Most funerals have theatrical aspects-an audience and a stage, oration and music, and afterwards, refreshments-and that renders them prone to critical discourse. ("Can you believe what the Elders' Quorum did to that hymn?") On the other hand, they are still funerals and therefore sacrosanct. ("Oh, shush, they meant well.") So what to write about them? At this point in my career, nothing. I'll just keep using them as set-up until I write "fiction" and pretend I made up the five varieties of potato salad and the references to the Donner Party in the eulogy, and skip ahead to the strangest place I've ever eaten lunch.
Well, almost ahead, because the place had some curious build-up from my sister, Lauren, who took me there. We had left the funeral in Tooele and headed to Salt Lake City, because that's where Partick had to pick up the rental car and that's where the record stores are (a plug for my favorites, Recycle CD and Randy's, especially Randy's because they have a good selection of cds price $4.95 and under, but at both you can listen to the cds on the stores' machines). The day was hot, dry, and windy, and the funeral sustenance was weighing heavy on our stomachs. (Did I mention the five varieties of potato salad? If it had been the Amazing Amy's funeral, I'll bet there would have been poltergeist activity on the spot as she has a longstanding hatred of "food you scoop." Chuck had no such issues, and surely would have enjoyed all five, plus the other beige food that was offered.)

"Where can we get a drink?" I whined

"Well, there's this place…," said Lauren, "it's in Salt Lake, or maybe Sandy? Do you want to go there?"

"There are drinks?"

"Yeah…it's cool, but sort of weird. The kids like it. You'll see."

Not that I thought Lauren would drag me off to a Chuck-E-Cheese, but as we motored down block after block of State Street, one of the ugliest stretches in Utah, rays from the sun set glared through the passenger window, directly into my brain. We passed one Circle K after another while my throat twitched and spasmed, dry and raw, as if I had last drunk from the Great Salt Lake.

"Any of these would be fine," I croaked, with a limp wave of my hand.

"No, we're almost there. It's…it's…you'll see."

So I sat, pouting and sweating, and thinking, "*&#$%@)*&," or words to that effect. I couldn't fathom Lauren's reticence. She is an extraordinarily, devastatingly, articulate person aside from occasional weird lapses where she says, say, "refrigerator" when she means, say, "book." But when we pulled into the parking lot of Jordan Commons, I began to understand why she would have a hard time explaining that the Mayan might be just the place to unwind after attending our brother's funeral.

The setting that most resembles the Mayan-in my experience, anyway-is the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, though less concerned with verisimilitude. You enter a gift shop immediately upon entering, then head over to the turnstiles where you select your entrée. Although there were warnings that splitting meals and other cheapskate activity would not be tolerated, the afternoon was slow enough that the woman who took our order allowed us to order a taco salad to share. And here's a tip for you-if they let you, start ordering daiquiris right there and then, because what follows will only be enhanced by the benevolent appreciation for the absurd that comes with their ingestion.

What follows specifically is a dimly lit pathway lined with smiling service professionals welcoming you to the Mayan, then entry into its cavernous dining hall/ theme park which is dominated by a thirty-five foot high faux rock face ornamented by faux plants, and at the very top, faux animals. Before I could properly appreciate this spectacle, our guide wheeled us around to the humongous faux trees in which most of the dining area is perched-the restaurant version of the Swiss Family Robinson's house, if you've seen that movie or attraction. Lauren insisted on a seat high enough to see the talking birds and have a good view of the divers.

"Yeah, they…you'll see."

So we settled into our seats which faced the cliff wall, and soon enough a fey waiter appeared to bring us chips and salsa (this being Utah, the salsa was more like extra-chunky catsup), and take our drink orders. Then he left, and we were free to take in our surroundings. There were maybe twenty people in the entire place-nearly empty as it has a seating capacity of hundreds and clearly caters to the younger set (most of them were in school or something). So Lauren and I had a whole balcony to ourselves most of the time, and were far enough away from our fellow patrons that we couldn't hear them. There was some sort of Chuck-E-Cheese-y song and dance happening in a neighboring balcony, but too far away to be a serious distraction. What I couldn't see from the ground but which was prominent from our seats was a pool of water in front of the cliff face, and streams which dribbled down the rocks. The air was wet and cool, and that alone would have made me giddy considering what outside was like, but there were also mechanical parrots and iguanas, some wearing berets, surveying the room and preening, and then, look look look! A shapely young man in a loincloth scrambling out of a depression in the rocks, over to the edge of the cliff, then back again.

"Did you see that?" I demanded.

"Oh, here's lunch," Lauren replied.

"…And here come the boys in Speedos," murmured our waiter as he placed a big pile of iceberg lettuce bedecked with cubes of chicken and tomatoes before us.

I looked back in time to witness the entry of two more shapely young men wearing less revealing though nicely tailored red loincloths accessorized with shiny gold belts, and extravagant feathered headdresses. They also had long tribal drums suspended from straps hung round their necks and pretended to beat them whilst flexing their tummies, and the tape recorded drumming echoed throughout the hall. After a while, another young man dressed as a priest or a king, and who was wearing all together too much clothing in my freshly jaded estimation, emerged from the rocks carrying a pitcher, the contents of which he poured into the pool below after performing a few ceremonial looking moves. Then, two guard types dragged the first loincloth wearer to the edge of the cliff and pitched him off of it. He hollered and flailed all the way down. The drumming stopped and the execution party marched back into the recesses of the rock.

I was agog. I turned to Lauren who had a mouthful of lettuce and an expectant expression.

"That was so cool," I said, and laughed like Henry Miller protagonist after a notable sunrise. Lauren swallowed and said, "Wasn't it?"

I could not stop giggling. I dug into the salad and regretted my political choice of a virgin daiquiri.

"You understand why I didn't want to say too much?"
"Oh, wow, yes! Thank you!"

If nothing else had happened, I would have been thrilled to pieces by the Mayan, but just as soon as I began considering the culinary merits of our meal, the room went dark, and clever lighting on both sides of the cliff revealed an angry face which was soon revealed to have a booming voice. I don't remember the details of what it said, but the substance was a lot of "My name is Kopac, I'm so great, I'm a god" kind of stuff, and it went on for a long time-but it was followed by an indoor storm and roaring torrents that filled the air with water droplets.

I was awash with fresh delight, and kept turning to Lauren, saying, "thank you, thank you, thank you." After a while, a pretty long while as a matter of fact, Kopac quieted down and another face, that of a serene looking woman, was projected onto the cliff face. She said her name was something like Tucow (insert Johnny Lingo crack here) and she explained that she was much nicer than Kopac, &ct. At the Mayan, the deities are talky. Anyway, her spiel wasn't nearly as impressive as Kopac's. Besides, Lauren and I had some smart alec remarks that weren't going to make themselves, and that iceberg lettuce wasn't getting any fresher. So we tuned out Tucow, and hardly noted the lizards and parrots when they started their routine (it didn't help that a couple of the animals' accents were quite thick). When they finished, the house lights went up and I thought we must have seen the best the Mayan had to offer. After a while, our waiter asked if we wanted anything else and we demurred. Then the lights went back down, and nearly naked and very fit boys, one after another and sometimes in pairs, started diving from the cliff. We waved our waiter back, I asked for a real daiquiri, and we asked to see the dessert menu.

When he returned with my drink, we ordered a treat that I believe could only have originated in Utah-deep-fried, chocolate-chip cookie dough cheesecake, with strawberry sauce and Reddi-Whip accents. We ate it and watched the show with relish and a few sexist call-outs that were lost in the sound effects that accompanied the spectacle. Okay, most of the call-outs were mine, as Lauren wanted to preserve the Mayan as a place to take children, specifically hers.

I have no such motivation, and the hardest time recommending the Mayan as anything but a place to drink cocktails and think about bogus representations of ancient cultures and scantily clad young men diving off rocks. And nothing else.

Written by Sharon C. McGovern

From Vol. 31
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