The summer apocalypse is all around us. Delirious TV weathermen babbling the phrase "record-setting temperatures" are being carried off by men in white jackets. Seniors and stray cats are bursting into flames in our parking lots. Abandoned by the snowbirds, we are like the last man alive on a desert world orbiting too close to a giant sun in some forgotten Twilight Zone episode. It's so hot the phrase "it's so hot, only the cool people are left" offers no comfort to those of us who cannot escape the solar blowtorch.
If you're here in Tucson in the summer, you are either a vampire or a Zona Zombie or you're a Swamp Thing. And yes, to stay cool, I've stayed indoors, where I've been watching a lot of old sci-fi and horror movies. Back off, it's hot outside. I'm shutting my door, the cold air is escaping.
If you lived under a swamp box evaporative cooler in July 1965 you were, according to my dad, a Swamp Thing. My whole family looked like we crawled out of a swamp because by late summer the swamp box on our roof was as useless as a solar flashlight. The hot humid air oozed out of the cooler vent like the Southern drawl of Strother Martin dripping onto a baked chain gang.
In June we Swamp Things had grill marks on our stubble from pressing our faces against the cooler vents in hopes of getting a cooling breeze. We all had Fred Flintstone stubble by midsummer, even our dog. By July we looked like we had spent weeks in a hot box in a Japanese POW camp near the River Kwai. By August we looked like damp Ewoks because we were living in a steaming rain forest that was fed thick creamy air by the rusting and rattling box on our roof. "People with air conditioning are not better than we are," my mom would say, fanning herself with a prickly pear pad, "just cooler."
La Vida Loca Vampires show up when it's so hot the streets are emptier than Whiskey Row on a Sunday morning. They are the desert Draculas who avoid the sunlight the way I avoid exercise. The white-hot daylight traps them in their cool dark casitas, and as still as jackrabbits trapped by a snarling coyote they wait, cowering behind drawn shades and watching Oprah. Made desperate by casita fever, the creatures of the night are waiting for the last dust devil to corkscrew off into the sunset and for darkness to fall. And when it does, they fly outside. This is the moment these nocturnal natives live for.
Free to roll down their windows and cruise the night in search of a bite-sized breeze, La Vida Loca Vampires wander the Old Pueblo under cool neon and ancient starlight, wailing at the moon like freedom-starved coyotes and ruling the summer night until the dawn. Until the sun reopens the doors of Mother Nature's blast furnace to once more bleach the Catalinas white and make the prickly pear crackle.
Behold the leather-faced human beings who brave the blazing daylight! They are the condemned. They are the cursed. They are the zombies who move among us when the asphalt shimmers. From the comfort of your air-conditioned cars you've seen them staggering across crosswalks or waiting for the bus as vultures circle overhead. Or, even more pitiable, working outside - condemned by hellish overlords to flip signboards to a hip-hop beat.
Zona Zombies aren't the undead - they're the sun deadened. They don't want to eat your brains. They want shade. They want the summer rains with all of the craven bloodlust of face-eating cannibals. Only the monsoon voodoo can free the soul of the Zona Zombie. You can feel their torment in the parched cholla and in the taunting siren of the demonic cicadas.
They're the ragged "Day of the Frying Dead" extras stumbling all around us in a meteorological horror film starring Dee Hydrated and Sunny Burns. Don't approach them. Uttering the phrase "But it's a dry heat" can send them into a killing frenzy. Turn away and avert your eyes. And when the light turns green, floor the Cadillac and move on. Head home and shut the door and draw the shades and pray for thunder. Soon the sun will set and Tucson's children of the night will come out.
Email Star cartoonist David Fitzsimmons: firstname.lastname@example.org