It is really hot today, almost unbearably hot. One of my friends wants to take a traipse. Maybe it is the sound of Bono in the background, but I am reminded of a terrible trek, long ago, to the badlands of California.
My brother had moved to Redondo Beach. I am escaping the frigid Boston winter. For the first time I am visiting California.
Left by my lonesome one afternoon, I stroll the strand, checking out the scenery. Waves on the water. Homes on the hills. Men in the motion. Southern California, it’s just what you imagine. Like something from a Gidget movie or maybe a Beach Boys song.
Anyway, I happen upon a juggler. A Jewish juggler. He accepts the (hopeless) challenge to teach me his trade. The time passes. Apparently, lots of it. With the ocean breeze, I don’t feel the heat, but I get a sunburn. A very bad sunburn. Red, red, red.
That night I feel really sick. Shivering sick. Fainting sick. Vomiting sick.
The next morning, my brother wants to go see the Joshua Tree. Though my body is stiff like a 2 x 4, I am positively thrilled. I had not seen U2 since they played my college the junior year. And the new Joshua Tree album? All the rage.
We get in the car and start the drive. After awhile, I am getting more and more confused because the scenery is getting more and more rural. I had expected we would be heading to Los Angeles. To some sports arena or other large venue.
My brother clarifies. We are not going to see the stuff that is on the Joshua Tree CD itself; that is, the band, the music. No, we are going to see the stuff that is on the Joshua Tree CD cover; literally, the yucca trees, the creosote bushes. Alas, this would be no concert in the park. We were going to take a hike in the desert.
Suddenly, I am feeling less than gung-ho. This type of outing is not for me. Especially not the sun poisoned me.
Actually, I had never been to the desert. But I had seen the desert on the westerns my father had liked to watch. I knew it was hot and dry and barren. It was where people suffered and died of thirst or snakebite or quicksand. They wouldn’t call it the Death Valley for nothing.
Of course, I had never been on a real hike either. I was accustomed to leisurely walks along Newbury Street and the Back Bay where we would stop every block to visit a Coffee Connection or a trendy boutique or a pristine bathroom.
Sure, I had been to summer camp, but the focus was more on music, theatre, arts & crafts, that sort of thing. It was more of an indoors kind of camp.
We did take a “hike” once. About ten yards into the “woods” where we toasted marshmallows over a “campfire” built from charcoal briquettes and lighter fluid.
Now, one thing you should know about my brother is that he does not have the normal human needs. He is never hot. He is never cold. He is never hungry. He is never thirsty. He never has to urinate.
Perhaps his camel-like capacities are due to some recessive trait left over from the biblical time when our people wandered the desert for forty years. In any event, it is very convenient for him, but not so much for those of us burdened by the usual bodily demands.
So when we get to the Joshua Tree national monument, it happens my brother has brought no water, no body block, no sunglasses, no hats, no nothing.
In truth, I did not yet know that we would need these things. Remember, I did not yet know what it means to be in the desert, I did not yet know what it means to be on a hike. I did not yet know what misery lay in store.
My brother walked ahead and I shuffled behind like some prisoner on a chain gang. I hung my head in futile attempt to shade my face and diminish the glare. I cursed my tight jeans as the seams branded lines on my scorched skin. I waded through the heavy air with dehydrated muscles more rigid by the moment.
I wish I could recollect more but I was absolutely delirious. Desperately I wanted for it to stop but the end was never in sight. I wondered if this was the way the concentration camp prisoners felt during those death marches from the second world war. I would have cried but my eyes had no moisture to spare.
Finally, after what seemed like days, we reached the ranger station. Thankfully, the soda machine was no mirage. I was never before or since so happy to see a refrigerated appliance. I drank a full can of Coca-Cola in seconds, carbonation and calories no concern. It felt like more than a refreshment. It felt like a resuscitation.
Time to call my friend. Think I’ll pass on that slog in the sun. Feel more like a slouch in the shade. I’ll spring for the iced tea. Iced!
© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.