You know, it’s not easy being a cactus. I know what you’re thinking: what the fruit, Spike? You get to work on a beach-ready suntan every day of your life all while having the anatomy to hold water like an alcoholic holds his liquor, and you’re complaining about it? Yeah, well, it’s not as glamorous as it seems. I have a job at the St. Francis Nature Center where people can come experience exact replicas of environments they’d never actually go. So, every day I see countless people with their fanny packs and cameras at the ready exploring a huge room with the heat cranked up to the hundreds and the floor coated with three feet of sand just to see what it feels like to wander a desert without the dread of actually being stranded.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I seem to have inherited a strange extroversion gene, if that exists. Most other cact-guys I know love their solitude, counting their thorns as a blessing. For me, though, they’re a curse. See, my sole desire, my one wish in this world, is to have a hug. It’s rare to see in a place so hot, but once in a while I’ll spy a little boy wrap those gloriously smooth arms around his mother in a tight embrace that says you are loved. Occasionally, I’ll see a couple with their enviously un-spined arms around each other in an act that screams you are wanted. Why can’t I get some of that? Just because I have the rare misfortune of being the porcupine of the plant world I have to suffer alone, untouched and unloved by anyone? This is discrimination, I tell you!
Yet, my sorrows will go on. One time, one of the workers put a sign by me that said “Free hugs.” I was ready to tip the man, if I had money. I thought, finally, now I’ll get my wish; but the next day people just laughed at me. The sign remained, and I’ve grown used to the fingers pointed in comedy. Like those people over there. They’ve been laughing for at least five minutes, doubled over in hysteria at my expense. I bet this is how zoo animals feel. That lady over there, though, she needs a lesson in common sense. Come on, who brings ice cream to a desert? It’s already half-melted and she hasn’t even been in here five minutes. And what’s with this new trend of clothes that barely cover anything? Might as well just go naked; it won’t reveal much more than those shorts do, honey. People watching has become my occupational hazard, but I digress.
A loud gasp cuts through my thoughts, though, and I can see a little girl staring at me. Her arms are outstretched as she runs towards me. Finally, someone who isn’t scared! Yes, yes, hugs! Wait, where are you going? Aaaaanndd she’s chasing a tumbleweed. Figures. If I could sigh, believe me, I’d be ruthlessly expelling breath in an exasperated manner on her behalf. I can’t stay mad, though. If the roles were reversed I probably wouldn’t hug me either.
Days pass very quickly here, and soon I’m freezing again. I’m pretty sure they just put a negative sign in front of the daytime temperature as soon as the fake moon comes up. It’s beautiful, though. The soft glow of the image can take away the worst of my problems. Maybe I’m just not meant to be hugged, and maybe I can learn to live with that. I’ll just sleep in the daytime, become nocturnal so I’m not tempted by people. They can’t tell if I’m sleeping on the job, anyway, so they won’t care. I’ll give it one more day.
They’ve just announced closing time in a few minutes, and still no warm embrace. Did that kid just eat a bug? I’ll miss people watching when I’m nocturnal. I hear the door open one last time to a familiar family. Wait, that’s tumbleweed girl! What is she wearing, though? She looks like a sumo wrestler. She’s walking up to me, but I’m not getting my hopes up this time. She’s stopping, now, though.
“I saw your sign yesterday,” she says. What? I think my water’s boiling, I’m so excited. She shoots me a big smile, and – yes! – wraps her padded little arms around my body. Oh, yes, this is what it feels like to be loved and wanted! Maybe being a cactus isn’t so bad, after all.