Lindsay Dawn Riley was 220 pounds of woman shot out of some sort of monstrous pressure hose into a pair of jeans and a matching halter top that were so tight you could measure the overhangs in degrees of elevation. She spoke as if she were holding a grudge against the English language, a brogue-like mash of profanity, racism, colloquialisms, and bizarre words that I'm pretty sure she just made up. If she wasn't inhaling chances were that she was screaming or hollering and when she exhaled it could take heat tiles off the nose of the space shuttle. The night I met her she broke a grown man's nose with a haymaker and then lit her hand on fire to see how long she could take it.
It was 1998 and I was in Tucson, Arizona visiting a friend of mine. He had come down with a bizarre case of gangrene on his arm from an infected coyote bite he'd received while drunkenly trying to wrestle a wild coyote. He was convinced that he was going to die from it and spent most of his days lost in a drunken stupor. He was a violent drunk and by the time it fell on me to be the suicide watchman the guy's house looked like a battered spouse. Most of the windows were broken out and cardboarded, he had randomly ripped up carpet, and there were about twenty holes punched or smashed through the drywall in every single room. His house smelled like cat piss and he had never owned a cat in his life.
On top of all of that his doctor had prescribed maggot therapy to excise the chunk of rotted meat in his arm. Every day a nurse and a big Mexican guy in an Ocean Pacific tank top came and applied maggots to his arm. This involved the Mexican guy chasing my friend around his house, tackling him, and then holding him still while the nurse swabbed writhing white maggots under his bandages.
"Why you got to be so crazy?" The nurse asked rhetorically every day as my friend struggled against the headlock being applied by the Mexican.
I couldn't take hanging out with the guy so I had adopted the strategy of all truly caring and nurturing human beings; I made him drink until he passed out. Every afternoon at about three I would cruise over to the liquor store a couple blocks away and buy the cheapest plastic bottle of vodka I could find. At four dollars for a fifth "Yuri's Special" had more in common with kerosene than Ketel One. I would pretend to do shots with him until his head sagged down onto his bent-legged kitchen table. I'd check his pulse, suppress a gag at the way his bandage was moving, and then I'd head out for a night of drinking away my own sorrows at a much less life-threatening pace.
I had two options within walking distance of my friend's squalor; an All-Mexican blue collar bar and a biker bar called Pete's Junction that usually had at least one fight every hour, on the hour. Race fear kept me out of the Mexican bar the first few nights, but on my third night at the biker bar I got hit in the jaw with a thrown billiard ball that took a chunk out of one of my teeth. The guy who hit me claimed the ball was intended for the woman sitting next to me and I was too busy spitting blood and trying not to black out to really argue the matter. From then on I spent my time in the Mexican bar, a lone gringo ordering cerveza after cerveza until I would stagger out at last call. I can't really pretend to have bonded with anyone at the bar, but when they realized that white people are immune to racial epithets they stopped calling me "stupid fucking gringo" and just shortened it to "gringo".
During the second week of my visit with my maggot-eaten friend I stomped out for the night only to discover that my beloved casa de la intoxicación had been closed due to a grease fire. By "closed" I mean that it had "burnt down" due to a grease fire. I wiped a solitary tear from my gringo eye and bid a fond farewell to the bar. I realized as I trudged away that it was time to permanently throw in my lot with the rowdy bikers at the other watering hole.
A night that began inauspiciously continued in much the same fashion when I arrived at Pete's Junction. Whimsy struck me as I approached Pete's and I decided to take out my frustration by kicking a rock down the road. My boot struck the stone, it sailed through the cooling night air, bounced off of the berm, and smacked directly into the skull painted on the side of a low rider motorcycle. The owner was not present, but a hulking biker in a leather vest that looked like something an S&M organ grinder monkey might wear decided to play patriarch to the parked motorcycles. He charged at me, his braided beard swaying like wind chimes, and shoved me to the gravel.
"Oooo fukken didems! Buke gonzer kibbuhew!!" He shouted down at me.
I wasn't quite sure what he was yelling, but I was reasonably certain that I could rule out helpful affirmations of my life choices. He produced what looked - in the dim light outside Pete's - to be an axe handle. It turned out later that what my lying eyes had really seen was him holding a shovel handle. I scrambled to my feet as he brandished it menacingly and he plowed forward, unconcerned with my invisible bubble of personal space. I backed away again and he raised the axe handle as if to strike me. I closed my eyes and awaited the inevitable, but when I opened them again it was to see that the meaty hand of Lindsay Dawn Riley held the business-end of the axe handle.
"He's with me you sack of shit hammers." Her elocution left something to be desired, but I could at least understand what she was saying.
"Ohm eh fukken fukkd upda byesal." The biker lowered his weapon. "If hewa ooo fuggetit."
Lindsay nodded to the man, smiled, and punched him square in the nose. The bigger they are, the more damage they do to the bike they land on. Lindsay laughed and slapped her thighs at the sight of the man tangled in a Harley with blood streaming out of his nose. Then her bright red lips turned down into a frown and she stared at me like I was a kebab.
"You owe me, nigger." She pointed out and then clapped her hands on my cheeks hard and gave me a friendly headbutt that left my vision dazed.
That night marked the beginning of a brief, but intense and fascinating symbiotic relationship with Lindsay Dawn Riley. Even in the dim light of Pete's I could see that she had applied her makeup like she was painting a billboard that said "FUCK ME". Unfortunately, no amount of base or concealer could hide her jagged half-rotten teeth or the dozens of extra pounds that ran amok on her six foot frame.
To say that she was not attractive would be entirely missing the point of her composure. Lindsay knew that she was repellent and she liked it. She was a voracious omnisexual predator who would grab a woman's ass as she walked by the bar and then turn and plant an open mouthed kiss on me that reeked of wing sauce and beer. She rarely went beyond groping and occasionally lifting up her shirt to reveal enormous, uneven, and well-veined breasts to an unsuspecting public. All the same, I never quite got used to her randomly grabbing my testicles and squeezing them like she thought she could make lemonade with enough pressure.
After pouring two and a half pitchers of draft down her gullet and chasing that with three shots of Jaeger Lindsay propositioned me.
"Nigger," she began eloquently, "want to go out back and fucker in the dumpster? I just got my period so put on a cow catcher."
I politely declined and told her that I had previous arrangements. She nodded sagely and threw up down her shirt. She reached for my testicles again but by then she was so drunk I easily dodged her pawing hands and made for the door.
"See you tomorrow, Sunshine." She threatened, a greasy film of puke shimmering on her fingers as she waved.
The next night Lindsay was waiting for me outside Pete's with her prominent backside resting on a windowsill. Her face was caked with powdered sugar and she was holding a half-eaten funnel cake folded inside a paper plate.
"Hey faggot!" She beamed and hopped up from her perch. "I saved you some."
I took the saliva soaked funnel cake and took a wary bite from it.
"Want to shoot a machinegun?" She asked.
Who doesn't? Maybe people with tinnitus.
"Sure." I said noncommittally, although the idea of firing a machinegun was thrilling.
With that one word I sealed my fate.
Lindsay drove us out to a junkyard outside of Tucson in her decaying Chevy Cavalier. She claimed that her brother ran the junkyard yet insisted that we climb up a pile of oil drums over the security fence. We used a disconcerting rubber mat she had in the trunk of the car to shield us from (most) injury as we rolled over the razor wire at the top of the chain link. She took me on a brief whispering tour of the haphazard heaps of smashed automobiles that included rummaging through several abandoned RVs, her prying the alternator out of a Cavalier of the same model year as her own, and her taking a pit stop at an old ice cream truck to urinate in its freezer.
Then she took me to the area she called "Sang Gillar" which I think was her trying to say "Shangri-La" and failing miserably. Ordered ranks of aircraft extended as far as I could see in the dark of night. Civilian planes first, ranging from dozens of rusty single engine prop-planes to huge jet liners missing their engines and frequently their wings. Beyond these was an even larger field of military aircraft. There were helicopters, fighter planes dating back to the Second World War, and more than a hundred decrepit bombers that I didn't even recognize.
The wing attached to the front two-thirds of a B-52 provided the shelter beneath which someone had set up a card table, rust-scarred boxes of machinegun ammunition, and a Browning .30 machinegun. It was wrapped in a powder blue blanket that Lindsay kicked to unfurl. Lindsay was already drunk when we got there and it took her half an hour to set the machinegun up on the card table. She instructed me to feed a belt of ammunition into the weapon while she dragged a cooler full of sun-hot beers out from inside the airplane. When she realized I was having trouble getting the machinegun loaded she ran towards me.
"Got you all distracted?" She shouted, pulling up her shirt to reveal her terrifying bosom.
I ran away from her, laughing at first, and then I realized that she was actually trying to catch me for Lord knows what reason. Her face was serious, her eyes wild, and with her shirt still held up the position of her arms and her waddling gait made her resemble a silverback gorilla. I managed to conceal myself inside a cavernous jet engine resting alone on the desert ground until she grew tired of my antics and returned to the machinegun.
"Alright Gabby!" She crooned. "Camp town racetrack…five…"
Her voice slurred and I could hear the crick-crack of a beer opening.
"Get over here, nigger!" She shouted.
I reluctantly complied, afraid that I would be confronted with her bare breasts again. Instead I found her sitting contently on the bucket seat of a mini-van, the Browning resting on her lap, a bent cigarette between her pursed lips, and three empty beer bottles next to her. She motioned me over with a drunken swing of her head.
"This thing is all lubed up and ready to squirt." Lindsay extended it towards me. "Ladies first."
She launched into a profanity-laced lecture on how to set up and fire the machinegun at a series of paint cans lined up roughly a hundred feet away. Whenever I did something she didn't approve of she would squeeze my testicles. The third time she did it I slapped her hand away and told her to "fucking knock it off".
"Oh, ho, ho!" Lindsay exclaimed. "Piss and vinegar from the round eye. Let me show you how it's done."
With one meaty hand she grabbed the machinegun and pulled. With the other she covered my face and pushed. The result was that I fell onto my back and overturned the cooler full of hot beers and she claimed the machinegun for her own amusement. I hadn't even fired a shot yet.
"Watch and learn." Lindsay laughed, spitting her cigarette onto the ground.
It's pretty clichéd to say that time seemed to switch into slow motion, but it's true. I was acutely aware of every detail in that moment as Lindsay pulled the trigger of the machinegun. The way the gun was awkwardly cradled in her arms. The way a thin strand of tea-colored saliva was running from her open mouth down her chin. The way her left foot was resting precariously on an overturned beer bottle. The machinegun fired. The gun's receiver returned again and again and bright tongues of fire emerged from the barrel. I could see the smoke curling away from each ejected shell casing as they arced over Lindsay's arm.
I wasn't even paying attention to what was happening to the paint cans down range, I was too concerned with the deadly weapon being fired by this terrifying and half-crazy woman only a few feet away. It was the sixth or seventh shot when things started to go wrong. By then the recoil of the weapon had completely unsteadied Lindsay and as she stepped to brace herself - still firing, mind you - the arch of her foot came down on that beer bottle. She began to fall, still in slow motion, still firing, and the barrel of the gun swung in my direction. I was still on the ground propped up with my hands behind me when the barrel started to slowly turn down towards my head.
I felt a sharp pain in my thumb and knew with certainty that one of the hundreds of scorpions I had seen during my stay in Tucson had chosen that ironic moment to sting me. I couldn't worry about it yet. I scrambled away as bullets from the machinegun ricocheted loudly off of the B-52 at my back. I rolled, hopefully crushing that goddamn scorpion, all the while expecting to feel bullets cutting through me at any instant. Mercifully, Lindsay lost her grip on the machinegun entirely and the shooting stopped.
The air stank of cordite and my eyes were stinging.
"Something fucking bit me." I gasped, sitting up.
Lindsay was completely nonplussed. She kicked the machinegun out of the way and staggered over to me.
"Show me, you big baby." I held up my hand and pointed to my thumb. Then I looked down at it for the first time.
The tip of my thumb, nail and all, were gone. Blood was running down past my wrist. I felt queasy. Lindsay laughed and gave my mutilated hand a high-five. She did a weird spin on her heel that showered me with loose sand. She stomped back over to where I had originally fallen and picked up a bloody hunk of meat and a three inch long shard of metal.
"Looks like the airplane bit you." She joked. "Put it in your mouth to keep it warm."
She shoved the tip of my thumb into my mouth and laughed again, then helped me to my feet. An hour later at the hospital the now black tip of my thumb had been reattached. I felt an intense throbbing pain there and I looked over at Lindsay, who was eating peanut M&Ms in the emergency room in violation of probably eight or nine health regulations.
"I can't believe you put it in your mouth." The doctor chastised. "You've dramatically increased your risk of septic infection."
"She told-" I began, but the doctor wasn't about to hear it.
"I don't care who told you to do it. Your entire thumb may become gangrenous and you know how we treat gangrene?"
"Maggots." The doctor nodded.
Lindsay smiled at me, her rotten teeth studded with M&Ms and pieces of peanut.
"Maggots, nigger." She exulted.
Some time I may relate the story about how Lindsay Dawn Riley made me an unwitting accessory to armed robbery, but that's a tale for another day.
I have raised over $300 participating in quilting bees for the American Quilting Bee Society so I think I deserve at least seven minutes of your time.
Ernest Cline, writer of Ready Player One, shares his newest poem.
The Something Awful front page news tackles anything both off and on the Internet. Mostly "on" though, as we're all incredible nerds.