Every time I gnash my teeth I remember Cactus Dick. He went crazy on me in the scorching hot parking lot on the American side of the Mexico border. I learned alot that day about anger management, and the wiles of a desperate coyote who is in pain and afraid of losing the woman he loves.
The craziness set in on the third day of a road trip/dental vacation. Two couples came down together to enjoy each other’s company, and share expenses on the ride. Dick was married to a peace consultant named Sisi Edelweis who ran seminars teaching communities ways to deal with gang violence. She was young and pretty and very smart, and quite a prize for an aging radical like Dick.
He made his living as an artist. He had figured out years ago that there is money to be made when you hang out with rich people, and he was smart enough to create amazing things. Before that, if you believe his stories, he was a criminally inclined anarchist who did things like counterfeit money for violent political groups. I guess you could say he was smart too, but since he lacked the emotions of empathy, he compensated by honing his psychological tools of control.
My husband and I had known them from parties, and for two years in a row attended their annual Maypole party, which was also a birthday party for Sisi Edelweis. Since we travel in rather artistic media circles, we had lots of common friends and some quasi political conversations about copyrights, politics, community building, etc. My husband is a radio personality and a community blogger who posts lots of real time movies from our adventures on Facebook, plus his sunset shot of the day. We have lived online for many years, and no harm has ever come to us from the internet connected world. I expect that will continue, and generally believe that good people have little to fear and much to gain from a free and open world wide web.
It seemed like a fun idea to take Dick up on his offer to give us a tour of his favorite place to get dental work done over the border, where prices were way less than California retail. His invitation included a shared overnight ride to the Arizona town where he and Sisi had experienced quality inexpensive accommodations on both sides of the border, a recommendation for a great dentist, a place to enjoy some garlic prawns, and possibly a weekend reggae concert we could attend on the way home. I convinced my husband it would be valuable for me to get the dental work done, and a fun way to spend our time. He came along reluctantly, feeling intuitively some danger which I attributed to a sympathetic fear of Mexican dentists, or a suspicion that if I went without him, something bad might happen to me.
We set out after midnight in Sisi’s VW Passat to take advantage of the cool night air for the long desert ride. Dick had prepared himself by sleeping alot the previous day, and drove all night until we stopped for breakfast. My husband stayed awake with him, and navigated or kept us amused as he researched things on his iPad, and found “the best breakfast in town” from Yelp. After breakfast, we arrived for a morning dental appointments in Mexico. I had some cavities filled. Dick needed completion on his 14 implants which involved pulling a number of teeth. His wife, if there was still enough money after negotiations to sell some of Dick’s art to the dentist, planned to have one of her metal filings replaced with state of the art ceramic.
Everything went well, and we decided to stay on the Arizona side of the border for better access to bandwidth, as well as negligible price differences on the rooms. An early dinner at the couple’s favorite restaurant in Mexico, and a dip in the pool at our motel left us pleasantly ready for an early night.
My husband had brought a few movies to play from his laptop, and we settled in. Dick and Sisi took the inner bedroom of a shared suite, and we took the room with the big screen TV and the refrigerator. After his major surgery, Dick headed for the darkness to sleep, and we entertained ourselves by preparing a grocery store dinner of papaya, olives, sesame crackers, and nuts. Sisi knew that Dick would want his dinner around 4AM, so she bought a big spoon, and stocked the fridge with Milk. We cut a bowl for his Raisin Bran cereal from a 2 gallon water jug we had emptied, and set it up in case he woke up hungry.
Deep sleep was easy for me and my husband, and we slept hard in a very dark air conditioned room, not knowing the time until late the next morning. “It’s 8:45” I said from the bathroom, not knowing how late we could go to breakfast for the meals included with our room. “We have until 11” I was told by a sleepy Sisi. We took our showers and got there within the hour. Except Dick, still groggy, needing more sleep.
Our waitress could have been a robot. “A or B” was both her greeting for us, and the question she asked. We detected that she hated her job, had no good reason to smile, and especially did not like to serve the people with free vouchers from the motel. We placed our orders after she explained what A or B included. “What do you want to drink” she snapped. “Tea,” said Sisi. “Orange Juice,” I said. “Coffee,” said my husband. We gave curt, simple answers, as if we knew not to dare ask for more information. The waitress looked at our voucher. “This says four people” she said. “My husband is still sleeping, and will come later” said Sisi. “As long as he comes by 11” she warned us. When she left, we looked at each other and laughed as we agreed she seemed a bit ticked off. As another humorless waitress, a little older, followed her sternly into the kitchen, we speculated the restaurant had a severe pecking order, and our waitress was low on the ladder. Thankfully, Dick showed up as our eggs arrived, and ordered A or B before it was too late. By then, we had all been charming, and our waitress actually smiled.
Day two of the trip was a tourist day, but for Dick, it was a day to rest and heal before his final dental work tomorrow. My husband worked on his radio show from the motel room internet, and Dick went back to bed in his dark room, announcing to his wife that he wanted a haircut. Sisi and I took a hot walk to the nearby visitor center, collecting data on places of interest. Next, three of us jumped in the hot car to run a few errands. My husband picked up a computer cable, and we took a trip to the bank because Sisi needed to find out why her bank card transactions were being declined. We waited inside the bank for the air conditioning, and Sisi straightened things out. We tracked down a cheap hair cut place for Dick, and it was time to collect him back at the motel to head out for a late lunch.
We had a great time eating hot dogs at a world famous “casino” (which was really a domino parlor), and afterwards decided to skip the haircut in favor of a car trip to a nearby ghost town. We planned to end the day with a sunset photo shoot at the “Bridge to Nowhere”, which we would pass on the way. Cactus Jack was feeling good by this time, at home as a host in a desert he knew from many past adventures. He taught us the names of different cactus plants as we sped by. We entered the golden hour before sunset as we arrived at our destination. It was after 5:00, and the ghost town and museum were closed, and inaccessible behind a barbed wire fence. Being nature lovers, and desert lovers, we took to the nearby hills with just as much enthusiasm, and visited the Ocotillo, Saguaro, and Silver Cholla cactus. The soon to be setting sun painted the edges of these desert treasures with angelic light, while everything else turned to long shadows and silhouettes.
Cactus Dick took a shine to a particularly awesome Saguaro, maybe 50 years old, 10 feet up straight and tall with no branches or flowers on top. Cactus Dick took off his clothes, and posed like a tree hugger with his arms stretched out, looking like the ten foot prickly pole was all he was made of. Since he had forgotten his camera, he ordered me to stand at a spot and photograph him during this prize moment. The shots greatly amused him, and he took ownership and forbid my husband or me from using the shot at all. Cactus Dick wanted that one all for himself. (More to come, gotta go to the Maker Faire right now…)
The trip was fun for all, the mood was high. We got back in the car to chase the oncoming sunset back toward town, where I still hoped to catch a few shots at the Bridge to NoWhere. Running a little short of time, we paused along the highway so my husband could take his daily shot of the setting sun, another unique masterpiece with a stylish image of the orb reflected from the mirror of the car’s roof.
In the dusk after the setting sun, we arrived at the Bridge to NoWhere. My husband and I found our spots in the landscape and shot panorama’s of the bridge that spanned a dried up desert, just a few hundred feet away from a nearby agricultural lake. Cactus Dick found his way around and over the barbed wire fencing erected to keep people off the bridge, and waved from his proud attainment of forbidden territory beyond the reach of the rest of us. Sisi watched from the stillness of a scenic spot between the bridge and the lake, filling herself with the beauty of nature and the loveliness of the twilight sky.
In a chummy mood, we drove back to our hotel, intending to get some showers and dinner. The same restaurant from breakfast had an electric sign promising ribs for 9.99, which sounded very appealing at the time. We got back at 8:20 to learn that the restaurant kitchen closed at 8:30. Cactus Dick went in to get our table secured as we went to the room for our showers. In the next 15 minutes, we all washed off the sweat of the day, and changed clothes for a simple short evening, planning to end up back at the room and watch movies in the oversized bed. We were all just tired and hungry enough to walk next door, and come right back.
Sisi put on a cute red dress, and Cactus Dick looked like one happy camper, both proud of his wife and probably a little turned on. I think the sad drama began with an off hand comment I made before dinner about some mutual friends who had broken up in the last year, after about 5 years of trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant. Like Cactus Dick and Sisi, he was twenty-two years her senior, and they’d been together 8 years. In my empathy for their friendship and difficulties, I commented on how hard they had tried to be loyal to each other, even though she wanted a baby, and his vasectomy made it impossible. Eventually she left him for another man.
My ill considered remark at the time was that she needed to choose between her desire to be a mom or his desire to have a nurse, unintentionally inciting an obscure reference to the considerable difference in their respective ages. Although apparently a non-existant issue for anyone in the room as we all basked in the glow of friendship, marital love, and a wonderful day, perhaps Cactus Dick got insecure. I was making a glib remark about something in my past, drawn from a very real situation for my own father and his much younger second wife. The accidental barb, if indeed it was planted, remained invisible, and passed without notice at the time.
We arrived at the restaurant next door about ten minutes too late, and despite the earlier check in, we were informed the kitchen was closed, and only the late night menu of sandwiches and drinks would be served. As a foursome, we took it in stride at first, and adjusted to the reality that we would not have cheap ribs, but instead would have to find another restaurant at this late hour in a town we did not know. As Sisi and I walked across the street to a Taqueria, only to find they would only offer take-out, Cactus headed off to the motel office to complain to the management about his disappointed expectations. By the time he came back, he had managed to talk the owner of the restaurant into keeping the kitchen open, as previously agreed. However, in the gap of time he was gone, the other three of us had discovered a $$ steak house from Yelp with a 50 year old family ownership and a high rating for quality and service.
Now here is where the trouble began. Since Cactus had succeeded in setting up our plans, he did not take kindly to something that began as a joke. We three had agreed that the restaurant next door might well have disgruntled employees who could piss in the food if we kept them working late. While Cactus was fixing the broken plan, we had become enamored of the other place, and when he found out he became surprisingly angry. The moment it all changed is when Sisi repeated our concern about the late night staff by saying we were afraid they would jerk off in the food. This sent Cactus Dick on an angry tirade directed at every person within close range.
“How could you think that people would act like that? How can you exist in the world if you expect people to be that way?” he fumed, with an unexpected intensity. Clearly, he did not see the humor of it. Next thing we know he is saying we should make sure we put that on Yelp, to ruin the reputation of the restaurant. It seemed at the time he was mad at the restaurant, so we took it as further evidence we should go someplace else, not realizing the real problem was he felt unappreciated for his efforts to stand up for our rights to eat at the restaurant, even though we were a few minutes late. When someone called him a few minutes later, wondering why we had not arrived for our late dinner, he explained that his friends were afraid the kitchen staff would cum in the food, and so they could comp him or make it up to him some other way. They could deal with the consequences after he put his comments on the internet, and that was that.
He calmed down fairly soon after we jumped in the car, and set out for the other place before we missed the window on that option as well. As a fairly irascible fellow, he was accustomed to reigning in his temper from time to time for the sake of moving on, so this time he channeled the venom into imagining ways that the four of us could respond to the poor treatment we received at the restaurant. We arrived at the family owned place, and had a dinner about 3 times as expensive as the one we were hoping to have before. Yet, it seemed we had left the anger behind as we toasted the good things about our trip and enjoyed ourselves over a wonderful dinner.
Cactus shared a story about one of his dreams, in which he encountered a threatening mountain lion. When she tried to bite him, he grabbed her snout just like he would grab a kitten, placing his hand on her mouth with a thumb on top. Although she could have bitten him, instead, she waited, and he felt confident she would not bite him. He held her that way for awhile, feeling at peace with the cat until some other people came along and his concentration waned.
The waiter figured out which people were couples, and took it upon himself to write up separate checks. We were the last customers in the restaurant, although it was not late for a Friday night. Neither Cactus nor I could finish our meat, as the dental work of the previous day required care due to sensitive teeth. We put our steak and ribs into the same container, paid our bills, and thanked the owners for such fine food and service.
Back at the room, we hooked up the big screen to my husband’s laptop computer. The boys reviewed our footage of the day and played internet movies while both Sisi and I fell asleep right away while watching the screen from the big bed. I vaguely remember Cactus roused her later, and they were both in their bed together by the time I woke up in the middle of the night. I had energy and inspiration, so I grabbed my iPad and turned on a light by the couch in the corner to write. An hour later, Cactus Dick got up on schedule to fix his 4:00am snack. We nodded to each other in friendly silence as he opened the fridge in our room, and I kept writing away as my husband slept.
In the morning, refreshed, we ate breakfast in the room, Cactus insisting we boycott the breakfast next door as he intended to get a refund or something. Cereal, papaya, coffee and pineapple juice was more than a satisfying substitute. We emptied our stash of groceries, repacked all our bags into the car, and checked out as we headed to the border for one final day of dental work. One quick stop on the way to a grocery store, I picked up a fresh 2 gallon jug of water for the long ride home after Mexico.
Cactus mentioned hoping the dental work would be less pressure on his teeth this time, and no doubt still felt considerable pain. As we drove to the border, he suggested we all put up our Yelp reviews to punish the restaurant next door. The next crucial step in the avoidable crap was made by me when I wondered why he was so angry at me the previous night when we decided not to go there for dinner. It was like I had taken his search light for a culprit who was escaping justice, and focused the beam right on me.
By the time we had parked the car to walk to the Mexican dentist’s office, he had fully fixated on me as the cause of his embarrassment at having to apologize to the restaurant after making it possible for us to dine there. I did not understand at the time that his psychology or our friendship was too fragile to continue the conversation, which to my mind was purposed to clear up misunderstandings. He tried to warn me, tried to threaten me, tried to order me to do what he said, but I was not feeling his pain. My habits of engagement are based on an innocent trust, a belief that friends clear up bad feelings by looking at them with a microscope. I made the mistake of thinking he knew me better than he did, for instead of my needs, he only understood his own.
As he increased his anger and berated me, my defenses sharpened as my sense of curiousity piqued. I could not understand why our joke made him so furious, and could not explain to this irate person that it seemed his anger had started before that. I stood my ground, in hindsight, stupidly. But I am not in the habit of being shouted down when my intention is to gain an insight for truth. Becoming a perfect mirror for his iritated shadow, I insisted he stop thinking he was right, hoping I could convince him to consider my point of view. Not a chance.
As we ratcheted up the volume levels of our conversation in the hot desert parking lot, he really wanted me to just shut up, and began to insist on it or risk losing our friendship. With full sincerity, I insisted that as a friend, I could not let it go, because truth was at the heart of trust. That is when he decided I had gone too far, and he said we could get home on our own. Our friendship was over. I was a cunt with a mean big mouth. He was heading to throw our stuff out of the car. He would not get in a car with that person ever again.
It all happened so fast, I could not believe it. I said “Sisi will not let you do that.” He ran up ahead to her and demanded her key to the car. She refused to give it to him. When she did not follow his orders, he stomped off in a huff, heading away from the Mexican border back toward the Arizona town we had come from.
As the three of us stood and watched in shock, we asked ourselves what we could do. We quickly decided we needed to help our friend to come back, calm down, and proceed with our original plans to go to the dentist and head home after that. I promised everyone I would not say a word, as it seemed anything I said just added fuel to the fire of his anger.
We jumped in the car, leaving the front passenger seat open for him, my husband and I in the back. Sisi drove to the toll booth, we paid our 5 bucks, and drove off in the direction he had walked, not seeing him for half a mile. We got to him and Sisi got out of the car, and went to him and gave him a hug. Apparently she invited him to come back, and he spewed insults for me and orders for her get me out of the car. As I ducked out of sight so as not to further inflame his ire, Sisi yelled at the top of her lungs that the way he was treating me was the way he treated her, and she was not going to put up with it. I wasn’t watching, but it seems he stormed off.
Back in the car, we three continued to develop emergent priorities and plans. We decided there was nothing to be done for Cactus except wait until he calmed himself down. For ourselves, we would proceed with our day, and head back to Mexico for our dental appointments. Wait and see, stay loving, hopeful and helpful. Eye on the prize, a successful reconciliation and everyone getting their original hopes for the trip fulfilled.
We reparked the car and crossed the border. The dentist worked on my teeth. My husband and Sisi found an optometrist and ordered new prescription glasses. They got back in time for Sisi’s appointment with the dentist, and we needed to wait 2 hours to pick up the new prescriptions. My husband and I took a walk for papaya juice, deciding to revisit the place that Cactus shared with us on the first day of our trip. We passed a very brusque Cactus in the streets, clearly ignoring us and heading the opposite direction, toward the dentist. Well good, we thought. He will get his dental work done.
We finished our drinks, and it was time to reconnect with Sisi. We arrived at the dentist to learn that she had walked out after a heated scene between the husband and wife. At that very moment, he was with the dentist, and we did not know where or when to find Sisi. We considered the possibilities, and figured worst case we had our passports and credit cards. We went to check on the prescriptions a little bit early. While we were waiting there, Sisi came in the door.
She was managing the situation as best she could. Between duty to her husband, her skills as a peace negotiator, and her friendship with us, she was trying to create reasonable expectations that would meet everyone’s needs. She filled in that she had walked back to the car to retrieve the collection of prints, and negotiated the sale of Cactus Dick’s art to the dentist in the time since we had last seen her. She could not say what to expect next, but we agreed to hang out at restaurant until 4:30, at which time she would check in with us to see if we all could go home in peace. We assured her we could take care of ourselves, and wanted to support her efforts to create peace with her husband.
We enjoyed the garlic prawns at Cactus Dick’s favorite spot, and lingered over Margarita’s while schmoozing with the Mexican waiters and jewelry vendors inviting us to buy their silver and gems. Sisi returned alone at the appointed time, and ordered some rice and beans to eat. She reported the deal proposed by Cactus was that he drive home with her and my husband, leaving me to fend for myself. It all still struck me as comic while tragic, and I figured it would have to blow over soon. We treated Sisi to lunch, and set off to collect Cactus, agreeing that I would head straight to the car while Sisi and my husband collected him at the Dentist.
It was boiling hot even at 5:00 as I walked back over the border with Sisi’s key to the car. I regretted bringing so much stuff that I could not easily carry it to a bus. Even so, I still believed we would all make up somehow. If I could just get Cactus to laugh, I knew he would remember what fun it was to be friends. But I knew I had no way to influence the situation except keep a low profile. I even considered that I was helping Sisi to cope with her husband’s anger by remaining strong, fair, and compassionate. I never considered that any of us was in danger. I was way out of my league in terms of mental health experiences, and knew nothing of the turmoil of a controlling and paranoid mind.
I raced over the border toward the car as the other two walked to the dentist’s office. When they told Dick the sitch, he got mad and ran off. I happened to spot him before he saw me, and I had about a two block lead as I crossed the border. I got to the car before he spotted me. I beeped the locks open, selected the seat behind the driver so as to be least visible, and held a fleece over my head to blend in with the shadows. I waited, hoping we would all be on our way before another word was spoken.
As the driver door opened, my pulse was fast. Turned out it was Sisi and my husband. Dick once again had started walking up the road away from the border, planning to ditch all of us and hitch a ride from the freeway. Deja vu, we drove out looking for him, Sisi driving, my husband taking the seat next to me so Dick could jump in the front next to Sisi should he decide to join us.
It seemed to me anything I would say would only add fuel to the fire. I promised Sisi and my husband that I would keep my mouth shut, and not say a word, leaving the communications completely in their capable hands.
Enough time had passed for him to cover the distance of road that stretched away from the border station. He was out of sight. We pulled off the road to use the cel phone, and considered our options. When he did not answer, Sisi left him a message. “Where are you? We are parked near the freeway, and we want to pick you up and go home.”
Unclear if we needed to stay or go, we started heading toward the freeway, and came on him at the on-ramp, attempting to catch a ride. Sisi left the car to speak with him, and found his anger unsubsided. She told him to get in the car. He insisted the scum in the back seat needed to leave the car. She insisted we all go home together. He told her she was making him miss a ride. She came back to the car and asked my husband to drive. We headed north and left him on the ramp looking for a ride.
We drove about 40 minutes, discussing the decision to leave Dick to his self imposed drama. We three were feeling quite justified in calling his bluff rather than continuing to chase him in light of his behavior. But considering the ramifications of abandonment that would have to be processed by Sisi when he returned home on his own, we reconsidered stopping somewhere to wait it out and reel him in. Yet, it was such a relief to be out of the crisis, simply driving toward home as we had always planned.
I am passed it all now, and don’t need to go blow by blow into the rest of the drama. But for memory sake, I will make a list of some memorable turns of events.
Cactus started calling on the cel phone, and had gotten the message we previously had left, thinking we were waiting for him. He said his batteries were dying, comically ironic since he had reveled in criticizing us for keeping our cel phones charged all the time, while he observed the policy of discharging them fully before recharging them in order to preserve the battery life. His tone was still crazy, and he cut off the call saying something about police stopping to question him.
We decided to turn around and get him. Our gas was getting low as we retraced the miles back. I took a pee so I would not have to get out of the car anytime after we picked him up. Every time he went near the trunk for the rest of the trip, we made sure he was not tossing our stuff out.
He started borrowing phones from people who gave him rides, and both insisting we return and moving his location to places he could or would not describe. It was emotional manipulation of Sisi, and very skillful. All the while, Sisi developed a mantra she kept repeating everytime she spoke to him. We want to pick you up and all four of us will go home peacibly. Allan pointed out that we had to have Dick’s agreement on this as a condition of going back, a condition of picking him up, and never did Dick agree.
Sisi was driving after many crazy phone calls, including one from a guy who dropped Dick off at a rest stop we passed ten miles earlier as we headed south. Didk continued berating me, insisting Sisi hurry up even as he was on the move, and began calling my husband Dr Hate.
When we caught up with him at the rest stop, he insisted Sisi let him drive, and they slammed doors and acted scary. Next thing you know, he is driving.
Sisi starts processing with him in the car as we sit silently in the back witnessing. She announces among the issues they must resolve in this crisis that she has not had more than 3 orgasms since they have been together, and one was with a guy she had an affair with. Dick cranks up the radio so we cannot hear more of their conversation. He discovered it was fun to punish us for being in his car by cranking the rear speakers to maximum. It was so unconfortable we might have gotten injured except for some gauze I had from the dentist, which we stuffed into our ears. He would not let his wife turn the volume down.
Trip home had three stops and one driveby a greyhound bus station that was closed. Stop one was a neighborhood in a desert wilderness. Sisi and Dick got out of the car ans spoke with their marriage counselor on the phone for an hour. Next stop, food at Denny’s at midnight. We stayed in the car. Dick seemed a bit more calm. As he came out, my husband asked him how long he had been manic depressive. He answered that he did not get depressed.
Last stop was to take a motel room. He was tired and refused to let anyone else drive. First place he tried was closed. He kept driving with the crazy loud music, and seemed to fall asleep at the wheel a few times, but caught himself. Finally he stopped at a place called Kramer Junction in the middle of nowhere. He allowed us to stay in an unlocked car, but insisted on having Sisi’s key. She had given it to my husband, who gave it up.
That is when we finally got out, went to a diner, called a cab, and rode 50 miles back to the nearest town, Barstow, and rented a car to go home.