Straw Man

Alas, this summer might not suck.

As we slouch into the dog days of summer, we're beset on all sides by problems, big and small. There are the usual traffic, crime and education issues. Add to that the early monsoons, poison NAFTA cantaloupes, and that whole situation involving Guy Atchley's new hairdo.

But all that stuff is really inconsequential when one learns that there are no big straws at any of the Circle Ks in town. None. Nel. Nada. Nertz. Ninguna. Anywhere!

This, my friends, is a real crisis. Forget all that traffic gridlock stuff. This hits us where we live, which, during the summer, is at the soda fountain at your local Circle K. As I've mentioned in the past, I don't drink alcohol. Never have. Neither do I drink tea, coffee, milk or, for the most part, water. I do, however, consume obscene amounts of Diet Pepsi. And I do so by refilling this oversized mug I have and then drinking it with the assistance of a large straw. This is the only thing that makes a Tucson summer bearable.

But the other day I stopped at the Circle K by Reid Park and filled up. I reached for a straw and there was a handwritten sign that read: "No straws. And no, we're not kidding!"

I paid for the soda and then told the guy that if I spilled it on my shirt while trying to awkwardly drink it out of the straw hole, it would be on his conscience. He looked at my shirt and said that he could live with the burden.

I then stopped at the one at Silverbell and Speedway. All they had were small straws. At Limberlost and First, they suggested that I use "a Slurpee straw." That's just unnatural. Besides, Slurpees are at 7-11 and I don't drink those, either. Isn't it weird, though, that "Slurpee" has become a generic name for a concoction that tastes like icy carpet, quickly separates into liquid and other stuff, and the mere mention of which causes everyone over the age of nine to shudder with Remembrances of Brain Freezes past?

If you drink a soda with a Slurpee straw, you might suck up all kinds of small ice particles. You get one or two of those unmelted death crystals in the back of your throat, you'll start dancing like Mark Madsen of the Lakers. Or maybe that Carlton nerd-boy on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. (Don't you just know that Clarence Thomas dances like that, too?)

Finally, I stopped at my home-base Circle K, the one at Stone and Ft. Lowell, near Amphi High. The young lady behind the counter said there's "just a straw shortage."

What the heck?! Did somebody steal the secret formula? It's a long plastic tube, for God's sake! You could probably make dozens of them for a penny. We have Nike factories in Laos that we could convert over to straw manufacturing in a matter of weeks.

I'm thinking conspiracy. In my mind I heard George C. Scott say something about "a straw gap." I considered contacting the President, but you just know that he and his drunk-ass family don't drink soda pop with a straw. Besides, he probably has big contributors in the Organization of Straw Exporting Countries, so he'd just go on TV and mutter something about the marketplace taking care of things. To his credit, Bush is almost to the point where he can spout that nonsense without Dick Cheney's lips moving.

I asked why they don't just go out and buy some long straws at Straws 'R Us someplace and then get reimbursed. She said that the main company has to supply everything that's used in the store and the main office had recently switched suppliers. I didn't hear the end of it because her voice was drowned out by the slurping noise I was making drinking out of that accursed straw hole.

The fear of having to reuse the same straw over and over gripped me. I'd have to store it up in the sun visor. Then when I'd use it, I'd have to suck real hard at first and almost certainly get an initial mouthful of lint, fuzz and dead bugs ahead of the soda. This, however, would be OK, since, seeing how it's summertime, it would probably be the only fiber I'd consume all day.

Finally, I stumbled into the Circle K across the street from the UA football stadium on Sixth. There, next to the soda fountain, right where they belonged, were long straws! Dozens of them! Maybe hundreds! For a brief instant, I thought about shoving a handful of them down my pants, but then I realized that if I got caught, the stigma of having people think I was using them for ... well, whatever, instead of hoarding them would be too much to bear.

So I returned to the front of the store and picked up one each of the four daily newspapers for sale. I then went back to the fountain and stuffed straws in between the sections of the various papers. I thought I had it made. But when I got to the counter, they wanted to scan the papers. I was busted. The other people in line looked at me like they were characters in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery."

I should have known better. Hoarding just leads to greater shortages. I looked at my huge plastic mug and realized that it was the SUV of drinking vessels. A guzzler.

I'm going to stick with Circle K through this crisis. They've been good to me over the years. Maybe I'll learn to drink out of cups that use (gasp!) small straws. Or maybe I'll even try that water stuff.

In the meantime, they have pictures of me up next to the bad-check writers and I have to stand outside the store and pay teenagers to go in and bring me out a straw. And it's only the first week of July.