Monday, March 15, 2010

"The Insanity Persists"

You think you have your negative impulses under control, because you know they can be harmful, but it turns out, at least in my case, when it comes to certain impulses, I don’t.

That first sentence could take you to a lot of interesting places. Not this time. This is just about me, being crazy, thinking I’ve gotten over it, and finding out I haven’t.

It happened on a recent trip to Phoenix. We went there to visit old friends, and catch some Spring Training baseball. It rained on the day of the game we had tickets for, I believe, the only time it rained there all winter. But we still got to see the friends. Friends are more reliable than baseball. A friendship is rarely “called, due to inclement weather.” If it is, you learn something important. Those people were not good friends.

Our hotel is located on land owned by Indians, but it doesn’t have a casino. A nearby hotel, with almost exactly the same name as the hotel we were staying at, does have a casino. We’re familiar with that hotel, because we made a little detour there before going to our hotel.

They shouldn’t have hotels with almost exactly the same name. Travelers can get confused. I mean, you can actually take your luggage out of your car and have it driven away, and walk up to the Front Desk to check in, before you find out you’re at the wrong place.

Then you need to have your car returned, and reload your luggage. And tip the guy five bucks, for parking your car in a hotel you’re not staying at, and then bringing it back. The five bucks was less for his efforts, than a reward for his not laughing until after we pulled away.

What about the craziness? You promised us craziness.

That was pretty crazy.

No, that's just dumb. We want actual craziness.

And craziness you shall have. Early one morning, I’m standing outside the hotel, waiting for a friend to pick me up, to take me to his gym to work out. Though I finished my post-surgery program, I retain the “Rehab Mentality.” If I don’t exercise every day, the nurses will yell at me.

Standing next to the hotel is a cactus, I don’t know, maybe ten feet tall. This was not a plant. I mean, sure, it was a plant, but not a “plant”, as in “prop”, as in, “They’re tourists visiting Arizona. Plant a cactus in front of the hotel.”

The beauty of this hotel is that, situated on Indian-owned land, unlike the adjacent non-Indian-owned land that was seriously built up, there remained acres and acres of wide-open spaces.

Surrounding the hotel were vast expanses of untouched terrain, looking exactly like you expected it to, an idyllic tableau of Southwestern perfection. The Cisco Kid could have ridden by on his horse, Diablo, and you wouldn’t have batted an eye. Cisco’d have fit right in.

Seeing that cactus took me back a number of decades. It was my first visit to Los Angeles. I was twenty-one, attending the Bertolt Brecht Summer Theater Workshop at UCLA. On a free weekend, I was invited to a classmate’s friend’s beach house. The beach house included a screened-in porch, with a magnificent view of the ocean. The porch also housed an elaborate collection of miniature, potted cacti. Little cacti. Four to six inches high.

Some helpful background. I’m from Toronto. In Toronto, if someone has a little potted cactus in their house, it is made out of rubber. These cacti were real. I had never seen one before in my life.

So what do I do? I do what anyone would do who’s never seen a cactus before. I wrap my fingers around it, so I can see what it feels like. Anyone would do that, right? Your curiosity would require it.

It turns out, that was the wrong thing to do. And if I’d given the matter the slightest consideration, I’d have known that in advance. Cacti have pointy spines coming out of them. And if you wrap your fingers around one, those spines will embed themselves in your body. In substantial numbers. Which is precisely what they did.

I quickly withdrew my hand, but nowhere near quickly enough. I looked down, and bristling up from my fingers were dozens of needle-like spines that were formerly part of the cactus but were now sticking out of my hand. I stood there on that porch, extracting cactus spines one at a time, while my classmate explained to his incredulous friend that I was from Canada.

I had learned my lesson. Or so I thought.

Decades later, I’m in front of this hotel in Arizona. And standing there, waiting for my friend to pick me up, I realize that it’s taking all the willpower and self-control I can muster…

Not to grab a hold of that cactus!

What’s wrong with me?

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