Short Prose

Paul Espel
Groovin' in Palm Springs

Julia Rubin
You Don't Bring a Dog to the Desert

~ . ~ . ~

Groovin' in Palm Springs
by Paul Espel

          So you're sitting out by the pool in Palm Springs, California, U.S. of A., this never never land of Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope and other hopes and dreams where some came true, in spades, and here you are too, but just visiting. And the sun is dazzling down like always over the golf courses, tennis courts and mandatory swimming pools of this flat, forever landscape where people leave their doors open—even at night—yes they do. 'Cause you feel safe in the palm of some giant hand with the upturned fingers of that hand being the mountains that rim this place—low and sand-brown or high and snow-dusted—and you can vegetate like the sagebrush, the smoke trees and assorted cacti under a soft surrounding sky with vapor trails that seem to come from nowhere and look like white lines down a broad, blue highway. And lazing under this flawless dome, you feel like you're in one of those glass-topped Christmas gizmos that you flip over and it's snowing.
          But of course it never snows, hardly rains this time of year. Maybe a little sandstorm once in a while—but nothing serious—just fresh desert air and that eternal sky here in the condo capital of the western world, where for a couple of hundred bucks you can lease the local links and putt-putt in little pastel electric dune buggies with Cadillac and Mercedes grills down highly irrigated, daily-manicured, designer fairways, showing off your golf lessons. You can even buy your own condo right on the course and hope nobody hooks or slices one into half-deaf Uncle Charlie's dry martini, that's as throwback and innocent as your afternoon barbecue.
          Yes, all is well here in Palm Springs, where the fun never ends and it's just so damn beautiful and everybody's smiling and happy and you're happy too. Why not? It's perfect, that's the word—'perfect,' unless your grinning Mexican gardener doesn't show up or the ice runs out or the sun sets behind the Santa Rosa mountains before you hit the eighteenth green and even then…tomorrow is another day…or the same day all over again. But a good day, a perpetual holiday. And this is the way a world might end, no bangs…no whimpers, you're waiting for something big to happen—but it never does—just a long slow fizzle like a dud firecracker on the Fourth of July.

(Paul Espel is a frequent contributor of poetry and reviews to the magazine.)

~ . ~

You Don't Bring a Dog to the Desert
by Julia Rubin

          "You don't bring a dog to the desert." That's how Lizard used to start the story of how he got his nickname. Everyone calls him Lizard. In fact, I'm one of the few people on Broadway, stagehand or other, who knows his name is Rick Zimmer.
          The whole thing started when Artie Sullivan hired him as the carpenter on an industrial for a new soft drink called Cactus Cooler. The company's publicity department came up with the idea for a full-scale production staged in the desert; scenery, special effects, dancing girls. The CEO loved it, so no one stopped to consider the effects of blowing sand and hundred-degree temperatures on machinery and electronics, not to mention on the set-up crew. That's what the Technical Supervisor is for, right? They hired Sullivan for the job, leased a site outside of Phoenix, and went back to their offices.
          The first call Sullivan made was to Zimmer. Sulli had given Zim his last several jobs, including head carpenter of the show he was working on at the time, so he was obliged to at least listen. And after working on the same show for nine months, anything new sounded interesting.
          They met for a drink to discuss it, and after four scotches, building a stage in the desert sounded like a good idea, better than moving the same pieces of scenery around another fifty times, so Zimmer signed on as head carpenter for the Cactus Cooler Extravaganza.
          At the end of May, he and his assistant flew out to Arizona and proceeded to pull rabbits out of their hats. There were more than a few problems with the pieces the shop sent, and quick fixes are tough in the desert. You can't send a guy out to a hardware store two blocks away to pick up some bolts or new drill bits; you can't borrow a pipe threader from the theatre next door. Zimmer started checking the weather back in New York. The worse it was, the better he felt out there.
          In mid-June, the CEO arranged for a site visit. He showed up in the middle of the afternoon, accompanied by a tall blonde wearing tight shorts and holding a wriggling chihuahua the size of a Manhattan rat.
          She set the dog down on the sand, which of course was blazing hot. He yelped and ran for the closest patch of shade, which was next to a workbox. He was almost there when a lizard stuck his head out from under the box, opened his mouth, chomped down on the dog, and dragged it out of sight. The blonde screamed for the dog, the CEO screamed for the diamond dog collar, and everyone on the crew came running.
          One of the guys rolled the box away. The dog was gone and the lizard's belly was large. The CEO told Sullivan to get someone to kill the lizard, but Zimmer jumped in and told him that no one was killing the lizard, at which point Sullivan was forced to introduce his head carpenter. Zimmer went on, telling him that the lizard was sacred to Native Americans, who happened to make up most of his crew; that if it was killed they would not stay on a site that was haunted by a lizard spirit, and that he didn't much like the idea himself. He suggested instead that they take it far out into the desert where it wouldn't eat any more dogs. Without waiting for an answer, he pulled his jeep around, put the lizard in, and took off.
          That night Sullivan caught up with Zimmer at the hotel bar. He'd managed to calm down the CEO and the blonde, but he wasn't too happy. The only reason Zimmer still had his job was that he was too good to fire. Zimmer begged to be cut loose but Sulli ignored him, and instead asked how he knew about lizards being sacred. Zimmer told him they weren't. In fact, some of the guys had said they taste like chicken. But he was damned if he was going to see one killed it just because it ate a rat dog.
          Well, the story got back to Broadway before Zimmer did, and everyone who heard it started calling him Lizard. The guys on his show even had a jacket made up for him with 'Lizard' in place of his name. He had as much fun with it as everyone else until he started dating a woman who had a chihuahua. In spite of that he really liked her; in fact, things got serious pretty fast. He wouldn't tell her the lizard story but someone else did and she dumped him. That was ten years ago and I'm not sure he's over her yet. The name stuck, but he refuses to tell the story. It's a shame, 'cause he told it really well.

(Originally from Washington D.C., Julia Rubin took a B.A. in Islamic and Hebraic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, then moved to New York to pursue a career in theatrical lighting, and now works as a stagehand on Broadway. Her stories have appeared in Nexus and Nuthouse. This is her first contribution to the magazine.)

~ . ~ . ~