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Escorpion Especial and a Side of Chocolate, Por Favor
by Brian Kimberling

My mother reminds me in every letter that I am not insured. She implores me to subscribe to the Mexican government program, for foreigners and nationals alike, that covers every contingency for just over $200 a year. She points out that I live a stone's throw from a jungle rife with malaria in one direction, and spitting distance from a rattlesnake-infested desert in the other. She notes that bandits and pistoleros have been crisscrossing the country since the Spanish arrived, and she is particularly concerned about a sign she saw on a beach in a television documentary: "Beware Prowling Tarantulas." She is firmly convinced that I am tempting fate: tickling the dragon's tail, as she put it, and sure to get what's coming to me.
     I of course came here for adventure - came with visions of human sacrifice at the temples of the south, of sun-bleached skulls among the cacti of the northern wastelands. I yearned to meet the Zapatistas grimly awaiting revolution in their forest stronghold, to encounter the Columbian smugglers awaiting the arrival of their next shipment, by plane, among the mountains of the Sierra Madre del Sur. And I wanted especially to see a live scorpion. I did not, however, expect to find it in the center of my own living room.
     Scorpions are everywhere in Mexico (including, it turns out, my kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom) and they range in size from about the length of a cigarette filter to that of a very manly cigar. In some places, birds hunt for scorpions, and in others, the scorpions hunt birds . They come in black, white, green, brown, and in combinations of these colors. (Some of them, in fact, are said to be exquisite). They come out only at night, and they fall: from thatched roofs and clotheslines, cracked skylights and banana trees, anything overhead. You choose your steps cautiously from bed to bathroom, and plop! there is one on your shoulder. You plod barefoot from the beach to your home, and plop! one appears in the sand, awaiting your next footfall.
     When they are not busy falling, they march. In a perfect 4:4 time (remember that arachnids have eight legs) and always in a precisely straight line, they march, death held aloft and swinging slightly left and right with each step. They are like tiny tanks rolling inexorably over your kitchen floor, turrets swiveling this way and that in search of movement. They have no discernible head. There is only death, swaying lightly above, and legs, marching steady below.
     The locals have numerous precautions, procedures, remedies, and superstitions. The most intriguing of these is chocolate, considered in these parts the sole known antidote for some varieties of scorpion sting. If you are attacked, you are supposed to 1) kill the thing, 2) eat chocolate, and 3) don't sleep. If you sleep you may fall into a coma. While you are awake your skin will burn and you will develop a fever, but you can reduce these symptoms by consuming heaps of chocolate. And I do mean heaps. You may prolong your life enough to get to a doctor.
     Throughout Mexico there are scorpion brand names and band names and plastic scorpion dolls to hang below the fuzzy dice in your car. There are scorpion mudflaps for trucks and scorpion baseball caps for truckers, and the hot fashions this season are available downtown at a store called "Escorpion." It is said that in some regions of the country they are eaten to enhance virility. (This is entirely credible; delicacies here in the state of Oaxaca, for example, include grasshoppers and iguana meat). One scorpion, ingested raw without hesitation, is worth any number of steroids or Viagras or other such masculinity-making confections available in the States. There is in general a kind of reverent affection for this mysterious semi-mythical beast with the touch of death at the tip of its tail .
     But I for one have never seen another creature so revolting. It has a hairy underbelly and long, independent insect legs. It has a nasty disposition when captured, losing its military confidence and thrashing its pincers, legs, and tail about with apoplectic violence. It almost appears to be screaming at you - although of course that is impossible for a headless being. Worst of all, its entire body is segmented, and moves in sequence but not in one motion: a living length of chain flicking death furiously to and fro, a machine assembled from spare parts at a body shop in hell.
     What happened was this: in the floor of my living room there is a large cistern containing what the landlady refers to as "emergency water." (Some things in Mexico still make me nervous, and the gallons I keep for "emergencies" certainly qualify. Should I expect plague and pestilence? Invasion? What?) The lid had been off for several days after I moved in, lying upside down on the floor. While cleaning early one Sunday night, I lifted and replaced it over the cistern opening. When I looked down at the floor again, I saw, inches from where I had curled my fingers under the edge of the lid, a black scorpion. It was curled up tail over body so that at first I mistook it for a large spider.
     I further mistook it for dead when repeated stamping on the floor nearby brought no reaction. ("Stomp through tall grasses to frighten scorpions," says my guidebook). I made for the broom and the dustpan, but had a fortunate second thought. I cut the top off a plastic liter bottle and used the bottom half to scoop the scorpion up. The proper course of action, I learned later, is to get your boots on and squish the thing, pronto.
     Inside the bottle the scorpion became inspired, an envenomed whip with legs. Turn, attack, turn, attack. I could see between lashes that he came to about five inches unfurled. At the end of his tail stood a blood-red pod about the size and shape of a pearl, except for a tiny needle at the top. The locals insist that this needle always finds the vein. In this case he simply stung my bottle to death repeatedly. He could not, I observed with relief, climb its smooth plastic sides. But it was plain that if his assailant would stop being such a bottle-wielding coward and face him Man-to-Scorpion, he knew exactly what to do.
     I doused him with so much Raid he probably drowned before the toxins set in.
     Afterward I did not sleep. I turned on all the lights in the house, checked for monsters under the bed, prayed to Quetzalcoatl to keep his soon-to-be long-term faithful servant foremost in mind when delegating patrols to perilous creepy-crawlies each night. (This prayer has since gone flagrantly unheeded). In the morning, however, I learned that my fears were somewhat exaggerated. Lethal scorpions prefer the desert, where they can keep company with tarantulas and Gila monsters and rattlesnakes. Scorpions in this area and at this altitude, said the neighbors, are "usually not dangerous," and their sting causes "only a day or two of fever." (And then there is always chocolate). "Snip the tip of the tail off," said one fellow with a smile, "and you can let them run up and down your arm, across your chest, whatever!"
     I'll get insured before I try that.

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