They play. Oh, God, do they play. My days in Tucson were numberless, but at their end. No red "X" on the calendar described my inevitable departure, but I could sense it like a magnet held between my eyes. It was a palpable buzz in the fire-hot air. A release from my purgatory. That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more. Uh-guh-guh-guh.
Todd - my original reason for being in Tucson - was on the mend. The crystalline scab of his coyote bite had healed into a scar shaped exactly like the letter "F" and, with gallons of chamomile tea, he was beginning to regain his voice. His unemployment checks had run out, but he'd managed to find a job with a cleaning service that specialized in suicides and crime scenes.
He'd even been able to upgrade from the rotting house we shared to a rotting basement apartment downtown. It was terrible, but it was still out of his price range. He told me once that he'd managed to get a deal because of his job. When I didn't inquire further he continued dropping hints about how he had come by the apartment so cheap.
"You're standing on the smartest floor in town," he laughed one day as he sliced open a FedEx box containing 500,000 praying mantis eggs.
"Why did you buy all of those praying mantis eggs?" I had asked, refusing to take the bait and ask about his deal on the apartment.
"Get rid of the roaches." Todd opened a can of Hawaiian Punch with the church key on his Swiss Army Knife and began to chug it, hot, out of the can.
He had eventually given up on hatching the mantises and stowed their doomed eggs in the trunk of my badly beaten '89 Corolla.
With Todd in recovery that left one person to contend with before I departed. That person just so happened to have a forged marriage certificate with her name on it right next to my name. Her name was Lindsay Dawn Riley and she was my arch-enemy.
Meeting adjourned. We had not spoken for more than two months. Not a word since I had awoken from a failed suicide attempt coma to find her riding me like a bad banana at a splits rodeo. My horror only deepened when she revealed the extent of her wanton abuse: she had fooled doctors into thinking her many conjugal visits to my comatose body were in keeping with our marital vows.
The odds of me willingly marrying Lindsay Dawn Riley are akin to the odds that a stripper can know true love. Before I could leave Tucson I had to figure out how to escape the long shadow cast by Lindsay's forged marriage certificate. A little research showed me a way.
Lindsay had forged the marriage certificate for a little town in western Arizona named All Naturale. Most people called it the Naked City. It was a gated community that just so happened to have a rule that everyone living within, or simply visiting, the community had to be naked at all times. It was a nudist colony. According to the Naked City's Geocities website, their marriage licenses could be revoked on a moment's notice "to accommodate the flexible lifestyles many in the community choose to lead" as long as both parties consented.
My consent could be written in the sky with fire, but it was useless unless I could convince Lindsay to go along with it. My two months of careful avoidance would have to come to an end.
"Well if it ain't my one and only love," Lindsay hollered at me as I walked towards the front door of her abode.
Lindsay embraced me and I could smell her unique musk. Her bulk shifted and heaved beneath a too-tight "HOW'S MY DRIVING?" t-shirt and a pair of satin hot pants traced every horrid centimeter of her lower body. Her hair was long and pink.
"It's a wig," she explained with a coy chortle, "I burned off my hair with one of them fire cutter things from the TV. Got this wig out of a dumpster at Safeway."
Lindsay invited me inside but I ignored the offer.
"I want out of our marriage," I played it tough. "You have to come with me to Naked City and we've got to get this annulled."
"I'll cum with you anywhere, Studs Johnson." She grabbed at my crotch but I dodged out of the way.
"Come on, get in the car."
"Only if you'll let me drive."
I let her drive.
"Ya'know what, motherfucker?" She gave me a sly grin that showed off the failing state of her dental work. "You gotta get down to your birthday suit or they ain't gonna let you in."
The thought had occurred to me.
"When we get there."
Welcome to the sexiest picnic ever. We got there. The Naked City was a collection of trailers surrounding a handful of prefab buildings dating back to the late 70s. Those were the community centers. The recreation hall, a communal kitchen and a general store were the main strip. There was also a hall of records, but it was just another trailer with a hand-painted sign outside its front door. The whole town was surrounded by a 10-foot chain link fence topped with rolls of concertina wire. It had the feel of a militia compound, only without guns or clothing.
We were buzzed in through the main gate by a gentleman in his late eighties. Although he was naked, his lower body was concealed inside a small guard house.
"Go on through to the rec center and get changed," he spit tobacco out onto the dusty ground. "I'll ring up the mayor to come talk to y'all."
Lindsay parked the car on a steep hill that overlooked the main strip.
"Put the parking break on," I insisted.
She giggled and pawed at my crotch.
The people who should be at a nudist colony never are and the people who should probably live in caves and mine dolomite and eat bats are walking around with their smelly parts flopping in the breeze. It's a 24 hour parade of grotesques, a medical oddities book come to life. In the two minutes it took us to walk from the car to the rec center I saw a man turned blue by colloidal silver with an enormous dangling penis to match his blueberry face, a man and woman in their late fifties riding horses and a woman with breasts like runny soft-boiled eggs cooking bacon on a grill.
Inside the rec center we met Mayor Ted Partridge. He sat with his feet, sheathed in cowboy boots, propped high on the desk. His chair was reclined back as far as possible. It provided visitors with an enchanting view of his taint. The mayor was in his late sixties with a huge potbelly and thick arms covered with Marine Corps tattoos. His shock of silvery white hair was thinning, but his energy level was obviously high. He leapt to his feet the moment the door closed behind us.
"Howdy to ya both, the name is Ted Patridge." I took his offered hand gingerly and he nearly crushed it in his grip.
"Nice dick!" Lindsay exclaimed, gawking without restraint.
"Well, ain't you adorable!" The mayor took Lindsay's hand and the two seemed to engage in several seconds of muscular dueling.
The mayor narrowly won, prompting Lindsay to gasp with exertion.
"We want a divorce." I interjected.
"Aw, well, heck," the mayor sounded genuinely disappointed, "that's too bad. Y'all just gotta fill out this paperwork. Then strip on out of your clothes and head over to the guest trailer."
I paused halfway through taking the cap off of my pen.
"The guest trailer?"
"Yeah," handed us each a copy of the paperwork, "you gotta stay overnight at All Naturale for us to make this here divorce legally binding and what have you."
"Should I assume there's a fee?"
There was a fee.
After we filled out our divorce paperwork we began to undress. I did so reluctantly, but Lindsay practically exploded from her clothing. Garments fell away from her like withered husks of corn and before I had my shirt off she was standing stark naked. Her body was a mesh of stretch marks, mysterious bruises, scars and prison tattoos. I'd seen most of it before, but taken all at once it was a sobering sight. She ogled me and hooted encouraging words like "fuck" and "fuck yeah".
I trudged out into the hot afternoon sun in the wake of her stench. To my surprise the birds didn't stop singing and drop from the sky, nor did the sunflowers growing nearby wilt and curl away from her. Two steps out the door and I felt a momentary twinge in my foot. I looked down to see a mosquito gorging itself on my blood. It was another great indication that nudism was horrible. I swatted the insect away but my foot began to itch almost immediately.
I was scratching away when we arrived at the guest trailer. It was much like a guest tie or guest jacket at a fancy restaurant. It was the lowest possible quality and it had that unpleasant "used" feel to everything, only in this case it had been used by creepy naked people. I didn't want to sit down. I didn't even want to lean against a wall.
"I'm gonna go blast some missiles in the thundermug," she reached for her zipper and then grinned foolishly when she realized she was naked. "Why don't you cook us up a couple of strong drinks and we can have some break up sex."
There was a bar with a plastic liter bottle of vodka and I found some slightly expired orange juice in the refrigerator. I downed a few shots of straight vodka to take the edge off and then I fixed us a pair of drinks. Missiles and thundermug notwithstanding, I had not intention of sleeping with Lindsay at my final moment of triumph.
The bay windows are eyes to the soul. In fact, I had prepared a cocktail of prescription-strength sleeping pills and tranquilizers to render her unconscious if things got out of hand. I opened several capsules and drained their contents into Lindsay's past-due screwdriver. It was enough to knock out a horse even bigger than Lindsay.
She came out jiggling and rubbing at her groin. When she turned to sit she had a big red "O" on her ass from the toilet seat and a nice lump of suspiciously off-colored toilet paper clinging to the edge of one cheek.
"Have a seat hot stuff," she picked at her teeth, "they had a bag of Doritos in there."
Getting the drink into her was the easy part. Keeping her hands from locking my crotch in a vice-grip was the hard part. Even as the sleeping drugs began to take hold she was still letting her meaty paw drift down to my groin. When she finally groaned and began snoring I had to literally pry her slumped bulk off of me with what I hope was someone's old walking cane.
Once free of her constricting mass I donned my shoes (the only clothing we were allowed to keep) and snuck outside. I scratched fitfully at my mosquito bite even as I dodged and jinked to avoid more of the creatures.
I wandered the park, past late night tennis games in the nude and a party that seemed centered around singing karaoke versions of Ted Nugent songs. I will never forget a drunken octogenarian woman with a physique like stacked sacks of flour belting out "Cat Scratch Fever." They loved the rendition. I fled for the hills, such as they were. I shivered in the frigid Arizona night, sheltering as best as I could beneath a picnic table.
I heard coyotes baying at the moon somewhere around ten and I had a terrible flash of a wound to my most precious of limbs requiring a daily compress of maggots to keep the injury clean. The mosquitoes continued their bombing campaign against me, but after the terrible foot bite their later success seemed manageable. It was worse when they weren't attacking me. I shivered until my teeth clattered.
Near midnight there was a "pop" in the dark, like a champagne cork launching into the sky several blocks away. The crickets fell silent and I froze. I held my breath. There was nothing. Nothing. My heart leapt. I heard a rattling like a large animal charging through the brambles towards me. I pictured Lindsay, coming out of her stupor in the trailer, realizing I was gone and coming after me. Naked, but for her clownish ring of lipstick and the dangling mouse-tail of her tampon, she beat her way through thistle and thorn like a savage wild animal.
I ran, deeper into the Naked City. The drapes were wide open on every trailer's bay windows and as I fled that ominous rumble, seemingly so close at my heels, I saw a flickering cathode-lit film strip of naked leisure. Pendulous breasts rolled and heaved in time to a Larry King induced nap. Testicles swung like sacked tetherballs between the legs of an old man running on a treadmill. Why would you own a ferret at a nudist colony? Some of them waved and smiled, others did not even notice my thundering passage in their rapturous and utter nudity.
The last few trailers lay before me, but my escape was blocked by the unassailable height of chain link that marked the perimeter of the Naked City. To keep the clothes out or the nudity in, I wondered. Whatever the intent of Mayor Partridge, I was the one who felt trapped. The animal thundered closer. Panic gripped me. I was still struggling to decide which way to flee when the urge struck me. My mosquito bite pulsed, like a heart beating in my foot. I staggered to the right, then back to the left, fighting to ignore the throbbing and beckoning of that damnable itch. I could feel thousands of tiny wooly legs digging across my tender skin.
"SCRATCH ME!" They wrote on my flesh with their rasping claws.
I was overcome. I might be only moments from death, but by God, I was not going to die itchy. I threw myself at my own feet and tore at my shoe. I pulled it free and flung it into the night. The sock flew in the other direction. There, red, raw, my foot. I lunged for it. My nails dug into the itch - a separate flesh, the itch - and I scratched. Oh, God, I scratched.
To describe the satisfaction of that scratch would be to make a crude mockery of its beauty with our simple human words and letters. It was an orgasm had while expelling a long clenched bowel movement. It was winning the lottery and the presidential election in the same instant. Nothing in our shared vocabulary of the sublime can fully illuminate its scale and magnificence. It was the scratch.
My pursuer, still unseen, chose that moment to strike. It hit me with such force that I was pitched over a nearby picket fence and down a shallow embankment towards the grassy landscape of the mayor's trailer. I flailed and scrabbled for a grip as I bounced down the embankment. The mayor's bay windows filled my vision. I landed against a concrete goose with a sickening, bone breaking, crunch. Its pink bonnet fell from its head. The mayor looked at me in shock. Before him, on her hands and knees, was the shambling and very naked bulk of Lindsay Dawn Riley. Her body rippled with each impact of the mayor's hips and she looked up at me with a big drunken grin.
I wanted to look away, but I couldn't move. Something inside me had been put terribly wrong by the impact against the goose. Lindsay lifted a fat hand and waved at me.
The creature, forgotten in my agony, charged down the hill after me. I could not turn and look, but I could hear it, rumbling ever-closer. I clenched my teeth and waited for it to attack again and tear me limb-from-limb. Lindsay looked away from me and the big snaggle-toothed grin on her face evaporated into a look of horror. She kicked like a mule and the mayor fell back over his plaid couch. She leapt with dexterity that defied her bulk just as the beast hove into view. It was my '89 Corolla. Its emergency break gone, it had just careened through the whole of Naked City on a collision course with the mayor's trailer.
I laughed as it slammed through the bay windows, showering the green sod grass with glass and pieces of cheap drywall. I cackled madly as I heard Lindsay screaming inside the trailer. The car struck the iron-framed bulk of the couch and rebounded into the air and away from the trailer. I realized it was coming towards me and I tried to push myself away with only my neck and head still functioning. It was to no avail. The wheels bore down on me. I was finished.
The rear bumper gently struck the concrete goose. It rocked perilously and then steadied. I sighed and laughed again.
My car's hatchback trunk creaked and hissed open.
A cloud of 500,000 praying mantises surged into the cool Arizona night and they used my face as a trampoline. I screamed with a closed mouth. My foot began to throb.
I was released from the hospital ten days later covered nearly head-to-toe in bandages. The doctor had brought in some sort of insect expert to explain to me that the praying mantises had been more afraid of me than I was of them and that's why they had bitten me so savagely.
"With any luck," the doctor smiled warmly, "those eyelids will grow back."
Todd met me at the door to the apartment and wheeled me inside. The roles of caretaker and patient had been reversed.
"Looks like the tables have turned," he studied the kitchen table. "Tables like this one, tables that have seen more blood than an abattoir."
Funny thing, when praying mantises eat the top joint of your thumbs it makes it a lot harder to gouge out someone's eyes.
With college finals approaching, it's time once again for Microsoft Word autosummaries of all the old, boring books you were supposed to read.
"Don't you get it? What we have to understand is it's them or us. It can't be all of us, or one. It's got to be us, or they become it. Then we lose what makes us we."
The Something Awful front page news tackles anything both off and on the Internet. Mostly "on" though, as we're all incredible nerds.