19 Oct 2010, 10:10pm
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  • True Tale Of A Tortoise (NSFW)

    The following is a true story. I first posted it in a discussion on the USENET group alt.callahans; about six or seven years later it appeared under my name (WarrenS) at Daily Kos. Now I’m finally bringing it home, as it were.

    It was in the mid-70s, and I was young and foolish, in the middle of what turned out to be a two-year gap between high school and college. I’d moved out of my mother’s house, and set up an apartment with two other friends whom I’ll call Simon and John. This joint was in a run-down section of Somerville, Massachusetts, and the three of us devoted as little time as possible to mundane activities like making the absurdly low rent, and as much time as possible to music-making and freelance botanical research, if you get my drift.

    It was, after all, the 70s, and we were all a little too late for the 60s — so we put in quite a bit of time playing catch-up. The locality was very tough indeed. One day I accepted a ride home from a guy I met in Harvard Square, who wanted to tell me about his ‘philosophy.’ Turned out he was a Satanist — and as we peaked the hill and drove down to my street, I saw my entire neighborhood enveloped in dense, choking black smoke…turned out the *tire warehouse* next door had caught fire. *That* was interesting — sitting at home with an Alistair Crowley follower while inhaling sulfur and brimstone.

    But I digress. Simon was a pet person, and had a couple of cats whom I recall only dimly. But it was the other pet which lingers yet in my memory.

    Twinkletoes was a South American redfoot tortoise, and he was in his forties. He’d originally been purchased by Simon’s father when he was a boy (the father, that is, not Simon or the tortoise). I vaguely recall Simon telling me that it was a circus purchase…one of those things where you buy a tortoise in a box at the big top, and you take it home and then it dies.

    But Twinkletoes didn’t die. Nay, he flourished, and by the time Simon hitchhiked up to Somerville from his ancestral home in Westchester County with Twinkletoes in a paper bag, he (the tortoise, that is, not Simon) had a shell almost a foot long. That’s a sizeable tortoise, and when ‘Toes’ stuck his neck out and extended his tail, you had around fifteen inches or more of South American Redfoot moving around the apartment.

    Moving fairly slowly by our standards, but we were informed by Simon that his boyhood companion was quite the speed demon as tortoises went — hence the name ‘Twinkletoes.’ Toes had no depth perception, which meant that his mode of navigation was to walk straight forward until his nose made contact with a surface, at which point he would turn right or left, a choice apparently made at random. We derived some interest from speculating about his directional-choice mechanisms, but as with most hippie ruminations, these dispersed as rapidly as the smoke that had catalyzed them.


    Toes also had a very simple alimentary system. Open and shut; when he eats, he shits. Put lettuce under the front of the tortoise, newspaper under the back, and you’ve taken care of your Toes for the day. A low maintenance pet, overall.

    But…there was one thing which made Twinkletoes distinctive indeed.

    How many of you have at one point or another had one of those little yappy dogs start a passionate love affair with your lower leg, while its owner looks embarrassed?”

    Well, if you’re a male South American Redfoot Tortoise, and you’re in your forties, and you’ve *never* seen another member of your own species since your infancy — much less a *female* of your own species…it’s a fair bet that you’ll have some mighty odd notions about appropriate mates and courtship behavior.

    At least, we found them odd.

    You’d be sitting in your chair, minding your own business and reading a book, when suddenly you’d feel…a firm but not excessive pressure on your foot. And you’d look down, and there would be Twinkletoes — coming on like gangbusters, hoping to make time with your Thom McAns.

    It was a ‘hippie pad’ and we were three fabulous furry freak friends, and our beds were mattresses on the floor…which meant that some mornings I’d wake up to see Twinkletoes in a full court press with my dirty sneaks. It was better than coffee; always put me in a good mood.

    Sometimes we’d try to discourage him when he was doing the ‘foot thing’ — merely raising one’s leg a bit would roll him onto his back, and he’d take a few minutes to right himself, and then wander away, having had his amorous propensities squelched by our pedal indifference.

    It wasn’t just shoes, of course. Any object which was roughly tortoise-height was fair game. A brick which we used as a door stop became a lithic love doll; we rapidly learned that it was a poor idea to leave books on the floor, lest they have their pages turned in Twinkletoes’ glacially paced courting and sporting.

    It was mid-July, and a pleasant weekday. Unemployed, I sat at home playing random patterns on my electric bass guitar. I was, in point of fact, seated cross-legged on the living room floor, my bass on my thigh, my mind on a high, and this is no lie — the doorbell rang.

    I put down my bass, and walked out of the living room and down the twenty-foot hallway to my front door. I was expecting no one.

    I could see her through the window. A young woman, my age or a little older, smiling, counterculturish, unfamiliar, attractive. I opened the door with alacrity.

    “Hi,” she said. “I’m Jane, and I’ve just moved in upstairs!” It was a sunny day, and we lingered on my front steps chatting for a while about nothing in particular. I remembered my hostly obligations and invited her in for a cup of coffee.

    She accepted, and after I shut the door behind her, she followed me down the long and rather dark hallway, which opened onto the spacious living room of our disreputable digs.

    And there the two of us beheld a scene of utter depravity.

    My electric bass guitar lay on the floor where I’d left it. Bestriding the narrow bridge like a colossus was Twinkletoes, and let me begin by saying that there was no conceivable alternative interpretation for his position and behavior.

    You could not say, for example, that he was just trying to get to the other side, or that he was in pursuit of an elusive bit of lettuce that was hiding among the tuning mechanisms.

    No…Twinkletoes had his rear legs splayed out, and his front legs lifting his body up in the air. His little bald head was arched ceilingward, and his eyes were shut; his little mouth in an unmistakable grimace of concentration and ecstasy. His tortoidal pelvis was up against the bridge of my bass, and he was thrusting back and forth. Vigorously and enthusiastically.

    Jane and I stared in amazement. We heard him emitting high-pitched squunts and greals — ‘uuuurghh! oooogh! uuurghh! oooogh!’ His pelvic thrusting accelerated. This was no mere book, brick or sneaker…no, this was the real thing at last.”

    As the host, I recovered first. ‘Twinkletoes,’ I, er, ejaculated, ‘you should be ashamed of yourself!’ I really *did* say that; I’ve always wondered why. I strode forward and grabbed him by both sides of the shell, and turned to face Jane, who was goggling.

    And at that point, forty-some-odd years of enforced hermitage caught up with ol’ Toes. He no longer knew or cared that he’d been separated from his new flame; he was so far over the edge he couldn’t even remember there had once been an edge.

    It’s a good thing Jane was eight or nine feet away. As it was the spurts landed on the floor midway between us, mute inglorious teste-ment to the power of Twinkletoesian hydraulics. By the time I realized what had happened, it was too late. A shiny puddle spread over the floor, and I was holding a limp, twitching South American redfoot tortoise in my hands.

    “I’m terribly sorry,” I said. “He’s not usually like this.”

    To do her credit, Jane seemed unperturbed. “That’s really amazing,” she said. “I had no idea turtles could come!” I got a sponge and cleaned up the spooge, and we finally had our cup of coffee…but it was, I’m afraid, something of an anticlimax. Well, a postclimax, actually. She never came back for another cup, alas. I don’t know why.

    And there ends my tale, dear friends. I have told it just as it happened, and I ask your indulgence for any ornaments and embellishments, for they only highlight the beautiful truth of the day’s events.

    I will just add that it was fortunate for Toes that I pulled him away when I did. My bass was plugged in, and it’s possible that he could have completed a circuit and ended his time on the planet with a bang, as it were. Simon would have been mighty sad about that, even if he knew that Toes went out with a smile on his face. But in the event, I forestalled the tragedy, and Twinkletoes was eventually smuggled *into* the tortoise tank at a well-run zoo, where he was last seen cutting a wide swath through the ranks of lady tortoises.

    But I’m sure that somewhere in his little brain the memory of my old Fender quivering and moaning beneath him lingered on, appealing, no doubt, to his, er, bassest instincts.

    wonderful read.


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