And so it was decided, miraculously, that I got two weeks off for the holidays even though I'm just a contract employee working 4- and 6-month jobs right now, because my new company is really cool and they actually treat people like human beings.
Flights were expensive even a couple of months ahead of time; the most bang we could get for our buck was to leave after midnight on a Friday and get back at 10:30 on a Sunday night. Hannes was able to create a small jetlag buffer zone for himself by taking those surrounding days off, but I came straight home from work that Friday (at about 8), took a shower, grabbed all of my stuff, and off we went.
The kids I was teaching that night were pretty surprised when I tapped my file of papers on the table and said, "Well, have a good weekend. I am going to America now."
The "illumination" at Haneda was really whimsical and nice. I've been using "whimsical" to describe holiday lighting a lot the past couple of months.
Just let me know if it gets to be too much, okay?
Honestly, the flight was pretty shit. It was United and turned out to be worse than the time I did the Pacific crossing with Delta, an airline that I feel people complain about too frequently and pretty unfairly. Of course, every flight is different, and at this point I had only experienced this route with each carrier once, so I admit freely that my basis for comparison is limited, but still.
At first we were like, "Oh, great!" because they were able to shut the doors 10 minutes ahead of schedule and get going faster, which neither of us could remember happening on previous flights. But then the head flight attendants did this totally bizarre and sadistic thing where they just droned on and on as slowly as humanly possible.
Now I know you're gonna be like, "They call that standard safety procedure, fool", but wait.
It seriously went on for like 40 minutes.
The head American flight attendant sounded like she was totally fucking done with her whole life, and I was legitimately concerned about how much sleep the crew had gotten. She wasn't just doing the "uhhhhh"s everyone does when imitating how pilots always talk over the intercom, she was following them up with a solid 30 seconds of silence and multiple heavy sighs every time. Everyone kept putting their headphones back on thinking with great relief that it was finally over, only to take them right back off.
And then the Japanese flight attended did the same thing as he repeated everything in barely-audible, breathy, mumbly Japanese full of awkward gaps where he was forgetting what he was saying. It was very weird. It was also late at night, as I mentioned, a red-eye flight: motherfuckers just want to sleep, guys. Get your lives.
The fact that we also experienced the most violent and prolonged turbulence either of us had ever felt during this flight was the part that actually made me call it "quite shit", and that's not United's fault. I don't know what it was with extremely unpleasant things going on and on for such long periods on this plane, but for quite a while I was stiff as a board in my seat with my fingertips dug into Hannes' arm while he tried to maintain an air of calm.
Before that, though, Hannes had gotten up to use the toilet, and just as he was asking about one, he completely passed out. Hit the floor. Woke up with flight attendants dottering over him. Only a few seconds later was when the shaking and banging started, and they were all crouched around him bracing themselves on the walls and seats for quite a number of minutes while he tried to get his bearings.
The only way I can sort of sleep on planes is by folding myself in half and laying on the little tray table with my head and arms, and getting my head slammed into that and the seat in front of me the moment the turbulence started had woken me up. When a flight attendant guided Hannes back to his seat with a little blue flashlight a couple of minutes later, had a hand on his shoulder and asked once more if he was alright, I was like "... What happened?"
But you already know that part now. Good. Grief.
Positive note, though: the vegan plane food is surprisingly good. If you or your stomach feel weird about tin-foiled, mile-high, nuked chicken or beef, you should seriously try it.
We were so relieved to land at SFO.
Jane, get me off this crazy thing!
And then I saw my mom for the first time in two years. A lot of people, when they're all grown up and living someplace else, don't see their parents for quite a lot longer than that, but I'm the only child of a single parent and we're especially close, so it was kind of a really big deal. It's a good thing I'D messaged her from Haneda, too, because she'd almost gotten the day wrong as a result of the ridiculous time difference and time warping effect.
My plan all along had been to stop at our local Filiberto's-style restaurant for burritos and nachos, but of course, even though their big illuminated sign reads "24 hours", the dude inside had decided to close and waved us off. There was another suggestion that was also closed. Then my mom was like, "What about Denny's?" Of course. It's an American institution.
I leaned over to him, barely able to contain myself, and squeaked, "Our waitress's name is Tammy Sue! It's perfect!"
Of course, they were out of their new GF English muffins and then out of balsamic for the salad I ordered instead, but fucking WHATEVER. Hannes had a melty sandwich thing even though I tried to get him to order a Grand Slam (I was predictably criticised for this later).
He was too full for pumpkin pie when my mom suggested it, but then I was like, "Or you could just take a slice home and eat it for breakfast," to which I think he responded with something like, "Ohhh, fuck you".
I mean, he did it though. Of course.
such cute. much cozy. many comfy. wow.
My mom bedecked her kitchen island with decorations and delicious goodies.
The rest of the apartment was done up proper, too. It was just perfect.
"Aw yis, mothafuckin' snuggle time."
We were all wide awake at this point even though it was like 5 AM, naturally, so we cracked open the holiday package Hannes' parents had sent my mom and that she was waiting for us to tear into. So many German sweets!
And Hannes' mom has been making these adorable mudskipper-esque fish in her ceramics class; she sent one to my mom along with a lovely trinket dish, and she just went gaga over them.
Mom even had a bouquet and fresh fruit waiting!
She cleaned off the patio furniture and made sure the plants were presentable to Hannes would have a pleasant place to smoke! Nary a detail forgotten.
The next morning, I somehow got up and went with my mom and grandma to my cousin's fiancé's baby shower at her friend's large house in Scottsdale. The spread was beautiful and one woman there in particular who's had the same job that Hannes' friend Lars now has for about ten years and who's been to Japan before was interesting to talk to, but we didn't stay too long.
This was also the beginning of the glasses portion of the trip, as my contacts were for some reason totally effed up and unwearable and I had forgotten to bring an extra pair.
"Ermahgerd!" - Lindsey
We didn't have a chance to talk to her for more than a few minutes, but it was a very nice shower.
Look at the handsome relaxing man the following day!
He helped me get boxes down and out of the large storage closet next door so that I could finally go through my clothes and accessories, something I'd been dying to do for many moons indeed. At least one box was unlocatable so I couldn't get to my socks, tights, dresses, or jackets, but that's okay. I plowed through this endeavour in one extremely tiring afternoon as I was still riding the jetlag up to the crest you hit right before the huge plummet down into intense, lingering exhaustion.
Oh memories. It wasn't that long ago that..
.. Oh holy shit, no, most of this pile was a really long time ago.
And most of it is now really right here next to me.
A nearby chain restaurant called Café Zupas that has lots of options, even for people with impossible diets like me! If I'd remembered to ask for no parmesan on this quinoa kale salad, it and the quinoa vegetable soup with it would have been both vegan and gluten-free.
The next day was the day of much hair changing. Having finally decided what to do with my now dingy-brown hair that had also gotten way too long, I went to the nearby D'Amantes, where my friend Katie works, and she intentionally took her time so we could have a chance to catch up, because she was one of three people who's had a kid since I last saw them.
I ended up being at the salon for I think 4.5 hours, but I absolutely love what she did with my hair and it was really wonderful talking all that time after having been largely starved of friendship for almost a year.
Documented every step of the process lol
The day after that was a big one: I wanted to have a full art museum day with just Ale, Hannes and me, and that we did; but it ended up being the same night I had created a Facebook event to get as many people to gather at Pita Jungle as possible.
We started at MacAlpine's Soda Fountain, because I had always wanted to go and just never did.
And, of course, I ate something I shouldn't have. This sandwich is called The Witch Doctor and it is fucking amazing. Go eat one there if you can. And if you can't, know that they can make at least some of their drinks (like that one there) with almond milk.
Yay, a visit from Smoking Santa!
Ale gave me the most amazing cigar box, which was going to be art mail until she found out I was coming and had more time to put it together lol. After we got back to Tokyo I took higher-quality, detailed pics of the box and its contents and put them in the Christmas art mail and giftage post I did.
Then we headed to the Heard Museum - which neither of us had ever been to, either - to see a special Frida Kahlo photo exhibition that I'd happened to find out about months before. I got to talk to Shihiayah on the phone for a few minutes but unfortunately it was impossible for her to meet up with us, as it was for a lot of other people as well.
That's Georgia O'Keeffe - "My normal position in life"
This eerie painting by Judith Lowry is her rendition of her great aunt, who ran away from the Greenville Indian School in California with four other homesick girls and died of exposure in the woods a short distance away.
Nothing quite as comforting as Victorian-era remedies
We wanted to try lassoing but these assholes were hogging the courtyard lol
And we don't know what this weirdo is doing to this Christmas tree, but honestly, it's the kind of image we all enjoy
"Hey wait, come back!"
"No, we can just take a real one outside."
"Exactly! It's funny!"
"No, we can just take a real one outside."
"Exactly! It's funny!"
Another classically high vantage point shot by Hannes
They see me loomin' and beadin', they hatin'
A ten year-old kid did this one!
"Ooooh, Basquiat much?"
Love this super awkward one where it looks like she's holding me up by or presenting my crotch
Couldn't stop laughing when Hannes was all like, "Huuuuuhhhh"
Ew what this flower
I don't know, ew
I don't know, ew
-sudden dramatic not sexy pose-
Hannes sniffing the local flora to check its friendliness levels
We headed a stone's throw down the street to the Phoenix Art Museum after that, in honour of our many high school trips there a decade ago, and I had forgotten that it's also free on Wednesdays, so yay!
We made a beeline for the Yayoi Kusama installation because we didn't have much time to get back before my get-together was supposed to start. Unfortunately, we didn't take into account that free museum day in the late afternoon would mean hordes of wild, roving children, and we had precious few seconds of getting obliterated by fireflies before a crowd of about 12 fourth grade-ish boys barreled in, filled the room, and wrecked it for everyone.
Fortunately, one lost control at high speed and also wrecked himself:
The last picture I took of this, which is a collection of wood pieces from a church that burned down after it was struck by lightning, was a terrible 12-pixel thing from 2006. So, upgrade.
I mean, they still have the same installations as ten years ago, but I upgraded something.
"Ew, it's a butthole."
"Hey, what are you guys looking at over here? Ope, butthole!"
"Hey, what are you guys looking at over here? Ope, butthole!"
Ah ha, this installation is not ten years old at all! It's fairly recent.
So then it was time to head back, have a few dessert cocktails at my mom's place, and see who of the 20 or so people I hadn't seen in years and invited would come to meet us.
It ended up being Jessica and her boyfriend, Josh, Sara and her husband and daughter I hadn't met yet, and later, Evanuska.
These $4 well martinis used to be my jam yo.
Pita Jungle's happy hour and reverse happy hour are pretty legit.
I couldn't believe it, Josh paid for our entire side of the table!
That was way too generous.
Last one standing! We talked until the place closed, and it was pretty great.
The following day was Christmas Eve, and Hannes and I had both agreed to go to church with my mom and grandparents, acknowledging that everything wasn't 100% about us and that this was an actual religious holiday they were serious about celebrating.
It was an extremely strange and surreal experience for both of us, and never having been to any kind of religious service or ceremony before, Hannes was kind of staring wide-eyed in shock for a lot of it, but we even sang a couple of the more festive songs and got through it.
One of the specific things I'd wanted to do was to go to Jordan's, the kind-of Mexican place my family's been gathering at since I think the 1960's, and we had ourselves a really nice time while I got my green chile and cheese taco fix.
How cute is this selfie?
The next morning, because my mom is adorable, we woke up to stockings:
Classic Christmas morning pic. At least my hair wasn't a rats' nest, thanks to Katie.
This was all a bit new for Hannes because in Germany, his family opens their gifts on the Eve, and then they invite friends over early the next day and just drink for hours, watch sports, talk, et cetera.
We always have Christmas at my grandparents' house.
While presents are of course awesome and I got some really nice ones, I had some real, serious reverse culture shock going on during this trip. The wastefulness, excess, and artificiality of everything back home had me dumbstruck.
Classic Christmas lunch/dinner action
Look how upset he gets when I make him wait a minute so I can take a picture before he starts eating. I literally have a collection of these pictures.
Opening presents turned out to be a 3 1/2 hour endurance test because my family decided to have everybody open one at a time so that everyone could see everything that everyone got and it was the most effective way of sucking the fun out of the whole thing I've ever experienced. Because we've done it that way before, but with fewer people present. Fewer people, fewer presents. It literally got dark in the time it took.
Eating a bunch of melted cheddar the night before had me feeling pretty terrible, too, all inflamey and having trouble breathing-y and whatnot, so I was completely out of it all Christmas Day, sadly. I'd started using gin tonics to perk myself up, and the strategy of everyone on the sofa was indeed to get drunk, but that only worked for so long before I kind of passed out.
Ahh, haha.. Yeah.. Really. Haaa.
This is pretty cute. They got married less than a month later.
And this is how she really feels about Mr. Bean, my cousin's adorable but very needy and clingy little dog who apparently wedges himself into all of their romantic moments lol
Yep, the gin was sinking in at this point
And finally, dessert. Naturally, my grandma had I think three cakes and three pies ready to over-stuff everyone who was already overstuffed. I wish I had felt better, but it was a very good and classic Christmas.