Thursday, January 25, 2018

Good Food and Good Friends

Aaand we're back!
Or not really, that's L.A.

Okay, now we're back! 
My mom took me straight to Jordan's for delicious traditional white people Mexican food straight from the airport. Toward the end of living in Tokyo I found a Mexican place I actually liked, but it wasn't amazing. Mostly they just did good $5 Taco Tuesday plates and margaritas and one of the waiters (who came to be known as Prince Ali, fabulous he) was really hot.

Oh god, the portion sizes @o@

This post is all about the tasty things I ate while back home, and the people I ate them with. 

What I vehemently say about never returning to the U.S. (at the very least I can't see it happening during the White Supremacists Are Very Fine People administration) and despising it utterly doesn't change the fact that I care about my mom and my friends and that I miss them (re: you). 

Maybe this post is a gratuitous image dump of mediocre, only somewhat Insta-worthy food pics, but damn it, those moments and those tapas meant something to me. Every time someone treated me, bought a round, picked me up and took me somewhere - away from the storage unit and mountain of clutter - that was really appreciated. 
Last week I realised that it's taken me some time to process all the tumultuous feelings I had about being back home and seeing my family struggle, and that I had about going through a fairly rapid string of major life changes and events, which now that I say it, seems pretty reasonable. Enough of having touched on and complained about that. But you know what, not enough of having complained about Japan, because this post is also about being excited to go to real grocery stores with real, quality, whole foods again.

Let me take you now on a magical journey filled with gluten-free and vegan options, my reverse culture shock amazement at the totally mundane, and of course, booze. Lots of booze.

It's chronological! Well, mostly. 
Right after I landed my grandparents took me out for a belated birthday dinner.

I picked The Cheesecake Factory, because it's one of the restaurants near them and has a 700-page menu with more than enough options for everyone until the end of time. I got an order of gluten-free 'Korean-style, spicy' (not, not) fried cauliflower, a small salad, and a pear martini.

For dessert I picked the.. well, it was the complex love triangle child of pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and cheesecake. Double Pumpkin Pecan Coronary or something, I don't know. It was delightfully decadent. Thanks, grandma and grandpa.

A glorious Southwestern-style brunch I made one morning.
That extra-thin two-egg omelette has chive cream cheese in it. And yes that is hot sauce from the Mexican restaurant. In my glass, apple cider. Breakfast/brunch got pretty hearty several times because I needed the energy for the storage unit.

Another time I made myself brunch I went the sweet route, which I don't do too often, but my mom had bought a box of frozen gf waffles for me, so.. who was I to leave them sitting there all alone in the cold? Honey, chocolate syrup, and fancy apricot jam bedeck their pale, crispy-edged forms. 
I was all about that Silk brand Protein Nut Milk (go ahead, chuckle) because that huge carton was the same price as regular almond milk in the same size. Which was the same prize as plain almond milk in maybe 2/5 that size in Japan, only available at the major franchise supermarkets.

Speaking of brunch.. the first weekend after I landed, my mom and I went to meet Erin, my oldest friend, and her son Bradley, who I hadn't met yet, at their usual brunch spot, First Watch.


She loves having her picture taken

I forget what was in my veggie omelette. Asparagus and feta were included, it looks like?

We had a nice time, though, even if I was pretty deep in a jetlaggy, depressive funk.

"I'm putting my sticker here."
"I'm.. -tries to stick sticker to shirt- putting mine here."

Look at this handsome kid! My mom spoils him rotten by always bringing dinosaurs, stickers, colouring books, etc. etc. for him every time she sees Erin.

After brunch we went to the grocery store.
This was the most fruit I had seen in one place in a long time.

We couldn't really buy fruit in Japan. I mean, we could have because of Hannes' very comfortable salary, but it would have added up like crazy and been difficult to justify. Watermelon is the same price there, but only when it's briefly in season. Same with kiwi I guess, but those were scarcer still. The rest of the time it was apples, bananas, avocado (when they were decent and not sold out; they were always small), and that's it. 
Once I saw a $14 mango. Once I saw a woman spend around $30 on just enough blueberries to make a pie. You really can't even get canned or chopped and bagged fruit or veggies over there; the very few examples of those and the frozen ones are, like, off-brand 99 Cent Store quality. I know, because I regularly went to about nine different grocery stores for our basic needs. It's very sad.

Ohh, Cap'n, I was tempted. Alas, I had but a few currency units at my disposal.

Once I had made some more currency units selling stuff, though, I did splurge on a bottle of this, but oh man, was it fucking gross. It made me sick to my stomach each of the times I tried to have it, whether it was just a few sips of it on the rocks, diluted with milk and other things, or in coffee. Wtf, Bailey's! I thought we were friends :(

One of the things I got at the grocery store was mango salsa. Aw yiss.
Again, nothing like this really exists in Japan. The entire sparse selection of pre-packaged or deli-style vegetables contains fish, and soy sauce.

Over rice and black beans, yaaass

I'm making an "Oooohh" face, if you're wondering

Those rounder things are mushrooms. This was pretty good.

Some weeks later I also tried the veggie one, which I daresay was better. Daiya really gets it right. Which is why it's sad and awful that a Japanese pharmaceutical conglomerate acquired them last summer. Here's hoping it's just to diversify their investment portfolio and that they don't interfere and completely fuck up, crash and burn a really good thing.

Making pasta with leftover veggies, leftover tomato sauce, and that chive cream cheese again

I make an effort with the vegan meals and supporting brands and restaurants, but I mean, the only time I was on a vegan diet was for a year and some change in Tokyo, because eggs, dairy, and soy had all started making me very sick again. It was a nightmare. Mentioning it again because, well, this whole food sensitivity and allergic reaction thing is really hard to keep up with. At Christmas we realised that Hannes' parents were still going by the symptoms and the results of the blood tests from two years ago.
I've been enjoying having dairy back on the menu, though, even if I stopped drinking milk quite a while back and try to keep the consumption to a minimum. This has been really tough since I've been back in Germany, where cheese is inexpensive, plentiful, delicious, and comes in a vast array of forms, flavours, and textures. There are vegan cheeses, yes, but I haven't actually seen more than one kind at the store.. I'll try harder when I have more money and less stress >_<

So, right, back to my creamy pasta sauce lol

I also got a small container of grated parmigiano, asiago, and one other type of hard white Italian cheese at the supermarket. Because buying real stuff and not Kraft-esque-cheese-style-plastic-food-product-trash is normal again yas

But, okay, this other delicious pasta I made was vegan. For whatever reason I was excited about seeing spaghetti squash again; my mom used to make it every once in a blue moon when I was a kid.

Half out of random curiosity and half because I remembered that she never liked mushrooms, I sautéed these with garlic cloves and then pureed them with a little more olive oil into a sauce.

Most everyone in my family has switched to Earth Balance, which I think is pretty great. I missed it. I put a dollop into the pan with the cooked pasta (gf of course), mushroom-garlic purée, cooked diced onions, and the squash. You can just shred spaghetti squash into little noodley strings like that after microwaving it for several minutes in a dish with water, which is how it got its name. Neat, huh? Good way to trick kids into eating more veggies, too.

Oh wait! I un-veganed it by sprinkling more of that cheese blend on top, didn't I? 
lol #sorry #sorrynotsorry

Speaking of things that aren't vegan: spectacularly rich probably one-million-calorie pumpkin cheesecake ice cream.


Okay, let's take a break from food and focus on friends. 
The Annual Hair Upgrade is kind of a big deal, and Katie always spends extra time 
not only to get it exactly right, but so that we can catch up and chat for a while.

She's so cute, right?
She was also telling me about a smartphone repair service a Mexican guy who barely speaks English runs out of the side of his house behind Metrocenter (a used-to-be-nice-but-now-crummy shopping mall; once a friend and I were followed by a creepy guy in there and it took actual cunning to get away from him, and last I was aware, your Honda Civic was guaranteed to get stolen from the parking lot) that she found on OfferUp and subsequently recommended to a coworker lol 

She's working, going to school to become an ultrasound tech, looking into buying a house with her boyfriend, and has a three year-old at home. So, somewhat predictably, we didn't get a chance to see each other again before I left.

But I wish her all the luck and happiness in the world!

Also here are the pics of my hair again, because she made it look good.
I don't think I'm going to find another stylist I like as much as her here in Hamburg.



Alright, back to the food.
A favourite standby near where my mom lives is Armando's, which is one of the plethora of variations on Filiberto's, though this one in particular is quite large, not just a little takeout box of a building. Behold! Their nachos with shredded cheddar and guacamole. This probably weighs one kilo, which is significantly less than the guilt you feel when and if you manage to finish an entire portion on your own.

The other standby in that area is Pita Jungle, which has actually gotten more expensive over the past few years.. and they've also shortened their hours. Not a good sign when a couple of the main points of your business model are reverse happy hour and being open past 9, huh? 

Anyway, my mom and I went to met her former coworker/assistant Lori and Lori's daughter, Loralee, for happy hour one evening not long after I got there. These martinis used to be $3 (!) but now they're $4.95. Still, not bad.

Patrick said this blurry selfie looked like a scene from a cheesy noir flick in which the self-satisfied maid poisons her haughty wealthy employer lol

Hm, the tapas have also gotten smaller.. Still a pretty good deal and selection, though!
My dumb ass was so excited to see a black bean slider that I forgot to ask for it without the bun.

Ooh, they have a gluten-free brownie now..

Before I knew it, Halloween had rolled around. 
Here's another gratuitous selfie, because this post is a shameless image dump. #dealwithit

Halloween is also Ale's birthday, and I had slowly accumulated small gifts for her 
over the course of a year or so, as I usually do. 

My mom got me a copy of Frida Kahlo's diary when I was a teenager and Ale had lowkey coveted it ever since. The little matryoshka packets are actually chocolate candies (er, I think?) from the little traditional Japanese bakery in our Tokyo neighbourhood. The Soviet cigarette box I picked up in Koenji, and painted with sealant. It still has a few extremely old cigarettes in it that she was tempted to smoke out of the kind of curiosity known to kill thousands of cats each year, but everyone talked her out of it. The heart pin I got from a friend of Meika's who sells them and was visiting from the Philippines. 
So, goodies in tow, I was ready for a lowkey afternoon of hanging out.

Some of the pieces in the Garfield District house she lives in with a bunch of other creative people are pretty neat

This is an uncommonly green yard, if you're wondering; and she's making a small leather sheath for a knife, if you're also wondering that. And that is not a real goat, which is probably the main thing you're wondering.

The most senior roommate guy in this group is essentially a crazy cat lady, but as a lanky 30-something hipster. He's, like, really into the cats. They're only allowed to have two pets in the house, but this kitten has taken to sleeping on Ale's pillow, listening to her music, and generally being super friendly and chill. That makes three, so last I heard, she wasn't allowed to keep him. We definitely had a conversation about why there were allowed to be a dozen plus cats outside and only two inside.

I don't know what's become of him since and I guess they'll have to find him another home, but like.. this is the ideal cat. He belongs in a calendar or on a motivational poster on the wall of your elementary school classroom in 1995. In fact, that is exactly where he came from. Just look at him.

Look at him!

Yes I snapped a picture of your artsy partial wall while sitting on your mattress with the kitten after you put on Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra for us "because he likes it" lol

Ale and I decided to get something to eat, and at first I was fine with just getting a salad and a protein bar or something like that from the nearest supermarket, but Ale was like, naw, and took me up the street to The Coronado.

It's a great little vegetarian café with vegan and gluten-free options, though I unfortunately didn't see anything gf in this case and didn't ask.. So autumnal! Hibiscus? Chai? Rosemary? Glorious.

The most vaporwave thing I've seen since 2013

Ahh, even their bathroom is super stylish! 
They framed a bunch of vintage, printed-out black and white freak show and Halloween photos.

She had a salad and I had iced chai tea and tofu tacos, yaaasss. The sauce was creamy so I'm not sure if they were vegan, but I'm sure they can make them that way (Darren!).

Darn it they were good!

Ale cracked herself up telling a ridiculous story about masturbation.
It involved a sleeping bag, but probably not in the way that you'd think.

Nice alleyway, right? She was like,
"They found a dead body right back here a little while ago."

No, I'm not taking more sneaky creeper pictures of the neat artsy-fartsy details in your room, why would you think that

God damn it, this cat is too cute, someone tell him to knock it off

Another really interesting lowbrow painting in the house I posted some other pictures from 

While we didn't do anything particularly Halloweeny, there were a surprising number of kids out trick-or-treating in the historical hipster-ghetto, especially in the Coronado District, which was nice to see. And I did end up having Hocus Pocus on in the background no fewer than 17 times at my mom's place, so all in all it was a pretty okay one, even if it's one of the only times I haven't dressed up.

Welp, back to The Foodening!
Obvi our old friend spinach frittata made a comeback.

But, with a twist! I made a second one in a cake pan in the oven, just to see how it would turn out. And, well, because I'm pretty sure it has to be baked to actually qualify as a frittata..

Hmm, moist, spongy, and pleasant, especially with ranch and salsa on top.
But I think I'm good with doing it on the stovetop, as Tiny Asian Apartment Tradition dictates.

I tried this peach oat smoothie recipe because it looked scrumptious and like something my mom would also like, but honestly, it's way too thick to drink. Maybe if you have a boba tea straw. Idk. 

It definitely wasn't bad, and it was very wholesome and filling, but it could really do with more liquidyness and a touch more of sweetness than called for.

Looks awfully nice though, huh? 
Definitely no complaints about how healthy and satiating it is.

Speaking of boba tea straws.. I finally met and caught up with Josh about a week into November!

You may or may not remember the elaborate and totally outlandish themed house parties he threw while we were in college (but not together), and/or the mass shooting of which he was a victim. 

He had recently returned from his second and final intensive stem cell treatment in Panama, because of course that's illegal in the U.S., and has seen improvement in his mobility; originally he could barely move his legs at all. Apparently the people who run that treatment center - at which he randomly met Mel Gibson, who was there with a relative - want to open one in Texas. 
I guffawed, because Texas is so Christian and anti-abortion, and therefore anti-stem cell research. I'm pretty sure that as an individual entity they have the highest infant mortality rate in the developed world as a result of their backwards views and archaic laws. Despite this, though, Josh says that there's some kind of special legal loophole or phrasing or allowance in that state which make it the best candidate for the first stem cell clinic to try to open on U.S. soil.
"Well," I said, "let's hope they do open it, and that it doesn't get firebombed the first week."

Josh is also working from home now, for his uncle, who started an app-based niche business matching qualified referees for various sports to the public schools and events that require them. I asked, "What, that's a thing?" and Josh was like, "I know, right?! I had never thought about it either, but actually, it's almost growing too fast for us to keep up with". 
Apparently anyone refereeing any sports match has to be an independent, outside entity, which - well, which makes perfect sense and is self-explanatory once you point it out. Considering the size of the Phoenix metro area and how many schools it has, there's real money to be made if you're the go-to source for this service, for which there will always be demand. It's really cool to hear about someone exploiting an obscure niche successfully, and I hope it does keep growing.
Sorry we didn't get to meet a second time, Josh; keep on keeping on, you look great.

He's smiling like this because he'd never tried boba before and his mouth was full of tapioca balls lol

Oh no, another mirror selfie
I blame everyone but myself because I'm the only one who ever takes any damn pictures

This was actually the same day I had boba with Josh - Zac's birthday.

We had met for Pita Jungle happy hour shortly before and he asked out of the blue if I felt like seeing a movie, because he had gotten off work a bit late and driven all the way up to my side of town and it had gotten too late to go to a show at a dive bar like we had originally, loosely planned. All we had to do was walk right over to the Harkins Theatres a stone's throw from the restaurant. 
Originally it was Blade Runner 2049 we were all gung-ho about, but since there were no more showings, we saw Thor: Ragnarok instead and laughed our asses off through the whole thing. It was so good that I saw it again, and I average one theatre movie per year. 
Even my mom loved it and had a rollicking good time. Taika Waititi is so great. 

Anyway, Zac rides a Honda CB500 F, and it's fucking fantastic. It was one of my favourite things about the time I was back home. Zac's also very chill, careful, and detail-oriented, and therefore a very good driver. I was so glad he was willing to pick me up to hang out; pretty much the only time I found myself able to relax at all during those two months was while I was on that bike.

Hannes instantly told me he'd never let me learn to ride one, though, because I'm way too accident-prone. I recently fell off a barstool onto a floor full of broken glass and realise that he's completely right.

Well, anyway!
Zac was getting over a recent breakup and when he told me it would be his birthday, and I asked if he was doing anything on the day, and he said no, I was like, "Well, do you want to do something? Do you want to go see Blade Runner?"

Thusly, the most cyberpunk of plans was born.

I also asked if he felt like having Korean food, because I'd been craving some. 

We both love bibimbap, and while he never lived in Korea, he did visit me in Seoul, and ate it in Japan "embarrassingly often". Cafe Ga Hyang here was the most authentic place I could find in the Phoenix metro area. Weirdly, I also remembered instantly upon walking in the door that I had been there once before, as an adolescent or teenager, wondering what kind of vegetarian options existed in Korean food. I'm almost 100% sure that I asked, got a predictably "Ehhhh" kind of response, and left. Ah, if only I could have looked into a magic mirror back then and seen the huge metal mixing bowl out of which I would eat so very many delicious, $4-servings of yangpun (salad) bibimbap two doors down from my second apartment in Seoul.
Korean BBQ is becoming more mainstream and popular, but man, a lot of places charge an arm and a leg for what they see as an exciting new novelty cuisine. There's some piece of shit place at Desert Ridge that wants eighteen dollars for dolsot (stone hot pot) bibimbap. Whaaaatthefuck.

Our sizzling hot pots of rice and vegetables came with complimentary, refillable banchan just as god intended, and Zac decided to go all-out and order tteokbokki too, even though I told him I wouldn't help him eat it because there's always fish sauce in it. Oh, and the gochujang wasn't watered down like it always is in Japan. Approved.

We had decided to go downtown for Blade Runner.

While waiting for the next showing we went to Cobra, the super popular video arcade bar in the center of the ASU downtown campus / nightlife district that had opened a year or two before. Unfortunately this was the only picture I got, and he did this thing Hannes always does and went full derp. The interior of that place is legit cool, though, even the corridor leading to the bathroom. We ended up going back for another round of Adios Motherfuckers after the movie, too!

It was really nice to see this James Jean poster I had talked about in a previous post in person, too. 
I want one! I want to see this!

What a great movie and what a great night that was.
I seriously stand by my first reaction, that 2049 is our generation's 2001.
And, somewhat more importantly, I'm pretty sure Zac Attack here had a really good cake day.

"Ohh, Pumpkin Protein! At first it sounded really good but now I'm not so sure! Ehh.. Maybe, like, this pumpkin spice thing has gone too far? Maybe it's too much?!"

Actually, my smoothie ended up being pretty good. 
My mom was none too impressed with hers, though.

This was a day on which my mom had agreed to help me run errands, and it ended up being a really busy one. After hitting Jamba Juice for brunch/lunch we stopped at BevMo, where I gawked in awe at the glorious selection of regional vodkas like they were the One Ring or something.

I wished this green chile one came in miniatures so bad. Acually, I wished the same of the habanero and horchata flavours too. I could only afford a couple minis and other little things for gifts, and a plastic flask of Smirnoff for myself. Actually I ended up overdrawing my account with this purchase, but I went to Desert Schools and asked nicely and they simply revoked the charges! How great is that? Fuck banks, use credit unions!

Speaking of things that are great, Aztec Chocolate Bitters? Really? God I wish I could make a spicy chocolate martini with this, I'm sick of being poor!

I also ended up getting some cider for myself, including Angry Orchard, which seems to be the most popular one to have on tap at the moment. And you know what? It's not bad, but it's not very good, either. This Strongbow artisinal blend my mom bought me later on is definitely better.

The rest of that packed afternoon was spent selling, trading, and donating an entire carful (the first of many) of stuff at Bookman's, Zia, and Goodwill. Man, did I miss places like that. 
There's basically no second-hand market for goods like the ones I was dealing with in Japan, unless you have designer, brand-name accessories or are fine with giving away high-quality, like-new stuff for free and watching places turn around and sell one piece of it for more than they gave you for the entire forty-pound assortment of clothes you brought in, Bazzstore. -cough cough, eherm- 
Everyone is programmed to think that used things - even houses - are dirty and undesirable. 
What a load of horse shit. 
Zia and Bookman's are awesome and I'm grateful they exist.

By the time we were heading back up north, it was rush hour. Avoiding the parking lot that the freeway had become, we decided to have dinner at my favourite neighbourhood Thai restaurant from back when we had the house, Touch of Thai.

The one nice young waiter named Nick is of course no longer working there, but the whole staff has always been super friendly. Wanting to wait out rush hour, we decided to take our time and chat. I told my mom all about the Three-Body trilogy (or, officially I guess, the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy) over dinner, which I had just finished and was pretty blown-away by.

Pad se-ew and plum wine ftw

Because we were just one mile away, my mom, who was driving, asked if I wanted to stop at the Asiana Market as we slowly continued north, and I excitedly agreed. 


Kimchi, gochujang, seaweed, and coconut cream; just the essentials. Yas, very yas.

The supermarket just a few minutes' walk from our old house was originally an ABCO, which might be the first word I ever read out loud. When that chain went out of business it became some shitty generic discount store, then it was empty for a while, and then it became a Korean-owned and largely Korean but also Japanese, Indian, and Eastern European import grocery megastore. 

My adolescent heart soared when they first put up the sign; I cheered. Something interesting and different in the suburbs! Something other than another beige cube franchise!
Crystal and Keiv would come over and we'd walk down there to hang out and kill time. We would pick out exotic sugary drinks (my favourites were the Korean pear and plum juices) and Japanese candy, then fastidiously pick through their housewares, accessories, and stationery section for worthwhile trinkets. I still have my little battery-powered lint remover that's like the love child of a tiny electric pencil sharpener and a cheese grater, a few of the Japanese ceramic dishes with particularly stupid-looking sea creatures on them (usually googly-eyed flounder), and the mint-coloured Korean water bottle holder with a blobby cat on it, made out of soft fabric. Good times.

Again, if I'd looked into that magic mirror into the future, I would have been totally floored seeing that dumb fabric water bottle holder with me atop one of the ROK's highest peaks.

So, what did I make with those few simple ingredients? Twice I had dubu kimchi (simply, kimchi with raw cubed tofu) for breakfast. That black stuff is sprinkle seaweed, from that bag. Sounds shit, yeah, but it's delicious. When I lived there I would eat it like potato chips. It's crispy and very salty, with sesame oil and sesame seeds.

Kimchi bokkeumbap (fried rice)! Sooo good. 
It's excellent when you stir generic, shredded white cheese into it and let it melt, too.

Random assortment of all the above, including the sheet seaweed. It's crispy and tasty just like the sprinkle kind, except you use it to grab your rice. Boom! Suddenly the plain rice is delicious.

And finally, arguably the best thing I made or at least the prettiest, kimchi jeon (pancake). Gluten-free, of course, and it can easily be done vegan. Although, this is also great with melted cheese, and a little extra gochujang smeared on top. That cherry blossom design is just sheet seaweed I cut up.

Shortly before I was to leave - we're getting down to it now - I finally got to see Sara.

We went to a bakery called Kneaders for brunch, even though it's mainly a bread and pastry place, because they had omelettes and various other options. It was all decked out for Christmas and super adorable. I can't find any pics of how it looked, though, and this was right after I anxiety-fit-smashed my phone, so I had to ask her to take that selfie. Then I went over to her house for an hour or so to say 'Hi' to her husband Brad and the babbies.

Originally we were going to try to meet for coffee or a smoothie or something the day after I landed, because the day after that they were going to induce labour. I kind of couldn't believe that Sara was prioritising me like that, but as the day drew nearer, she changed her mind and decided to spend that last day before the scheduled birth focusing on her first daughter, Julie, before Romy arrived and she became a big sister. 
This made much more sense to me, but she had been serious about seeing me that day before Romy came into the world, and just that she considered and mentioned it is pretty great. Sara is pretty great.

And you know what? So is Julie! She's awfully sweet and well-behaved; from what little I've seen, she seems much more mature than 3. Probably because Sara and Brad are really good parents. #goals

Romy was a happily-slumbering squishy little ball, and when at one point when she stretched and made little gurgly noises, Sara turned to me with dramatic tension and went, 
"It stirs."

I had brought a very random assortment of small gifts for Sara and Julie, including a little colouring-sticker-activity book of princesses, castles, and animals from the Red Heart Store in Nishi Ogikubo. Julie sat at the kitchen table and started colouring in it immediately while Sara and I talked. The picture on the right Sara sent some time later, after she unwrapped the other random goodies. 
So sweet!

Later that night was The Great Farewell Drinkaroo with Zac and Evanuska!

The Drinkening started long before we got to the downtown barhopping marathon; Zac's roommate/landlord's family is Dominican, and he'd told me before about the tasty rum punch he learned how to make from them. He decided to do it and bought like 40 key limes (but they're cheap in AZ), because it's like half rum, half key lime juice. Also simple syrup, and a sprinkle of nutmeg on top.
We plowed right through it while watching Flight of the Conchords and took a Lyft, already tipsy, to our first bar of the night, Mother Bunch. The Lyft driver was actually pretty cool, and he was part of the in-car conversation so naturally that we invited him to have a drink with us. He politely declined, but not before telling us, interestingly, about how he makes a lot more money now driving his car as an app taxi than he did at his previous, supposedly-good and supposedly-impressive gig.
The times, they are a' changin'.

This cocktail is called Dripping Nectar, and it's amazing.

"I mean. Really?"

You might remember Evanuska here as the friend who lived in Taiwan, and/or from the posts about that, parts one and two. The three of us weren't close in college, or at least I was never part of the main social circle of Japanese majors, but we were all studying Japanese at the same time and knew each other. 

While I was waiting in line for the bathroom there were, of all people, a couple of random Germans on some kind of lengthy (because remember, Germans get a fucking month of vacation per year and go abroad on the reg) road trip waiting in front of me and talking to a friendly drunk girl.

Some poor soul flipped right out of their flop, they did

Which bar is this even? I don't know what it was called.
And no, it's not because of the AMFs, which, as you can see, I also persuaded them to get.

Cool people being cool

I think she was getting a bit tired of me trying out different settings in the darkness, but she was a good sport about it lol. Evanuska and Zac have both been doing pretty well after having moved back to the Phoenix area from Japan. Zac lived in Kochi, and she lived in Mito.

The sidewalk outside Cobra. What are these, anyway? Are pavement decals a thing?

Taco truuuuuuck there was a taco truck

"Hm? Oh these?"


Yaaaass vegetarian nopalito street taco yaaaasss

We were ever-so-slightly amazed by how crowded Cobra was, waited in line for a few minutes after hitting the taco truck, and then just went to the craft beer bar across the street instead.

It's called Angel's Trumpet Ale House, and they had blood orange cider.

Full derp again, goddamnit

Oh hey Bob Marley

I'm not sure which place this was, either, but downtown Phoenix isn't very big and we were easily within a one-mile square the whole time; probably not even that. 

I have a story about this part of town, too, in the shadow of the Westward Ho (that old building with a huge red radio tower on top that was a hotel once upon a time). Well, I mean, I definitely have more than one, but here's a PG-rated nightlife one for you.

On this road used to be a club called Amsterdam, which was a lesbian bar, owned by the same guy who almost certainly sunk way too much money into importing vintage European furnishings for and opening a goth club called Sanctum that I went to a grand total of once, and that is also closed now. Amsterdam had a pretty lavish interior too, and extremely snooty gay bartenders who famously took the better part of eternity to prepare the simplest of cocktails, always acting like it had been very emotionally trying for them personally when they finally handed them to you. 
They did foam parties on the large patio, too.
Anyway, next door was Miami, and I don't know if the same guy owned that one, too, but they were connected by a door and a very narrow corridor. When the place was very crowded and everyone was very drunk it got very easy to lose track of who was where and where you were.
One time I heard a commotion and squeezed through the crowd over to Miami. There was a drag queen standing on the bar, doing a great Whitney Houston, and making it rain dollar bills all over everyone while she danced. It was a tiny-ass bar, too, very precarious. And there was a heckler. After her song he was giving her shit (I don't remember about what exactly and couldn't hear him very well at any rate), something finally struck a nerve, and she was like, 

"Oh, you gonna make a bitch take off her weave?"

and threw off her wig and jumped down off the bar and got in his face.

"Oh my god," I said, stunned and slightly horrified. "Is that Alex Atherton?"

Then they proceeded to have a breakdance fight.

The heckler looked very much like Atherton, if you are one of the few who remember him, or at least recognise the name from the high school photo I shared in the last post
This would make sense, because that guy did competitive hip hop dancing and beat Dance Dance Revolution. I mean, he beat it. He stomped all the arrows the game had until there were no more.
Thankfully, it just ended up being some other nutcase. I don't even remember who won, and I doubt the rest of the crowd does to this day, either, it was too hysterical. I was like, "Carl, get over here, Whitney Houston and Alex Atherton are about to have a breakdance fight and it's raining money!"


Goddamnit lol

Our last stop was the bar on the first floor of the Hotel San Carlos, another Phoenix landmark that I'm surprised is still standing and has an active social life. Evanuska goes sometimes, and it was her pick. We were fading fast, though, and I ended up chugging my cider after only the slightest provocation so we could go back to Zac's place and pass out. Ohh, that was a mistake. I drank all the things. 
So mixing. Much sick. Wow.

Anyway, here's to our awesome night and to our shared bond of having gone to Japan, lived there, and then peaced right the fuck back out after however many anxiety attacks and bouts of clinical depression. Hah.

Zac's roommate has an adorable little cat named Lizard that kept startling me awake, because she was just standing on my chest and sniffing my face. Eventually she used me as a bed, which was better.
But oh man, was I sick as a dog the next day. I couldn't even get up to hug Evanuska when she left for work. Zac couldn't even take me home on his bike, he had to borrow his roommate's car. I hadn't drunk myself sick like that since Korea.

-golf clap-

Oh, and here's the Thanksgiving package full of baking stuff and cold medicine I sent to NiQui and Rejon, upon request. Plus pumpkin spice doughnut bites. I love art mail and gift boxes, I can't wait to have money so I can start doing this again. They enjoyed it a lot, too.

T-minus two days before Thanksgiving, which officially marked my Time's Up point, I got to see Erin again, and because she didn't have a couple of full or normal days of work at her lab coming up, with the holiday approaching, we got to catch up for a solid five hours. It was glorious. It was more time than I had spent with her when I went back in 2013, in 2015, and up until this point in 2017 combined. Or, well, maybe not, but it genuinely felt that way.

She doesn't smile like this very often :3
Also, those flavour pools in the foreground are "cups" of soup, apparently

Erin works in a lab feeding rats alcohol and her own high-quality homemade heroin, then studying their brains after they eventually die. She's not the one who operates the little rat guillotine (yes that is very much a real thing), though, because she's just not suited to it; her whole life she's had a minimum of one small yippy lap dog present at all times, and I mean, those are basically just bigger rats. I mean that in a good way, because rats are basically just tiny long-tailed dogs.
Anyway, there's one gigantic fat rat named Gus-Gus (not to be confused with Gugus) who she holds and strokes and loves - she and her coworkers are as kind as possible to the rats, whereas their newish manager used to work with much angrier bitier ones who I think were fed cocaine? and consequently is not - and who she wants to make into a shoulder bag when he dies.
Yes, a purse, that hangs from her shoulder. She wants to taxidermy him splayed out like a bear skin rug so that he looks like he's Superman-flying.

Hopefully she doesn't mind me sharing the finished product of the taxidermy class she got herself for her birthday (which is a week before Christmas):

Exquisite, right? I love it.

We talked and talked and drank and drank, after walking over to Mellow Mushroom once Pita Jungle closed much earlier than they were supposed to. We sat outside away from everyone and it was pleasantly chilly, finally. Throughout October it had been 30 - 32 C, and even though many of the days in November continued to be hot and sunny, it had started to feel a bit like autumn.

I used her phone -

There we go, that's the nice one. And look, another genuinely happy smile!
Please come to our wedding ヾ(。>﹏<。)ノ

Well, that ended up being a pretty gigantic endeavour; and here I thought it was just going to be some backlogged pics of food and drinks and selfies.

It's true that I will never live in the U.S. again, but considering how rapidly and shockingly the society and quality of life have deteriorated, I know you don't blame me; what is probably upsetting to a lot of people, though, is my consistently vehement disdain for it all. What this post actually is, then, is me telling you that I miss you, and I appreciate you, even 
if I was too stressed out or depressed or busy to show it and say it properly at the time. And even if I don't come around again for some years, or even if it's never again, you're very much encouraged to reply to my postcards and artmail, and even more encouraged and welcome to come visit us.

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