Misty met the latest love of her life when
she pulled onto the shoulder of the highway to let the screaming fire
trucks pass and her car stalled. She was touching up her mascara in the
rear-view mirror to kill time while giving the engine the breather it
would need before starting up again when there was a tap at the shotgun
The face peering in at her in the light of a failing dusk was rugged
yet somehow boyish, topped with a shock of unruly blonde hair littered
with bits of leaf, brambles, seeds, a few twigs. The man’s face was pleading, wounded, the
cheeks smeared with blood. A few fresh drops dribbled from an ugly gash on
his naked, hairless chest. The rest of the stranger, who must’ve been
hiding in the huckleberry bushes ripening along the roadside, was naked, too.
“It was the boyishness,” says Misty, explaining why she leaned across
the front seat to unlock the passenger door. “I mean, he’d ripped
off a pine branch in the woods and was covering his privates with it, like he
was some Paul Bunyan sort of bewildered Adam just kicked out of Eden.”
She brushes a recently tinted tress off her forehead and takes a sip of tea.
Wisps of steam curl up into the twilight and disappear. It’s autumn,
when the earth cools down as soon as the sun slips below the redwoods, when
chrysanthemums flower and banana slugs mount their fiercest attacks. They ooze
out at dusk to suck the juice out of tender, unfolding blooms, to shred petals
and leaves. In order to ward them off, I also come out on patrol at dusk, plucking
them from my bushes and hurling them against the wall of my garage, where they
make an edifying splat. I spear them, slice, stomp, squeeze and smash them.
I behead them with pruning shears.
“It’s cosmic,” coos Misty. “I mean, if Arnie had fixed
my car instead of getting loaded at the bar, it might not have quit just then.
If the emergency vehicles hadn’t passed at that very moment, at just that
bend in the road. If he hadn’t been just skinny enough.”
The slug I’ve nabbed tightens up its fat, shiny, speckled green body
in my palm. I wear gloves at my slug fests, of course. Slugs exude a viscous
liquid that serves as a kind of body armor. The stuff puts to shame Astroglide
and other space-age personal lubricants designed, as the handy plastic dispenser
says, “to enhance the comfort and ease of intimate activity.” Slug
slime, slippery and sticky at the same time, deserves closer scrutiny in the
laboratory. Isn’t most scientific progress, after all, the product of
a talented researcher’s attempt to resolve a paradox?
“Yuck,” says Misty, eyeing my prey.
This banana slug is huge. It could be in a rodeo, if it knew how to buck, or
in some slug wrangling event. If human genius invented a special Velcro lariat,
cowboys could teach their mounts how to nose the slug in the right direction,
show off their skills with a lasso. The horns of this slug could be mounted
above a mantelpiece.
“And if her husband hadn’t been overweight,” continues Misty,
explaining the role that the stars, those arbiters of fate, must’ve played
in bringing her and the Paul Bunyan Adam together.
Shortly before tapping on the window of her stalled vehicle, Misty’s
newest flame had been under the sheets with another woman. The woman was married,
but her husband was conveniently at work, one of the underpaid swing-shift
security guards presiding over the dismantling of the town’s defunct
lumber mill. The trailer was all theirs.
They froze in the pose of an erotic Rodin statue at the click of a key turning
tumblers in the lock on the front door.
“What’s he doing home so early?”
Adam didn’t pause to consider her question. He catapulted himself out
of bed and began scrambling about the shag carpet in search of his apparel.
Unfortunately, the highly aroused couple had scattered clothes all about the
bedroom in their haste. Adam was disentangling his underpants, snagged on the
hook of a bra, when the husband thudded into the bedroom.
There was just enough
of a gap between the surprised sumo wrestler husband and the door for Adam
to squeeze through and sprint across the living room. He might’ve made
good his escape, if the welcome mat on the trailer steps hadn’t tripped
him up. He sprawled in the dust outside, trying to catch the wind that had
been knocked out of him.
The husband, pretty nimble for such
a hefty fellow, was on him in an instant. Adam could see nowhere to go but
under the trailer. Into the darkness he crawled. The husband tried to follow
him, but he didn’t fit in the narrow space. He grabbed for Adam’s
legs in an attempt to yank him out but missed. Adam slithered on his naked
belly for the inviting chink of daylight on the other side of the trailer.
The husband was waiting for him there, squatting down, wildly waving a stick.
Adam reversed gears, his cheek smarting from a glancing blow. The husband
jabbed and prodded, but Adam was a full arm’s length or two out of
reach. It was a stalemate, at least until the husband found a longer stick.
And while the husband went looking, maybe Adam could dash to safety in the
nearby woods bordering the trailer park.
“Come on out, you chickenshit sucker, and fight like a man!”
The stick the behemoth wielded turned out to be no ordinary one. In fact,
it was a Tiki torch, a useful item for nighttime barbecues. No doubt the
husband was a fan of thick steaks sizzling on the grill under a starlit sky.
The clever spouse, realizing the torch might also be handy for smoking out
seducers from under his trailer, lit it.
“I guess that explains the fire trucks.”
“Yeah,” says Misty. “Sometimes we can be too smart for our
own good. He got away soon as sparks started shooting out and the husband ran
inside to call the fire department.”
Two slugs locked in a tight embrace catch my eye.
“You’re not going to kill them, are you?” asks Misty.
“It’s either them or my chrysanthemums.”
“You could at least wait till their fun’s over. Aren’t you
the one who told me about some Greek the gods blinded for killing a pair of mating
“That’s the guy.”
I inform her that she’s got the myth slightly wrong, that Tiresias was
turned into a woman for striking the snakes he happened across in flagrante
delicto, that it was Hera who punished him with blindness for deciding
the argument about which gender enjoys sex more by claiming that in his experience
as a male and a female, he had learned that women receive ten times as
much pleasure from the sexual act as men.
“Besides, Misty, those banana slugs aren’t doing what you think they’re
doing, though it might give just as much pleasure. They’re eating each
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