Gila Monster

     Many moons ago when I lived on the rez I’d drive my motorcycle the 120-mile round trip from Sells to Tucson every couple of weeks to pick up supplies.
     Food, mostly. And a case of beer, which was illegal on the rez.
     I bought beer in Tucson because I was a high school teacher and couldn’t be seen lining up outside the bootleggers’ houses, cash in hand. People would talk.
     One day as I cruised home, heavily laden, I saw a Gila monster crawling across the road.

     He was the most gorgeous thing.
     Black, mostly, but speckled with every color on his back: pink, yellow, green, red, turquoise blue. The colors effused in little bumps on his skin, like pixels, though back then no one, including me, knew what a pixel was.
     I swerved to miss him, then turned my bike around and stood over him and watched him cross the road.
     Highway 86 is a long two-lane highway, 130-mile straight shot from Tucson to Ajo. People drive really fast on it, and die, and kill other people and animals.
     No one was coming in either direction.
     I stood on my bike and watched the Gila monster waddle across Route 86.
     He didn’t have an enemy in the world, that he knew of.
     He paid no attention to my enormous, rumbling motorcycle, stinking with gas fumes.
     He didn’t know there was anything in the world that could hurt him.
     What a life.
     OK, maybe not the most exciting life in the world, but what a state of mind. Absolute security.
     The Gila monster eats only five to ten times a year.
     The Gila monster digs up other animals’ eggs and eats them, or lays in wait, and if you mess with him and he bites you, good luck to you – he won’t let you go even after you cut his head off, and his poison will keep dripping into you from his grooved teeth.
     What a guy.
     We humans today have no one in our species as noble as that Gila monster.
     Human beings sway with the wind.
     Is there anyone among us who fears no one?
     Is there anyone among us who knows that no one else can truly do us harm?
     This is the stuff the ancient Greeks and Romans lived and died by – that as long as you were virtuous, even death could not hurt you.
     Do we believe this anymore?
     We do not.
     We quibble about money.
     We whine about taxes while driving 70 mph on federal highways on $3 a gallon gasoline and chatting on our cell phones.
     We claim that it’s a horrible thing that poor people get health insurance – health insurance! – even though they are poor.
     We file class action lawsuits claiming that prestigious universities discriminate against white people.
     We whine and whine, while we drink wine imported from Italy, from France, from Australia and Chile, for $6 a bottle.
     While somewhere in the desert, a Gila monster waits for a month, for two months, for an egg to eat.

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