It was late on a Tuesday night or, rather, early on a Wednesday morning. I was at my favorite bar, nursing a drink and feeling sorry for myself. I was the most misunderstood person in the world; you know how it goes.
Anyway, I was starting into another drink when I suddenly noticed an intensely unpleasant odor. I glanced up to see who had just died, and I couldn't believe what I saw. George, I told myself, you have got to stop drinking: seeing a pink elephant or a six-foot rabbit is one thing, but seeing a platypus is quite something else.
The platypus stood about five feet-ten. (Come on, George, I reasoned, he's only that tall because he's standing on his hind legs.) He was working his ruddy bill back and forth (it really did look like a duck's bill) and was peering about the bar as if he were looking for someone. He was the single most bedraggled, God-forsaken creature I had ever seen. His fur was thick and matted, with clods of mud and God only knows what else stuck in it here and there. The only way to get even close to visualizing it is to think of a lump of day-old oatmeal that was dropped into a vacuum cleaner bag, or, perhaps, a soggy ball of off-white yarn the cat took out into the mud yesterday. His claws were long and unkempt. But worst of all was that stink. Words cannot do justice to the way he smelled: the impact was something like being blind-sided by a 275-pound defensive end.
What does one do when confronted with such a beast? Myself, I was overcome by an overwhelming urge to piss. At least the restroom was in the right direction: away from that unlikely looking platypus. And there was a back door to the bar. As I started to hurry off to unburden myself, the thing accosted me. He actually clapped an awful paw on my shoulder and held me back. It was worse than being hit-up by a Bowery derelict. Now I am not a particularly forceful person, so when the Creature from the Black Lagoon wants me to stay, I do just that, calls of nature notwithstanding.
"Don't go," he said. "Nobody ever wants to talk to me. Sometimes a fellow just needs to talk."
My first reaction was to retort that maybe getting a bath would help, but I looked at him staring at me with sad, droopy eyes, and I couldn't. He looked so downright pitiful and pathetic that I softened. There was a kinship there. I could understand needing to talk. So I gave a little shrug, flashed a tentative half-smile, and took a nearby stool. I even offered to buy him a drink.
So there I was, sitting in a bar in the wee hours of the morning and having a drink with a platypus. A scruffy, melancholy platypus at that. What do you say to a platypus? One feels rather silly engaging in small talk. Somehow, I couldn't bring myself to talk about the weather or to use similar barroom gambits, especially when I was there by royal invitation. He obviously wanted to talk about himself--don't we all?--so I searched my mind for what little I knew about platypuses.
"I thought platypuses were extinct, or nearly so," I ventured.
That was the wrong thing to say. He slammed his glass onto the bar and came up off his stool with an angry glare. I jumped backwards, upsetting my stool. It clattered to the floor between us. That was enough to distract him for a moment and settle him down. He bent over and picked up my stool. "Sorry about that," he said, motioning for me to sit back down, "you hit a tender spot."
I eyed him warily. From the corner of my eye, I could see the bartender trying to decide whether to throw us out himself or to call the cops. Just what I needed. I smiled and spread my hands to indicate uncertainty. "I think everything is all right now. It was just a misunderstanding." The platypus, suddenly becoming aware of the looming bartender, nodded his head vigorously, his bill waving up and down like a paddle. The bartender looked skeptical--who wants a surly platypus messing up the joint?--but shrugged and went back to his other customers.
I looked at the platypus, waiting: it was his turn now. He smiled, if you could call it that. What he did was flap that bill; he looked like Donald Duck with swollen lips. "The name is Pete," he said, extending a ragged, webbed paw. I took it carefully--who knows what jungle-rot I would get if one of those filthy claws broke the skin?--and gave it a slight pump. Pete relinquished my hand and settled against the counter. He took a swig from his drink and looked at me speculatively.
"The problem," Pete began, "is that there aren't many of us around, and I have a hard time getting laid. It makes me cranky. I didn't mean to jump on you like that."
I started to laugh. A horny platypus, imagine that. Pete wasn't much different from me. "It's okay, don't worry about it. I've had worse things happen to me." Pete grinned; I was hooked. "If I'm not being too personal, why are there so few of you now?"
Pete just sat there for a moment or so, swirling his drink. "That tinkle is a nice sound," he said. I was confused, and my face must have shown it. He held his drink, shaking it so the ice would make noise. "The ice. I'm sure you have heard all sorts of things about platypuses. Most of them aren't true, or aren't completely true. You've probably heard about the females being frigid and the males being mean."
Pete stopped and looked at me. "Sorry, Pete," I said, "but I really haven't read too much about platypuses. Most of you are in Australia; maybe they know more about you there." Pete nodded to acknowledge this was so. "What are you doing in these parts, anyway?'
Pete sighed. "I came here to get away." Somehow he downed his drink without making too big of a mess (you try drinking with a duckbill!). He held his glass up for a refill.
I was puzzled. "I thought you were getting laid. What the hell do you expect when you come over here? Were you planning on breaking into a zoo?"
Pete chuckled. "I hadn't thought of that." He pushed away from the bar and held up a leg. "See that?" He pointed to the base of his foot, spreading the fur so I could see. Nestled up against his leg was a barb of some kind.
"What is that?"
"That is my real problem," he sighed. "I have another one just like it on the other hind leg, It's poisonous." I leaned back a little, getting out of range. "Don't worry, I won't hurt you. It wouldn't kill you, anyway. Make you awfully sick, though."
I was fascinated. Imagine being poisonous. It could have its advantages; someone gets too close, and blam! they're dead. Nice. I looked at Pete. "Cheer up, so what's the problem: Lots of animals are poisonous."
Pete was looking at the floor. He shook his head. "I wish it were that easy. You see, the poison works on other platypuses, too."
He said that as though there was great significance in that little tidbit. "What's the matter, you couldn't find the French Foreign Legion? Okay, so you did away with a rival in a jealous rage, it's an old story."
Pete was still looking at the floor. Now he began toying with one of his barbs. "The reason my species is dying out is that during sex the male often loses control of himself and accidentally kills his mate. That tends to make the females rather reluctant; that is why most people think the female is frigid. I killed a young female--oh, she had the cutest little bill--and just couldn't face it anymore."
I was overcome. Imagine accidentally killing your wife. I reached over and patted Pete on the shoulder. "Aren't the females poisonous, too?" I asked, thinking that at least the risk would be equal for both partners.
Pete shook his head. "Just the males."
I pondered that for a while. "How terrible," I said. "That puts an awful lot of responsibility on your back. I bet it takes most of the fun out of sex, what with being afraid to really let go." Pete nodded. "What a quirk of fate."
Pete shrugged. "Well, there are two schools of thought on that."
"Most likely, it is some sort of defense we males evolved to protect our territories; we platypuses are very possessive. But there is a provocative legend." Pete chuckled to himself, as if anticipating what was coming. Pete continued his story. "I am sure that you've heard of the Garden of Eden, but do you know the real story of the Fall of Adam and Eve?"
He looked over a me with a smirk. I thought I knew what he was leading up to, but I played along. "Go ahead."
"Well, you humans have it all wrong. During the temptation of Eve, Satan took on the form of a male platypus. It had to be a male, because he didn't exactly tempt her to eat an apple, if you know what I mean." Pete was positively leering. "When she and Adam were banished from the Garden of Eden, Eve cursed our entire species so the males would thenceforth be denied their pleasures."
To say I was skeptical was an understatement. I looked at Pete, surveyed him from head to toe. I drained my glass and called for another round. I glanced at Pete with a smirk. "Frankly," I began, "I don't see you tempting anyone to do anything."
Pete laughed an shrugged. "Hey, come on now, give me a break. I clean up real nice."
I reached over and cuffed Pete on his shoulder. The fur was coarse and rough. The bartender brought our drinks. I gave him an extra dollar or two; he had been very understanding. Pete took a sip and put the glass down with a smack.
"That's good stuff," he declared, wiping his bill with his paw. "The only thing I don't understand," he said, slowly shaking his head, "is why Eve decided to curse only males. I mean, the barbs do come in handy in combat with other males, but most of the platypuses that are killed are female. It doesn't make sense." He shook his head again.
"No point in brooding about it, Pete," I said, putting an arm around his shoulder. "Listen, did you ever the story about the traveling salesman..."
"...and the platypus with a harelip," interjected Pete with a conspiratorial smile. "it was a warm, sunny day, and the traveling salesman stopped for a swim at a secluded pond..."
* * *
"Local Man Arrested
"San Diego (USP). George Bartlett, 32, a local accountant, was arrested early Sunday morning during an apparent cult ceremony at the San Diego Zoo. Authorities indicated that Mr. Bartlett is being held for questioning in connection with the sexual assault of a female platypus. Mr. Bartlett's companion, described by police as 'of medium height and build and wearing a full-length brown fur coat,' eluded capture and is still at large."
A somewhat different version was published in Inside Joke, Number 10, May 1982.