.

I had never seen a church so packed.  I arrived at 3:30pm and the church was nearly full.  By the time mass started, the pews were full, people were standing at the back of the church and I noted people streaming in from the narthex during Communion.

I had also never seen a church so beautifully decorated for Christmas.  A large Nativity scene was set to the left of the altar, two Christmas trees were set at either side of the altar, and old-fashioned lampposts adorned the edges of the pews.

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This was easily the best Christmas service I had ever attended.  There was just something heavenly about it.  The chattering before service told me people were happy to be there.  The choir played some stellar jazzed up hymns.  Father had a simple sermon about what Jesus means to us.  After the service, I decided to walk back to Mat and Carolyn’s just so I could process the mass and looked forward to going again on Saturday.  This time I would bring my camera so I could get some snaps of the Christmas decorations.

When I arrived at the house, Carolyn’s father, Joe, and her brother, Alan, had arrived.  Alan has some special needs due to cerebral palsy, but is a very sweet guy.  Joe is fun and a master of dad humor.  We sat down to dinner and enjoyed a sumptuous meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, rolls, and pie.

Afterwards a few gifts were opened while a fire crackled in the fireplace.  Then Mat, Dave, and I entertained the guests by badly playing a cooking game called Overcooked.  Most of Dave’s food was seasoned by the floor as he kept dropping it while I kept tossing food into the abyss.  Very entertaining and a great deal of fun for the night.

On Christmas Day, Dave picked me up so Mat and Carolyn could better care for Alan.  Mat prepared breakfast for those who hadn’t eaten and we opened up the rest of the gifts.  Mat and Carolyn got me a card game called Doctor Who Fluxx while Dave gave me $20.

Early afternoon we headed to Joe’s house for Christmas dinner.  At Joe’s, we met the family of his girlfriend, Fran.  Fran’s son’s (Elliott) fiancée, Ellen, made an epic Filipino Christmas dinner with spicy beef and cheese, egg rolls, stuffed eggplant, pork belly, and other delicacies.  Wonderful!  Simply wonderful!

We took a little walk after dinner before taking Alan back to his group home.  Then we went back to Mat and Carolyn’s where we played Super Mario Party (won 1, lost 1) and Mat introduced me to Luigi’s Mansion 3.  After a long day, Dave returned me to the hotel where I had a lovely night’s sleep.

Day 5

Today Mat took Dave and I to downtown Tempe where we walked around the downtown area and Tempe Town Lake before going to the movies to watch Star Wars:  The Rise of Skywalker.  I thought it was an OK movie.  It was definitely the weakest of the new trilogy with some serious pacing issues in the first third of the film, a somewhat tepid story, but all storylines are tied up, and the action scenes are great.

After the film, Dave bought an R2-D2 popcorn and cup holder and then Mat took us to The Chuckbox for the best hamburger in town.

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An R2-D2 popcorn and cup holder.

The Chuckbox is a Tempe institution.  It’s small and cash only, but specializes in cooked to order charbroiled burgers that you can fix up yourself.  Mat and Dave ate bacon cheeseburgers while I enjoyed a Big One (1/3 pound patty) with Swiss cheese on a whole wheat bun.  I then fixed it up with jalapenos, lettuce, onions, relish, pickles, ketchup, and mustard.  This truly was the best burger I’ve tasted and recommend a visit to any and all in the Tempe area.

From there it was back to the house where I won another round of Super Mario Party and we talked some more.  Late evening we stopped for a late dinner at Flavors of Louisiana for some Cajun cooking.  I had a 6 inch blackened chicken po’boy with a side of gumbo.  The gumbo was tasty though a bit more like soup than stew.  The sandwich was utter perfection.

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We returned to the house for another round of Super Mario Party which Dave won.  Then Dave took me back to Embassy Suites for the night.

Days 6-7

Putrid.

That word sums up Friday.

It started off decently enough.  I decided to use the pool and hot tub at 6:30am.  The heat of the hot tub merged with the cool morning air causing steam to visibly rise from the tub.  The hot, churning water felt good, but I had to skip the swim as maintenance started cleaning the pool.

Mat had to go in to work that day so I was left to my own devices until 3pm.  I didn’t need to plan too much as it started raining at 11am and it just went on for most of the afternoon.

About noon, I braved the elements to have lunch at Café Rio where I enjoyed one of their fantastic chicken quesadillas.  By that point the rain was really coming down so I speed walked back to the hotel where I remained until Dave picked me up about 3pm.

It was a pretty quiet afternoon.  We played more Super Mario Party and eventually had dinner at Lolo’s Chicken & Waffles where I ate a chicken tenders meal while keeping an eye on the Holiday Bowl where I ultimately had the satisfaction of watching Iowa demolish USC.  After dinner it was more gaming and then back to the hotel.

Here it was.  The last day.  Thankfully the sun was shining today, but it was cold.  Temps actually dipped below freezing which Mat says happens only twice a year.

Mat picked me up at 9:30am and Dave met us at the house.  After a bit of talking we headed out to an early lunch at Del Taco before heading out to another mini-golf battle at Golfland Sunsplash.

The fun park was really decked out for the holidays and I wished I would have been able to see it lit up at night.

My mini-golf slump continued, not due to bad shots, but bad breaks.  I was nailed with a slew of penalties as my ball continued to take bad bounces on many holes.  I was red hot on the final round, but it was too little, too late.

On the other hand, I did witness the impossible.  For the first time ever, Dave finally won his first mini-golf battle after 20 years of knowing him.  He sometimes placed second. . .usually third. . .occasionally fourth, but this time he took the whole enchilada with a combination of steady, smart gameplay which resulted in 8 holes in one and the most epic meltdown I had ever seen as Mat crashed and burned in the final round.

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Dave strikes a victory pose as Mat weeps after he falls to pieces in the final round of our mini-golf battle.

After the links duel, it was back to Mat and Carolyn’s where we squeezed in a quick round of Super Mario Party before I went to worship at Our Lady of Mt Carmel.

When church services ended, the four of us went to dinner at Chou’s Kitchen which serves authentic Chinese food.  The meals are meant to be served family style so there were quite a few leftovers.  My dish of choice was chicken in garlic sauce, but I also sampled potstickers and sliced beef roll.  During the meal, Carolyn picked up on my mood and wondered if I were feeling well.  Truthfully, I was feeling a bit blue as I knew that this adventure was rapidly coming to a close and I was missing my friends already.

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But there was time for one last hurrah.

When we got back to the house, I broke out a portable escape room (a gift from another friend).  It was pretty interesting.  The game replicates the escape room experience as you and your team time yourselves and track how many clues you truly needed to use to solve the puzzles and escape.  The downside is that the game can only be played once as once you’ve solved it, you know how to win and you may need to tear up pieces of the game and booklet to solve puzzles.

It was a fun game as we tried to escape the abandoned cabin.  Mat and Carolyn are serious escape room players and Dave and I learned we had to really pipe up to present our theories and solutions.  We did pretty well.  We did escape in about 90 minutes and needed 5 clues.  We’ll do better next time now that we know how the portable game works.

And for me, that was the end.  I said my good-byes to Mat and Carolyn, knowing that it would be a while before I would get to see them again.

Dave took me back to Embassy Suites and I wished him a safe drive home before heading off to one final sleep in Arizona.

Thus ends my Christmas with the Cacti.  Until I see you again, my friends.  Be well.  Be happy.

Desert Wedding: A True Arizona Chronicle

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Mat O’Donnell and Carolyn Langlois

Life is ultimately about the stories we make.  Currently I’m on a plane heading back to Omaha from the wedding reception of a good friend.  Originally I thought that I would not be writing this one up, but last night I realized it that it is the real life stories we make that are most worth sharing.

My friend, Mat O’Donnell, has been mentioned in this blog before under the guise of Arizona Mat for my faux adventure series, The Arizona Chronicles, but let me tell you a bit about the real Mat.

I’ve known Mat for nearly 18 years when a mutual friend introduced us a few weeks after I graduated from college.  Mat and I struck up an instant rapport as we had a number of similar interests.  He also shares my somewhat off kilter sense of humor.  Over the past two decades, Mat has become one of my closest friends.  We’ve shared a lot of happy times, a lot of fun times, and some heavy times as well.  He’s my most frequent traveling companion as we have gone all over the globe from Las Vegas to Tokyo.   One would be lucky to have a friend even half as loyal as Mat.

About 5 years ago, a promotion took Mat to Phoenix, AZ.  That one choice brought a plethora of good things for Mat including a wonderful woman named Carolyn Langlois.

I still remember the night that Mat told me about Carolyn.  I was in Abilene, KS reviewing Abilene’s Victorian Inn when I decided to FB chat Mat since I hadn’t spoken to him in a little spell.  We were talking about a mystery/puzzle game we both were playing and then he said he hadn’t been able to finish it as he’d been a little busy lately and then he posted a picture of himself and Carolyn.

I was beyond excited for Mat as he had long deserved some happiness of this type.  Giddily, I asked him about the whole story.  Who was she?  How did you meet?  Etc.  Etc.  I could hear the glee in his voice as he shared his tale of how the two of them met.

About six months later, I finally got to meet Carolyn and I knew that Mat had found his soulmate.  In less than ten minutes I realized that Mat had found someone that completed him in every way, shape, and form.  Over the next year, their deep love grew only deeper and suddenly a wedding was upon us.

Now Mat and Carolyn actually married on October 26 which was the anniversary of their first date.  But the reception was held on November 5 at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix.

On November 3, I found myself heading to Eppley Airfield for a non-stop flight to Phoenix.  Now I’ve enjoyed an unusually long streak of successful or even more than successful flights so I was long overdue for a bit of difficulty.  Just before I reached the airport, I felt my phone vibrate and found that my flight was delayed for nearly an hour and a half.

Not too terrible and I had a novel with which to occupy myself.  Then just before boarding would begin for the delayed flight, a Southwest employee changed the 8 to a 9.  Another hour delay.  Then they announced that the delays were due to runways at Sky Harbor International being shut down due to construction and a ripping thunderstorm over Phoenix which was preventing any and all flights from landing.

Finally at 9pm, we finally boarded the plane.  I was grateful for the gain of 2 hours as it was only about 10pm local time when I arrived in Phoenix.

I called the Crowne Plaza which would be my temporary home and they said they get a shuttle to me in just a few minutes.  Their word was good as gold as a shuttle pulled up to the pickup curb within ten minutes and whisked me a mile down the road.

While I prefer B & Bs, I do admit that I had long wanted to stay at a Crowne Plaza.  This particular hotel had recently undergone a multimillion dollar renovation and looked brand new.  As I checked in I was ecstatic that my standby for an upper level floor had been approved.

This hotel took its security very seriously as you couldn’t even use the elevator without a room key.  I zipped up to the 8th floor and found myself with a comfortable king sized bed, a spectacular view of downtown Phoenix, and a nice office area.  I also found myself with a door that didn’t latch too well unless you slammed it.  After beating my door in a wrestling match, I closed the thick drapes and crawled into bed for the evening.

I awoke the next morning and headed down to the gym for a workout.  The gym was not too bad with free weights, balance balls, treadmills, and elliptical.  I exercised for 40 minutes then returned to my room for a hot bath with a less than cooperative drain before spending the morning thumbing through my novel or finding something interesting on TV.

Around noon, Mat and Carolyn came to pick me up for lunch and we caught up on the goings-on of our lives since we last met.  We ate at Four Peaks Brewing Company where I enjoyed an Oatmeal Stout and a Mexican chicken wrap.  Carolyn had chicken rolls and Mat noshed on chicken wings.

During lunch, Carolyn suddenly got an “I’ve got a great idea!” look on her face.  It turns out that an old friend of her mother wanted to throw a dinner party for Mat and Carolyn.  One of the guests was going to be unable to attend so Carolyn suggested that I take that person’s place.  Mat and I both thought that was a great idea so we drove back to the Crowne Plaza where I grabbed my dress clothes and we returned to Mat’s house.

I spent the afternoon helping Carolyn tie jellybean bags for the reception and catching up on things with Barry, Mat’s father, and John Velasquez, an old friend of the O’Donnell family.

Around 5pm, we piled in Carolyn’s vehicle and drove deep into Scottsdale to the home of the Haggertys where the dinner would be held.  I met Carolyn’s father, Joe, who was a hoot and his girlfriend, Fran, who was a delightful conversationalist.  I also met the Haggertys and a number of other of Carolyn’s relatives who were truly wonderful people.

The home was gorgeous with a beautiful fire pit, an impressive infinity pool, fine works of art, and quartz rocks peppering the abode.  The event began with conversation, cocktails, and light hors d’oeuvres of prawns, cheese, and crackers.  We enjoyed a fantastic sunset as the sun dropped below the horizon backlighting the Black Mountain.  As the stars and planets became visible, we headed inside for the dinner.

Dinner began with a terrific salad which was followed by roasted carrots, chilled pea salad, and a main entrée of chicken and mushrooms.  For dessert there was an absolutely delectable mint chocolate ice cream cake.  After that, there was more conversation before we broke up for the evening.  Joe and Fran were gracious enough to give me a lift back to my hotel where we chatted and listened to opera music on the long drive.

The next morning I decided to give the hotel restaurant, The Post, a try.  The prices were about what I expected for a hotel and the food wasn’t too bad.  I had orange juice with Eggs Benedict which I spiced up with the hotel’s homemade salsa (which was excellent) and a splash of Tabasco.

Around noon, I was joined by David Sundberg, another long time friend of both Mat and myself.  Dave was planning on turning the reception into a week’s vacation so he had rented a Mustang for himself.  And this puppy had some serious horsepower and Dave REALLY likes horsepower.

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Dave and his Mustang

Dave was starving so we found a nearby In N Out Burger where we munched on cheeseburgers done animal style and with animal fries.  Afterwards, we drove around a bit and found a flea market which brought Dave a lot of joy as he likes looking for hidden treasures.  And I’ll be dipped if he didn’t find some Viking horn glasses which he turned into a wedding present for Mat and Carolyn.

From there we drove to Dave’s hotel to pick up his dress shirt and killed a few hours at Castles N Coasters.  I won a large amount of redemption tickets, bested Dave in Mario Kart, and made a stupid mistake which permitted Dave to top me in Connect Four.  Dave and I donated the remnants of our game cards to a group of kids, then drove to my hotel to change into our nicer duds before we went to the Desert Botanical Gardens for the reception.

I’d like to visit the Gardens again when there’s more time as it was absolutely stunning and a very popular place for receptions as 4 were being held there that evening.

It was a truly magical night.  Carolyn looked resplendent in her wedding dress and Mat was quite dapper in his tuxedo.  The bride and groom shared some touching words about why they were spending the rest of their lives together.  Then toasts from the audience were opened up and I even offered one of my own, the bulk of which you actually read in my opening paragraphs.  After that it was a dinner of salad with a chipotle dressing, mixed vegetables, spinach stuffed chicken breast, risotto cakes, and a beef cutlet.  Then came conversation, dancing, and a little Mat and Carolyn trivia game.

All too soon it was time to call it a night as Dave’s internal clock was still two hours ahead and I had an early morning flight the next day.  I said my good-byes and was driven back to Crowne Plaza by Dave.  I shook his hand and wished him a fun vacation.

I’ll carry the memories of this trip for a long time and look forward to the next visit with Mat and Carolyn.

Until the next time. . .

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 4, Days 2-3: In the House of the Rising Dumb & A Day of Fighting Fun

Day 2

My first sensations were a gust of cool air blowing gently upon me.  My eyelids fluttered as my vision swam back into focus.

“Where am I?” I wondered.

I raised myself with my elbows, noting that a blanket had been placed over me.  I gazed around the room, trying to get my bearings.  The room had a familiar feel to it, but it had stuff.  Lots of stuff.  It almost looked like an office.  I tried to stand, but my legs felt wobbly.  I staggered to the door and leaned against the frame, trying to summon up some strength.  I heard grunts coming from beyond the door.  Feebly, I opened the door and used the wall to drag myself to the living room and then I saw. . .him.

It was Tall Square and he was doing push-ups.  I tried to call his name, but it came out like a choked gurgle and I fell to my knees.  Tall Square heard my squeaks and helped lay me on the couch.

Tall Square doing his morning workout.

Tall Square doing his morning workout.

“He’s awake,” said Tall Square.

Entering from the dining room was Arizona Mat.

“Ah!  My Boswell.  You don’t seem to have suffered too much from the curare.”

A surge of energy rushed through my body as my anger flared up.  I leapt upon Arizona Mat and attempted to give him a larynx massage until Tall Square pulled me off.

“Well, that’s a fine hello,” said Arizona Mat, rubbing his throat.

“Curare is a deadly poison, you fool!” I shouted.

“Not in the hands of trained experts,” countered Arizona Mat.

“Why would you drug me?  How did you even know I was coming to town?”

“Tall Square has been tailing you for months.”

“Weren’t the two of you enemies?”

“We had our differences, I admit,” said Arizona Mat.

“And what’s with this place?  You always lived kind of simply.  There’s stuff here now.  And there’s food in the fridge.”

“The difference is that I have made the greatest discovery of all.  I have found true love.”

“True love?”

“True love,” said Arizona Mat.  “Thanks to that discovery, I have become a kindler, gentler, humbler explorer.  I have made amends with Tall Square who is my sidekick once again.”

“I have a business meeting to get to,” I said.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Tall Square.  “I found the business card of your SyFy rep and posed as your administrative assistant.  I told him you were suffering from the Swahilian Flu and that you needed to reschedule.”

I sighed and accepted the inevitable.  “So who’s your new love?”

“Dr. Carolyn Langlois.  Reknowned Alzheimer’s Disease researcher.”

“Mm hmm.  And where is she?”

“Nicaragua.”

“I see.  And do you have a photo?”

“Not at the present.”

“I see.”

I decided to be gracious since I was familiar with Arizona Mat’s tendency to skew reality and not broach the matter of his “girlfriend”.

Being weakened from the curare, I spent the day resting up.  I played a few rounds of Garfield with Tall Square and Arizona Mat with Tall Square taking 2 games and I took one.  To Arizona Mat’s credit, though his teeth ground a bit, he managed to keep his ego in check.  I suspected this evened things up a bit between after their handshake battles.

Arizona Mat took Tall Square and I to Lolo’s Chicken & Waffles for lunch.  It’s a very nice place and serves some excellent soul food.  They serve the beverages in mason jars and serve some of the best catfish beignets I’ve ever tasted.  Arizona Mat also ordered some stupid fries which are fries smothered with cheese, gravy, and chicken.  Arizona Mat and Tall Square each ate Betty’s Boob (a waffle and chicken breast) while I had some chicken tenders.

I caught a quick nap in the afternoon and then Arizona Mat took Tall Square and myself to Phoenix Rock Gym.  It’s a rock climbing gym and a good place for a natural workout.  After learning the finer points of belaying and climbing, I did five climbs up the walls while Arizona Mat accomplished six.  Tall Square, who suffers from a fear of heights, did several, but was chided by Arizona Mat for his reluctance to do more.  I imagined “Carolyn” had been responsible for the peace treaty between them, but cracks were definitely beginning to appear in the cessation of hostilities.

After the gym, we went to Four Peaks Brewery when I had a bowl of beer cheese soup and an Oatmeal stout.  Arizona Mat had chicken wings and pumpkin porter.  Tall Square ate a blackened salmon BLT and sipped a mixed concoction.

The minor jet lag, curare shot, and workout had wearied me so I collapsed on the couch in “Carolyn’s” office and slept through the night.

Day 3

The next morning I walked to Fry’s grocery store to get some cash and, for reasons that now elude me, bought Arizona Mat breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s while Tall Square refused my generosity and got his own breakfast.  Afterwards Arizona Mat announced that we were going to Castles N Coasters for a gentleman’s game of mini golf.

Before the hostilities.

Before the hostilities.

For me it was a feast or famine day.  I sunk 8 holes in one, but could not accomplish squat on the other holes.  The battle was clearly going to be between Arizona Mat and Tall Square who began to snipe at each other more and more as the day wore on. Arizona Mat sunk one shot where he used his putter as a pool cue and Tall Square insisted I give him a one stroke penalty for improper use of club.

“I’ll show you an improper use of club,” said Arizona Mat under his breath.

It was a tight game until the final 18 where Arizona Mat managed to dump his opponent once and for all.

“Yes!” cried Arizona Mat.  “Once again I prove myself your superior in every way.”

Arizona Mat gloats while Tall Square prepares to brain him.

Arizona Mat gloats while Tall Square prepares to brain him.

That was a mistake.

Wielding his putter like an axe, Tall Square swung with all his might.  Arizona Mat dodged out of the way at the last second and bolted for the go-karts with Tall Square right behind him.  Arizona Mat barged in front of a line of kids and roared off in a go-kart, breaking through a gate and driving through the park.  Tall Square hopped in another and continued the pursuit.   I jumped in a third, train wreck curiosity compelling me to see this through to the very end.

Arizona Mat sped towards the bumper boats and dove into the water, swimming valiantly into a boat before zooming off.  Tall Square was hot on his heels and absconded with a boat of his own.  The sight of the two of them ramming each other whilst shouting profanities at each other is a vision that will forever be seared on my brain.

Tall Square finally managed to hit Arizona Mat with enough force to capsize him, but Arizona Mat swam under the water and pulled himself out, heading to the log flume.  Panicked, Arizona Mat quickly got into a moving flume to get away from Tall Square.  Tall Square got into the flume behind, shaking his fist angrily.  Why he didn’t wait until the ride got back around like I did, I’ll never know.

Arizona Mat dives into a log flume to escape an irate Tall Square.

Arizona Mat dives into a log flume to escape an irate Tall Square.

“I’ll get you, Arizona Mat!” snarls Tall Square.

Arizona Mat prepares to take the plunge.

Arizona Mat prepares to take the plunge.

I decided the two had expended enough energy and I got between the two after the ride.

“I thought you were a kindler, gentler, humbler Arizona Mat,” I stated.

“I am,” said Arizona Mat.

“And aren’t you his trusted sidekick?” I asked Tall Square.

“Yes,” said Tall Square.

“Then shake hands and call it a day,” I said.

The two of them looked at each other for a long moment, then shook hands, though, for a moment, it seemed like another handshake duel was about to occur.

After the fun park, Arizona Mat took us to the Gila River Arena where we watched a hockey game between the Minnesota Wild and the Arizona Coyotes.  Needless to say, Arizona Mat was pulling for the Coyotes.  Tall Square, out of pure spite, pulled for Minnesota.

Early on the game looked like it was going to be a slaughter as Minnesota slapped goal after goal into the net.  Tall Square smirked with glee as Minnesota hammered Arizona.

Arizona began to show signs of life in the 2nd period and then caught on fire in the 3rd pulling to within one.  A desperate scramble at the end to force overtime failed and Minnesota won by a score of 4 to 3.

“Eat it, Arizona!” crowed Tall Square as he mooned Arizona Mat.

“At least, I know how to putt!” Arizona Mat snapped back.

Tall Square’s face flushed red as he charged Arizona Mat.  Arizona Mat dodged and scrambled over the wall to the ice.  Slipping and sliding, he skid to a zamboni and yanked the driver from his perch.  Taking control of the wheel, Arizona Mat slowly escaped from the arena.  Not to be outdone, Tall Square slid to the other zamboni, politely asked the driver to get off as he cracked his knuckles by clenching his fist, and then continued to chase Arizona Mat.

I hailed a cab to return to Arizona Mat’s house and watched the two zambonis chase each other at 5 miles a hour into the night as I passed them.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Day 6: Revelations & Bowling Balls

So a short while later, we found ourselves back at the estate of Arizona Mat where Mongrel, Arizona Mat, and the police sat around the living room while I stood court in the center of the room.  I pulled one officer to the side, whispered something in his ear, and sent him down the hall before beginning the denouement.

“In order to understand this case, we need to go back to the day of the first attack,” I said.

“Wait a moment,” said Arizona Mat.  “You’ve done well, my friend, but I’ll take it from here.  Obviously my colleague and I have come to the same conclusion.  Since I’ve been the target, I feel it’s my privilege to bring this fiend to justice.”

I stared at Arizona Mat for a moment, then gestured for him to take the stage while I stood in a corner.

“Thank you.  It has always been my philosophy that one truth prevails and that is certainly the case here.  The person responsible for these heinous attacks is Tall Square, my former sidekick.  He’s always been jealous of my intelligence, wit, good looks, and discoveries.  My besting him in the handshake contest was clearly the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Once he realized that he ended up in Nome, AK, he realized he had the perfect cover to launch a series of devastating attacks on me in secret.  

First, he arranged to have an explosive “surprise” sent to me, sans return address, so I wouldn’t be able to trace the package back to Alaska.  After arranging for the package, he chartered a flight back to Phoenix and has been following me around.  He rented a car so he could chase me down at Paseo Vista.  When my superior brain outfoxed him, he immediately drove to my home and set up the wasp farm, since he still had keys to my home.  When that failed, he trailed us to Buffalo Wild Wings where he paid off a thug to beat me senseless.  Unluckily for him, Chris spotted him waiting outside the scene of the crime.  

He slipped into my house, hoping he could get at me while the others were asleep.  Due to Chris’ propensity for deep sleep, he managed to get to me, but chose not to finish me off, as he would want it on a grand stage.  He hoped that stage might have been the sushi restaurant, but we managed to escape the sinister swordsman he had hired. In case that attack failed, he set up a bomb in my pool. Unfortunately, Chris took the evening swim that night and was nearly blown to kingdom come.  When he realized he failed, he followed Chris and I to Castles N Coasters where he used us like a real life shooting gallery.

By now, my former sidekick must have reached the limits of his patience and, any moment now, will kick in the door in an attempt to launch one final murderous assault upon my glorious personage.”

Everyone turned to look at the door.

Nothing happened.

I came out of the corner and patted Arizona Mat on the shoulder.

“That was actually a nimble piece of logical reasoning.  But you made two crucial errors.  One, Tall Square doesn’t strike me as the most subtle of people.  He would have started with the murderous assault.  Two, it’s a 10.5 hour flight from here to Nome and they are two hours behind us.  It’s simply not feasible for him to have arranged any of this.”

“Oh,” said Arizona Mat, sitting back down, his face red as a beet.

“Not that he was completely wrong,” I said.  “The assailant certainly wanted us to think Tall Square was behind this.  Hence, the little surprise delivered to Arizona Mat as well as hiring someone with a similar physical build to Tall Square for us to witness on the scene for the BWW brawl.  The attacker had to be someone with access to the house.  He also had to have knowledge of where Arizona Mat would be in order to set up these traps and attacks.  I realized that Arizona Mat’s need to broadcast his whereabouts to the world via Facebook was how the assaulter managed to set up his various death traps.

At that point I ordered Arizona Mat to stop broadcasting our whereabouts via FB and the combination of that plus our staying close to home closed off the avenues of attack for our villain.  The day of the Castles N Coasters attack, I happened to glance at Arizona Mat’s cell phone which was open to his FB page and I learned the truth.

He only has one FB friend.  Clearly that person must be the attacker.  But to be certain of my theory, I posted that we were at Castles N Coasters in an attempt to provoke an assault.  I had arranged for the police to be nearby, but the attacker managed to slip through the cordon.  Of course, the attacker didn’t always need FB to set up an attack.  On several occasions, he was right along our side.  Isn’t that right, Mongrel?”

Mongrel had blanched when I made that accusation.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said with a nervous chuckle.  “I was there at Paseo Vista and BWW.  I was also attacked by the wasps in the pool.”

“That was the brilliant and, dare I say, daring part of your plan.  You made yourself look like a potential victim of collateral damage so you wouldn’t be suspected.”

“But there’s no motivation,” countered Mongrel.

“Oh, I disagree.  You’ve had the run of the estate since Arizona Mat and Tall Square started their little handshake duel back in January.  It would be such a shame to lose it all and be reduced to a lowly B level sidekick again.  So at some point, you decided to eliminate Arizona Mat and frame Tall Square for the crime.  Or maybe you planned to get rid of both of them and adapted your plan after you found out Tall Square was flown to Alaska.”

While I was speaking, the officer whom I had sent out of the room returned with a sheaf of papers in his hand.

“And I believe this kind officer has provided me with the evidence I need to prove your guilt.”

An examination of the papers revealed Mongrel had been forging Arizona Mat’s name on various documents.  He had given himself power of attorney over Arizona Mat’s assets as well as rewriting his will to name himself sole heir.

“Anything you care to say, Mongrel?” I asked.

“You don’t know what it was like,” said Mongrel in a sad voice.  “I was kept so much in the background that you didn’t even know I existed.  Why shouldn’t I have had the estate?  I took care of it.  Arizona Mat was never around.  Occasionally he’d bed here, but normally he and Tall Square were out having misadventures.  When you started publicizing his antics, it made him even more insufferable.  This estate is mine.  I earned it.”

Mongrel was cuffed by one of the officers, read his rights, and taken away.

Needless to say, Arizona Mat was ecstatic now that the threat to his life had ended.  In celebration, we went out to the Brunswick Zone for a few hours of bowling.  Arizona Mat was back to his arrogant, self-aggrandizing ways.  As he bored me with tellings of his various “explorations”, he managed to have a red hot night of bowling, closing all, but 2 frames and bowling a 200+ point game for the first time in 20 years.  I, myself, had a sharp night of bowling as my old form began to reassert itself as I averaged 120 points.

We returned to his home and slept the sleep of the peaceful, but this adventure wasn’t over just yet.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Day 5: Catastrophe at the Castle (N Coasters)

It’s amazing how nearly dying truly opens up the mind.  As I sailed through the air, I saw the whole truth of the mystery for a brief flash, but it faded as I blacked out.  

I survived thanks to dumb luck.  While Arizona Mat’s lawn was the last thing I saw before fading into oblivion, the trajectory of the blast actually put me onto the roof of his house making my fall only a few feet.  I was slightly banged up and bruised, but none the worst for wear.  Later we found the remains of a bomb in Arizona Mat’s pool.

“Great!!  Now they’re after you,” said Arizona Mat.

“No, they’re not,” I replied.

“Did you hit your head when you hit my roof?”

“Think about it.  What do you normally do at night?”

“I take a swim.”

“Right.  The assailant was expecting you to be in the pool that night.  It was just coincidence that I happened to be in there.”

“I can’t take this anymore.  I’m scared!!” cried Arizona Mat as he ran to his bedroom and hid under the covers.

I paced around Arizona Mat’s living room, trying to think through this mystery.  I desperately tried to regain the momentary flash I’d had as I flew through the air.  I sat down on the couch for a moment and saw that Arizona Mat had left his phone unlocked.  I idly grabbed it and noticed it was on his FB page and there made an amazing discovery.  I was now certain as to the identity of the culprit, but knew I needed to give it an acid test.

After arranging the stage, I knocked on Arizona Mat’s door.

“Go away, Mr. Killer,” said Arizona Mat.

“It’s me.  I think we need to get out for a while.  I read about this place called Castles N Coasters.  Why don’t we stop there?”

“Are you sure it’s safe?” asked Arizona Mat.

“So far, the attacks have been focused solely on you and the attacker has tried to avoid Mongrel and myself.  If we’re in a place where there’s a lot of people, I think you’ll be all right.  You can even wear your disguise.”

There was silence for a moment.  Then Arizona Mat opened his door a crack.

“OK.”

Castles N Coasters is a small fun center/amusement park in the downtown Phoenix area.  It boasts 4 miniature golf courses, a decent arcade which includes a section for classic games, and a little amusement park area with 2 roller coasters, a log flume, bumper cars, and other such rides.

Despite 2 of the courses being closed, we actually had a grand day and Arizona Mat began to loosen up a bit.  He managed to defeat me at mini golf as a couple of bad holes at the end finished me off.  We enjoyed playing classic games such as Tron, Killer Instinct 2, Joust, Donkey Kong, and various pinball machines.

At 5pm the rides section opened up and I crushed Arizona Mat in a Go Kart race, rode the log flume multiple times, enjoyed a spin on the roller coaster, and dueled Arizona Mat on the bumper cars.  As we got ready to leave the park, I persuaded Arizona Mat to do the obstacle course at the front of the park.  We got hooked up as if we were going to go ziplining and had some fun walking balance beams, rickety rope bridges, and walking high wires.

“This was actually a good idea,” said Arizona Mat as he walked the rope wires on the third level.

Suddenly a shot rang out severing the rope Arizona Mat had been holding.

“This was a terrible idea,” said Arizona Mat.

After the first shot, I unbuckled myself from my harness.  I grabbed the severed rope and swung for all I was worth.  Using my feet, I gave Arizona Mat a mighty shove and pushed him to the far edge of the platform where he would have some cover under the pylons by the stairs.  A second swing brought me over to his position.

“How did he find me?” blubbered Arizona Mat.

“Because I used your phone to post that we would be at Castles N Coasters,” I replied.

“Why would you do such a thing?!!!!”

“Because I needed to confirm a theory and now I’ve done that.  Why do you think I suggested doing the obstacle course?  I knew it was the best time for the assailant to make another go at you.”

“Are you insane??????”

“Relax.  I took precautions.  See, there’s the police coming now.”

“I truly admire your bravery in the face of my danger,” said Arizona Mat.

“Don’t mention it.”

With the wail of the sirens, I was able to get a visual of the shooter.  She or he was too far away to see, but the person immediately got into a nearby car and burned rubber getting out of the lot.  The police were in hot pursuit and I prayed that they were able to catch the attacker.

They didn’t.

“I’m going to die!!!” squealed Arizona Mat.

“You’re not going to die,” I said.  “In fact, if the officers are willing to come back to your place, I’m ready to reveal who’s behind this whole scenario.”

To be continued. . .