St. John USVI Stories: The Sucker
from Tales of St. John and the Caribbean
On St. John, everyone seems to know one another – if not directly, at least peripherally. This is a mixed blessing. It offers a network of community support and a warm feeling of belonging, but you give up anonymity and a certain degree of privacy. So if you screw up, everyone knows about it.
One day, two individuals, both well known on St. John, wanted to smoke an herb that, although not particularly dangerous or addictive, is illegal. For this reason, the two island residents decided to conduct the forbidden activity where they wouldn’t readily be seen.
As the two friends happened to be in Cruz Bay at the time, they walked up one of the National Park trails that begins in the vicinity of town. About five minutes up the trail, they came upon what appeared to be an ideal location. A large flat rock in the shade of a mampo tree lay partly hidden just off the main trail and would provide a comfortable and private place to sit down and have an illegal smoke.
The first man sat down and immediately jumped up. The rock was already occupied by a small cactus commonly called a sucker. The barbed spines went through his pants and became lodged in his buttocks. The man cried out in pain and surprise and followed it up with a colorful string of profanities.
Sucker spines are difficult to remove once they pierce the skin. This is due to the barbed point and the segmented construction of the spine, which causes it to break off when a person tries to pull it out. A chemical irritant on the spine causes puncture wounds to be painful, and if the spine is allowed to remain imbedded in the skin, it can be annoying at least and cause an infection at worst. The spines usually work themselves out, but the best thing is to remove them, which is just what the man tried to do.
This job was obviously difficult. He couldn’t see what he was doing, nor could he get a good grip on pulling the things out.
He needed help and this task fell to his friend.
He pulled down his pants and leaned against the trunk of the tree. His buddy then put on his glasses, and with the intense concentration of a surgeon, struggled to remove the imbedded spines.
The two men were suddenly aware of another presence. They looked up to see a thoroughly shocked National Park Ranger standing on the trail staring at them. To make matters worse, it was one of the rangers whom they recognized as having been around St. John for a long time.
The man with the sucker spines in his behind got the picture right away. A locally famous ladies’ man, his immediate thought was that this story would not tell well around St. John. But although he was usually cool-headed and a smooth talker, he could not pull up his pants quickly enough and he began to stumble over his words.
With his pants halfway pulled up, he shouted to the ranger, “Officer, I know what you’re thinking, but I can explain – it’s not what it looks like! You see, I sat on a cactus and....”
He didn’t get a chance to finish. The ranger backed up and mumbled something to himself.
“Officer, I can explain, please listen!” But it was to no
avail. The ranger didn’t say another word. He just hurriedly continued
down the trail, never looking back.