|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 9/20/2019
|Topics/Keywords: #Arizona #Camping #VerdeHotSpring||Page Views: 4266|
|The sad realization that, just because some people like to visit Nature doesn't mean they can't also be assholes.|
Another weekend, another trip to Verde Hot Spring. This time it was for the occasion of my friend Carl's birthday, even though his birthday was actually last week. Verde Hot Spring is also a favorite place of Carl and his partner Eddie. In fact, it's where we met. And spending five days there was Carl's birthday present to himself.
Of course, I couldn't take a whole week off from work; so I drove up on Saturday.
In addition to Eddie and Carl and myself, another couple, Don and Reed, were there. They are friends with Eddie and Carl; all four live in Prescott but this was Don and Reed's first visit to Verde Hot Spring. In fact, though they'd been there for a couple of days, none of the guys had actually made it yet to the Spring themselves. They planned to go on Sunday.
As I approached the valley in which the Spring are located, I caught a picture of the sun glinting off Fossil Creek with my phone. I hadn't bothered to bring a camera because, I figured, what could I possibly see that I hadn't already photographed?
Of course, pictures can't do justice to reality and this is especially true of cell-phone pictures. The power lines in the photo are dead; they come from the decommissioned Childs Hydroelectric Plant. I suppose someday they'll be dismantled.
Despite arriving in the middle of the week in late October, the guys had been unable to snag the most coveted campsites directly on the river bank. They had to settle for a spot a hundred feet or so upstream. There was a stand of cottonwoods and some bushes obscuring their view of the river. But it wasn't a bad site, and there was a long enough stretch of flat, level ground for three tents and also room to park three vehicles. Eddie helped me erect mine just behind his and Carl's.
Eddie had been working since their arrival on chopping downed cottonwood for the fire. When the hydroelectric plant was decommissioned, the sudden cessation of water flowing through the area killed the cottonwoods that had grown within what was now the campground, and the Forest Service had chopped them down so they wouldn't fall. But they left the fallen logs, knowing that campers would eventually dispose of it all. Eddie was very proud of the pile that remained even after several nights of burning.
Our cars were parked on a ridge just above the tents. As I was getting my plastic crate of blankets and pillows out of the back of my SUV, a heavyset woman wove her way up to me, standing a little too close as she said, "I hate to ask you this. I just hate to. But it's really important to me. You understand that, don't you?"
She was obviously drunk.
"What is it you need?" I asked, smiling.
She stared at me as if seeing me for the first time. Then she remembered why she was there. "Do you have any Bud?" she asked in a strained whisper.
"I'm sorry," I replied, "but I don't. No beer at all, in fact." I had brought water and a case of Diet Rite.
"No, no!" she protested and took a deep breath. "No, I mean bud." And she pantomimed inhaling from a joint of marijuana.
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "Sorry, I don't have that, either."
Two other people, a guy and another girl, came up to the woman. "Don't listen to Michelle," the girl said. The guy added, "She's drunk off her ass."
"I just wanted to borrow some weed," the woman protested.
The guy said, "You have to excuse her. She isn't all there." Then, as an afterthought, he added, "Do you have any?"
"No, sorry," I assured him.
The guy shrugged. "Just as well," he said. "It doesn't really go that well with the meth."
I returned to camp with my crate and opened a folding chair for myself, sitting to chat with the guys. Within five minutes, the drunken woman had wobbled into camp. "Can I borrow a lighter?" she asked the air.
"No," said Don sharply. Don is about my age, wiry, with a healthy supply of laugh wrinkles. But he wasn't laughing now. "You already took two of our lighters and never brought them back. I'll light your cigarette if you like, but we're keeping our lighters."
"I lost them," the woman whined. She allowed Don to light her cigarette and staggered off.
"They've been in this camp every five minutes for the past two days," Carl complained. "And last night they cranked up their music so loud I couldn't sleep, and they played it until 3 AM, and then started it up again about five!"
"You'd think they'd be tired," I said.
"They're tweakers," Eddie explained. "I hate tweakers."
"'Tweakers'?" I asked. "What's that?"
"Meth users," Reed supplied. "Methamphetamines."
"Oh," I said, light dawning. "And meth's a stimulant, so they don't need the sleep. Great," I added, the implications for my own sleep that night creeping in.
"And they keep coming over here," Carl complained. "The girls, I mean. One of the other ones, Tara, came over wearing a hoodie and nothing else. And you know how meth users get those sores? So she had a sore right next to her junk."
"Thank God I'm gay," I said fervently.
"We all said the same thing," Reed agreed.
After Eddie wandered off to chat with the guy in the downstream campsite, Michelle returned. "Sorry, it went out," she said, waving her dead cigarette in her hand.
"Aren't there any cigarette lighters in your own camp?" Don asked. He was clearly at his edge of tolerance. "First you keep your stereo cranked up all night, then you run through our camp all day. If we'd wanted to spend the weekend with you, we'd have pitched our tents in your campsite in the first place!"
"That's enough, Don," Reed warned from his camp chaise.
The woman frowned. "That music wasn't my fault," she growled. "I told Ken to turn it down. But he told me it was his stereo and he would keep it as loud as he fucking wanted to, so there!" It wasn't clear whether the last two words were Ken's to her, or hers to us.
"Yeah," Don replied, "well it won't be my fault either if I happen to find myself in your camp tonight with my cable cutters. We'll see how loud that stereo plays with no electricity!"
"Can it, Don!" Reed warned again with more intensity. The woman abruptly turned around and left camp, but we could hear her loudly warning her campmates that we intended to cut their cables when they were asleep.
Tara, the girl who reportedly had run naked through the guys' camp the night before, was the next visitor. She was even drunker than Michelle. Or intoxicated on something.
"So you don't like us coming into your fucking camp?" she demanded. "I'll fucking go where I want to!" She then tripped over a log that was in her way and fell on her face. As she staggered to her feet, she accused, "You put that log there when I wasn't looking!"
"It's been there all week," Carl remarked, but Tara talked over him.
"Well, you won't have to see any more of me."
Don couldn't resist. "We saw more of you last night than anyone should have to."
She glared at him uncomprehendingly, then left. Shortly afterward, the blonde guy, Ken, arrived. "What's this about?" he asked. "Do we have a problem?"
Eddie, back from the neighbor's, stepped to the plate as peacemaker. "No problem," he assured Ken. "Your girlfriends may think we do, but they just took a joke seriously."
Ken shook his head. "They aren't my girlfriends," he said. I realized that he didn't seem drunk…or, at least, not as intoxicated as the women. He was probably just shy of 40 years old, wearing shorts and no shirt, with a completed tattoo just below his shoulder and a large work-in-progress on his back. "They aren't even my friends."
He sat down next to me, and I said, "Then why are you here with them?"
"We met on the Internet," he said. "Trey and Tara are from Albuquerque, and Carla and Michelle are from Flagstaff. I'm from Phoenix. We thought it would be fun to meet up here." He sighed. "Now I'm not so sure. Especially if I have to worry about getting my cables cut. 'Cause I will beat the ass of anyone who tries."
"No one's gonna cut your cables," Eddie said reassuringly, and Don added, "It was just a joke I made. A poor joke, and I apologize for that."
"'Cause if the music's too loud, just say so. I can turn it down."
"It wasn't really too loud," Carl admitted. "Just too late. It's been awhile since I wanted to listen to Megadeth until 3."
The bad feelings defused, Ken relaxed. I said, "That's some beautiful dragon you're getting done on your back."
"Can you make it out?" he asked. "'Cause I can't see it. It's gonna be filled in, like the one on my arm, same colors." He reached over to my arm and traced my own twelve-year-old barbed-wire tattoo with his finger. "That's nice work," he said. "You should get a dragon on your back."
I shook my head. "Thanks, but if I was going to spend that kind of money getting a tattoo on a back, it would be somebody else's back, so I could see it."
A stricken look crossed Ken's face. "Shit, man," he said. "I never thought of that! I could've saved a fortune."
After he left, Reed decided to bring the Aristocrats, as I had taken to calling them, a peace offering. It seems he and Don were Safe Sex Instructors (I didn't ask for details on how, exactly, they did their instructing) and had with them a gallon bag of condoms, both the usual kind and a kind I hadn't known existed, female condoms. When I asked how those worked, Don pulled one from the bag, unwrapped it, and showed it to me. It looked like a flimsy plastic tube with more solid plastic rings at either end. One end was open, the other sealed with the same flimsy plastic. "Before going out," Don explained, "the woman just squeezes the bottom ring, turns it sideways, and slips it in past her cervix. The open ring stays on the outside. That way, if she gets lucky, she doesn't have to worry about whether her feller is wearing a condom of his own or not."
"They can also be used for anal sex," Reed added. He then sealed the bag and walked over to the Aristocrats' campsite. There was silence for a moment, then Tara's voice floated over the whole campground: "Look what they gave us! I won't have to leave my tent for the whole weekend!"
And sure enough, that night, their stereo played softly and was turned off before ten o'clock. And later, when I got out of my tent to pee, I could hear Ken's moans of pleasure wafting over from their camp, and I was grateful, not so much that Reed's peace offering of condoms was keeping Ken safe from disease, but that the world was safe, at least for that weekend, from the breeding of new baby Aristocrats.