I moved west in the late 70s. It was quite a different time. Coming from the DC area, everything west of the Mississippi truly was a foreign country.
My family went in a caravan of cars across country. All I knew about this exotic place was that I'd have a swimming pool and for a girl who was a fish and a springboard diver, it sounded like heaven. And in my romantic mind, I imagined hitching posts and Indians on horseback.
The CB radio in my sister's car, I used to talk to the other cars in our caravan, but more often than not flirted with the truckers. I went by the handle "Cactus Flower." It sounded so mature and so forbidden. I had no idea at the time that a flower could actually grow on a cactus. I thought the term was an oxymoron.
Boy, was I fucking right!
(Is it just me, or are those cacti giving us the finger?)
We arrived at our rental home in the dark. I literally walked through the house, not caring to look and stripped off my clothes down to my bikini and dove right into the pool. It was heaven! It was 8 at night and about 105 degrees outside! Splashing around in the pool, my dad came out to grin at my goofy priorities. Then, something wrapped around my ankle and I screamed.
My father laughed, "Don't worry. That's just the snakes on the bottom of the pool." He turned and walked back into the house while I scrambled up the poolside, scraping up my knees in my rush to get out. I'd just come form water moccasin country. I had no idea they might have them in the desert!
My father came out with a towel and explained as he flipped the pool light switch. "They're cleaning hoses that sweep back and forth pushing dirt to the drain."
Desert 101: The water snakes are of the pool variety.
Desert 102: Don't walk out into the desert dirt barefoot. There are spiny burrs that look a helluva lot like metal jacks that kids play with, that is if they had very pointed ends. I went to retrieve my pool ball, walked through a bunch of the burrs and screamed, falling back onto my ass, getting them in my butt, and then putting down my hands to get myself up and getting them in my palms too.
Desert 201: This advanced course was given to me at the age of 16.
They don't tell you there's a difference in cactus needle spines. They come in very long nasty spear-like ones, thick sharp curved hooked ones, and the tiny fine variety that can cover your entire hand in so many painful little "hairs" that you can't find and remove. Did you know there are lots of ways to remove them? They suggest you soak in hot water first to help them come to the surface. If they're the fine types, you can try tape, but honestly go right for hot wax. Nothing else will remove them as well.
How do I know all this?
Okay, back to being 16...
A friend had her parents leave town. She invited us gals from the short flag twirling team over for a sleepover in her estate in a fancy neighborhood on the foothills of a mountain where she had a swimming pool with a water slide and a tennis court and an outdoor bar...
One beer became a try at some wine which began a little whiskey and what was that clear stuff? Vodka?
So, in my infinite first-time drunk intelligence, I suggested "let's go streaking!" One of my friends, equally drunk, said "sure!" We took off our clothes and proceeded to walk around the block in the dark at a nice strolling pace (okay, stumbling pace). We were doing well, walking around this ritzy neighborhood until a car came up and their lights hit us.
"Jump!" My friend screeched.
I did as she asked, blinded by the headlights, I jumped and proceeded to roll down a gravel front yard hill down into a mixed cactus garden with a loud crunch and perhaps a little "oof!" sounding from me.
I got up and swayed. "I think I'm hurt." (I can't feel it of course). My friend escorts me back to the house with a giggle. My best friends sober up and spend the evening picking thorns out of my ass so I can soak in a hot tub and try to get the needles loose. What I don't realize is that from head to toe, I am covered with every variety of cactus needle that is possible.
That was one hell of a fucking cactus garden! Thank you damned xeroscape gardeners!
So, I tell my mom I was playing frisbee in my swimsuit and fell into a cactus garden. I go back to school with slash marks over my entire body, needles still in my freaking fingernails and gums and every other part of my anatomy.
Stories pass around school of serial killers and fights with a wild cat, but I don't correct them. After all, there's nothing more humiliating than being beaten by a gang of cacti in an upper class neighborhood. So, I did what anyone saving face would do. I claimed I was up against a girl street gang called...
You guessed it--