Frolicking Among the Lotus Eaters

After 1, 770 miles, we have arrived at the Quartzite, Arizona, secret initiation ceremony for new Casita Brothers and Sisters into the Casita Union of Lifelong Transients, or CULT for short. We are in the middle of the desert with some hundred and fifty or so other Believers, most of whom have already endured the stringent initiation rites, though some of whom, such as myself, apprehensively await The Trials to come. As you will remember, at last year’s ceremony in Alabama, Val leaped into the abyss, endured The Trials, and joined CULT, while I feared to take the plunge and remained an observer from afar. But this year I am committed, though with considerable anxiety. The first night of the period known as The Trials begins with each of the hopeful novitiates coming before the Senior Elder who addresses the applicant with the prompts from the secret Casita Catechism. Each applicant must give each of the ancient responses, and the slightest memory lapse results in failure of the first Trial. Nevertheless, it can be revealed that the first night also involves branding of the Casita secret symbol on the bottom of the initiate’s left foot, a symbol whose occult meaning dates back centuries to the time when Casitas were pulled by horses and oxen.

The second night of The Trials, as I observed from a safe distance last year, involves prospective initiates dancing naked around an enormous bonfire. Hopeful initiates are judged primarily on their display of ecstasy and their ability to dance without limping after the branding of the night before. Those judged insufficiently rapturous or mobile are culled by a vigorous slap on the rump by one of the Elders, who, with stern countenance, points a disapproving finger into the darkness immediately beyond the fire’s outer ring, a ring that marks the outer boundary of the Circle of Joy. Dancing continues for half an hour, involving hundreds of circuits around the bonfire, with arms flowing, ecstatic cries, and tremulous wails of orgiastic and even orgasmic utterance issuing from the glowing, fire-lit faces of the hopeful initiates. Obviously, some degree of fitness is advantageous, and those unable to sustain these exertions fall or slump to the desert floor, their limp and spent bodies dragged by others beyond the Circle of Joy. One of the Elders, a concerned, older man, is especially attentive to the younger dancers, particularly the females, gallantly darting in at critical moments if any seem about to fall, lifting and supporting their glistening, bare bodies, whispering what are no doubt words of encouragement. He is so assiduous in this role that one can only infer that it has been assigned to him by the Senior Elder herself. At the end of the half hour, the senior Elder blows on a gigantic ram’s horn to signify the end of the evening’s festivities. The Hopefuls are wrapped in gorgeous Casita blankets—emblazoned with the secret symbol—and disperse to their respective campsites.

Of course the climax of all the festivities occurs on the third and final night of The Trials, in which one of the Hopeful initiates is selected for ritual sacrifice. Historically, this has tended to dissuade some owners from seeking membership, thus opting to forgo the many benefits, such as learning the secret handshake and participating as an Elder in future initiations. The process of selection of the Honoree (the term “victim” is forbidden) is, of course, secret, partially for legal reasons, as the legal team is still exploring the outer boundaries of Congress’s recent pronouncements on the concept of religious freedom. Some among the legal team have suggested that the organization’s acronym might invite prejudice in this regard, but consensus remains elusive. In any event the grand announcement of the name of the Honoree is typically met with some relief and general applause. Naturally the choice is inconvenient for the person chosen, and usually results in some annoyance to the spouse, significant other, or next of kin of the Honoree. But that annoyance is substantially ameliorated by the awarding of a brand new Casita to said survivor, as well as the prospect of finding a new mate among the survivors of previous Honorees.

The final and most august stage of The Trials begins with the lighting of the final ceremonial bonfire, and each initiate, wearing a purple, ornate Casita robe, again comes before the Senior Elder and recites the Casita Oath and Law with appropriate and edifying gravity. Obviously I cannot reveal publicly any of the language of this venerated document upon pain of various unmentionable torturous punishments, which themselves cannot be specified to the general public upon pain of those very same punishments. Forgetting a single word leads to expulsion and possible confiscation of the initiate’s Casita, depending on the gravity of the memory lapse. Successful initiates, now first year novitiates, receive from the Elder the Casita necklace, which they are adjured never to remove.

These are the tests that lie before me. I have committed the Catechism, Oath, and Law to memory and steeled myself to the upcoming travails. Val assures me that, with a proper attitude, and presuming I am not the Honoree, I can actually enjoy them by submitting to their rigors with joy and exaltation. I’ll try to keep you informed if I get in.

Note: A few minor liberties were taken with the facts for this report.

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Down in the Dumps-ter

It was the first evening of John and Val’s Marvelous Adventure, which we were spending at the Governor Jim Hogg City Park, a pleasant little place in Quitman, Texas after a drive of about 425 miles from Hattiesburg. We had eaten take-out from a close-by Mexican restaurant so as not to leave our two poor canines in our camper too long without the protective comfort of their parents, not to mention adult supervision. The evening was quite cool, and I had gotten my prized Texas map out of the car and was taking a small bag of trash out to a nearby dumpster. The dumpster was about five feet tall with a four inch ledge on each side and was empty except for some recently cut shrubbery. I apparently had one of those increasingly common senior moments and threw the map in with the trash. This map had sentimental value; after all, I had actually talked to the AAA lady; we had bonded; we were tight. It arrived, along with three others, in the proverbial nick of time, the day before our departure.

Reaching in, even standing on the ledge to do so, would not work. Still over a foot out of reach. Apparently senior moments—this was a new discovery for me—are sequential and closely timed, so I stood on the ledge, threw my right leg over the top, found the floor, and noticed that my left leg was vigorously protesting this foolishness by catching itself on the edge, threatening to drop the shoe on the outside. Finally the foot bowed to the apparent inevitable and came on inside with the rest of me. I put my recovered treasure in my back pocket, and finally started to consider the challenge of getting out. This, or at least so I deceive myself, would have been no problem to that 30 year old me, even without an accommodating ledge on the inside. I put my hands on the edge and pushed up. My feet came off the floor, but the prospect of trying to put one of them on the edge seemed to be an open invitation to tumbling over for a five foot fall with no assurance of what would hit first—all this on the first day of the trip, which seemed unnecessarily early for a hospital visit.

I stared forlornly at our little camper, all lit up and warm inside, a mere thirty yards away. I had been already gone for a good fifteen minutes, but did my lovely wife choose to inquire why a thirty yard trip to the dumpster was taking so long? As a matter of fact, no. Had I been sufficiently provident to take my phone with me? Again, no. Yelling seemed a bit unseemly, and I began to wonder what a night in a dumpster might be like. My arthritis-riddled shoulders were complaining about the push-ups, but there seemed no alternative. Still, going over the edge with one big heave seemed to promise unpleasant consequences. I tried hoisting myself on the plastic flap on the other half of the dumpster, but it was designed for thinner people finding themselves in this situation. I began to regret those days in tenth grade geometry that I had characteristically spent preoccupied with thoughts of the fair sex, motorcycles, track and field, and other distracting amusements. But at long last, a possible solution presented itself. I pushed some of the almost non-existent trash into a corner, thinking that a corner, with one hand on each side, would be more stable than a one-dimension side. I stood on the meager pile, gave a gentler push into a straight arm position with my feet above my improvised platform, managed to lift my right leg up, and—the details are a little sketchy here—ended up on the outside feet first.

Damned map. Google maps are better anyway. If I can find another dumpster, that baby is history.