Tuesday, March 26, 2019

"Me And A Cactus"

If you are anything like me, you cannot rest until you understand what I meant yesterday when I said I grabbed hold of a cactus with my fingers.  Let me now assuage your itching curiosity by telling this story.  Or re-telling it, for those who remember. 

And also for those who forgot.

What is necessary to keep in mind is that I grew up in Canada.

We had maples.

Not cacti.  (Latin; masculine plural.)

Maples, we knew.

The second one,

We didn’t.

File that away, as we illuminatingly proceed.

I am 21 years old.  Besides camp, this is my first time away from home by myself.  (And at camp, they all knew with my family.) 

I am on the other side of the continent, in California, in the U S of A, where, for the multitudes who have never experienced us, coming from Canada’s the equivalent of hailing from Kansas.  But with the Queen on the money.

The point being, when you’re a stranger,

You do not want to mess up.

I am attending – “Here we go again!” – The Bertolt Brecht Summer Theater Workshop at UCLA.  No classes on weekends.  And also, no food service for resident students, the on-campus nutritional option – vending-machine spaghetti out of a tin.  (Which requires a can opener.  Which I had mistakenly forgotten to pack.)

The “locals” go home on weekends, leaving students from Asian countries and Canada to fend for themselves.  Sadly, I am not competitive at ping-pong, so I was unable to join in on their fun.  (I know that’s racist but that’s all they did. Where’s “Table Hockey” when you need a helpful distraction from gnawing hunger?)   

Sometimes, a generous L.A. “Home Person” with a car takes me out to a restaurant or back to their families.  Or in the case of this narrative, a ramshackle beach house in Santa Monica.  (A ten-minute freeway drive from UCLA’s Westwood campus, but when you’re a passenger – or at least when I am – it might as well be Mongolia.  You sit in the back seat, and you’re there.  How it happened?  You have no idea.)

When we arrive – me and a handful of my classmates – there is immediate talk about beer.  Which I am not sure I had ever imbibed.  (“Imbibed” avoids “had drank” or “had drunk” considerations, which I only accidentally get right.)

The person whose absentee parents own the beach house, apologizes. 

The available beer is not cold.

To which I immediately suggest:

“We could put ice in it.”

The general response I receive is akin to suggesting putting ketchup on cupcakes.

Apparently, I am quickly apprised, you do not put ice in beer.  You can put beer “on ice”, but not the other way around.

To my chagrin and embarrassment, I did not know that.

It seems that ice waters down the beer.  Or else it won’t fit in the bottle.  (I probably assumed we’d be drinking it out of a glass.  Why didn’t I just shut up?)

Anyway, I am in “Negative Territory” and the game had barely begun, putting me on a “short leash” in the all-important “Peer Group Acceptance” department.

My next move would be crucial.

(Time to remind you that I grew up in Canada.  Where, if there’s a potted cactus, it is invariably a decorative rubber one.)

On the beach house living room windowsill, I spot a small green cactus, planted in a compatible brick-like container.

For reasons I cannot explain – then or now – I spontaneously reach over,

And wrap the fingers of my right hand around the trunk of the cactus.

(Yes, thinking it was rubber!  But who grabs a rubber cactus?)

With an accompanying “Ow!”, I reflexively draw back my hand.  But it is too late.  Standing like soldiers on the tips of my fingers are dozens of needle-thin spines.

That’s what I’m looking at – a forest of needles, rising vertically from my throbbing fingers.

Which I am required to extract, one spine needle at a time.  As my classmates look on, in dumbfounded horror and disgust.

“Ice in beer”, and now this.

Forget about “ushering me into the clan.” 

I am lucky they gave me a ride back to UCLA.

But they did.

Mindful there was an “alien” – or lunatic – sitting in the car. *

(* I cannot blame Canada for this fiasco.  Canadian readers are likely shaking their heads, along with everyone else.  With the added awareness that I am shamefully them.)

1 comment:

Cactus Jack said...

You sure you hadn't drank/drunk/imbibed/consumed/chugged several warm beers before inexplicably frisking that cactus?