there are things that go bump in the desert night. i have noticed this over the twenty-odd years i’ve made the desert my home. but before i share more about bumps-in-the-night, allow me to time-travel for a moment, to the beginning.
at the end of 1993, i moved from the east coast into a tiny efficiency in benson, arizona. after a few weeks i was invited to work with a group who did movie-set construction which was most often outside in the hot sun. that is the arizona hot sun, that ever-cruel ball of seething fire that burns skin, promotes dehydration, and is generally shockingly hot one’s first summer here.
i also picked up a bartending job, often working until the wee hours, when i would pour myself into my ’76 ford van and go home, hot, exhausted, ready to collapse into bed to get some precious sleep. but don’t misunderstand – i thoroughly enjoyed both jobs.
the first was a mix of construction and creativity. i learned a number of artistic methods that added to my own growing repertoire of artistically-bent creative ideas. i even was able to employ my own skills, working on a model of a proposed pueblo-style resort hotel. it was like being paid to play. planning, then building mountains, sculpting tiny little pots and creating 3 inch tall old-pueblo style ladders out of thin air. maneuvering a gas-powered fork-lift and helping to install faux vigas at the top of a building were two of the many new things i learned to do. i was like a kid in at the beach with a brand-new sand pail.
i also quickly found that bartending was fun and supplied me with wonderful (and many equally colorful) stories to share with my friends in tucson. oh, and occasionally i got to enjoy dancing, two-step mostly. art and dancing have been two of my passions, so some sort of universal synergy must have played a part in handing me the two most perfect jobs i could have had at that time.
this is where i need to tell you about the first desert “night-bump” i experienced. i had been warned to check the inside of my shoes, boots, and slippers for scorpions and other assorted desert critters, before sliding my feet into them. i took this warning to heart and soon began to have that creepy feeling that every critter possible was lying in wait inside my footwear to bite me, sting me or, worse perhaps, crawl on me.
the first bump i encountered was more of a skitter or scatter than an actual bump. it happened when i arrived home, exhausted, at 2:00 am. i turned on the lights and cockroaches the size of trucks scattered for cover. they were all over the walls and ceiling. that “bump” turned out to be me, also scattering, right back out the front door.
my dad experienced a desert night-bump when he was new to the desert in1978. he had moved to bisbee, arizona, where the evening pastime generally entailed socializing at local bars. he made an occasional trip to a bar and steakhouse called mike’s coral in the desert outside of bisbee. one night, as he sipped his one beer, there was a bit of commotion just outside the door and in ran a couple of cowboys, as if they were being chased by a bear. it turned out there was no bear, but the thing that was following those cowboys was scary.
all the more scary for its unexpectedness. patrons jumped up onto chairs, tables, and barstools; the young woman who was bartending, climbed on top of the bar. through the swinging doors (perhaps i should say under the swinging doors) and out of the night swept hundreds of desert millipedes all at once. circling the bar’s dirt floor, they swept through mike’s and right back out into the desert night. for dad, bisbania, as he referred to the small desert-mountain town, was the source of many entertaining stories and i think this was quite possibly his favorite.
eventually, i moved to yucson and went to work driving for a commercial bus company. my boss’s wife shared with me her most recent night-bump story. several mornings in a row she had awakened to find the outside water faucet on, precious desert water soaking into the ground and evaporating in the sun. more puzzled each day, she wondered how this was happening until one night she woke to noises in the back yard.
pulling together inner resources to dampen her fears, and switching on a floodlight, she peeked outside and found the source of the water mystery. a pack of javelina was wandering through the yard, one of which was happily scratching his back on the faucet. the tap opened, water flowed, and the happy javelina just went on scratching.