The desert three-way

The 6/1 Wayno / Piraro Bizarro, a Desert Crawl cartoon in which the crawling man hallucinates a sexual oasis, where two saguaro cactuses offer to, umm, entertain him (Wayno’s title: “Prickly Playmates”):

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

Desert Crawl. From my 5/1/16 posting “Between the desert and the couch”, a Bizarro cartoon combining two cartoon memes: Psychiatrist and Desert Crawl (with a man crawling through the desert and hallucinating):

(#2) Note the saguaro cactuses, indicating that the scene is in a Southwestern desert in Cartoonland

The word play. A play on ménage à trois, in an extended usage covering enduring sexual threesomes generally (not necessarily in a shared household, and merely centered on a couple, who are not necessarily married, and also not necessarily of opposite sex) and allowing for a further extension to three-ways (casual sexual encounters involving three people):

an arrangement in which three people share a sexual relationship, typically a domestic situation involving a married couple and the lover of one of them. ORIGIN French, ‘household of three’. (NOAD)

crossed with sense [a] of mirage, in an extended usage covering hallucination as well as optical illusion (the two being united by a component of ‘fooling the eye’):

[a] an optical illusion caused by atmospheric conditions, especially the appearance of a sheet of water in a desert or on a hot road caused by the refraction of light from the sky by heated air: the surface of the road ahead rippled in the heat mirages. [b] something that appears real or possible but is not in fact so: the notion that the public is pro-business is a mirage. ORIGIN early 19th century: from French, from se mirer ‘be reflected’, from Latin mirare ‘look at’. (NOAD)

The word play depends on the phonological similarity of ménage and mirage, as these words are pronounced in English:

ˌm ɛ/ǝ ˈna ž/ǰ ] vs. [ ˌm ɪ/ǝ ˈra ž/ǰ ]

So: the sonorants [n] vs. [r]; and, possibly, the very similar lax / open front vowels [ɛ] vs.[ɪ].

On the sexual relationship. More on ménage à trois, from Wikipedia:

A ménage à trois … is a domestic arrangement and committed relationship with three people in polyamorous romantic and/or sexual relations with each other, and often dwelling together; typically a traditional marriage between a man and woman along with another individual. The phrase is a loan from French meaning “household of three”.

… Folie à Deux winery has a popular set of wines labeled as Ménage à Trois.

[On the wines, see my 9/6/18 posting “Three bulletins”, with section on their jokey name; they’re blends of three varietals.]

Then from NOAD on the noun threesome:

[a] a group of three people engaged in the same activity: we planned excursions as a threesome. [b] a game or activity for three people. [c] an occasion on which three people engage in sexual activity together: he tried to convince some newlyweds to have a threesome with him.

The world of enduring sexual three-person relationships is quite complex, with many subtypes. The classic types involve two overlapping opposite-sex relationships: a straight couple plus a lover for one of them (the hinge partner), with the partners for the hinge not engaging in (same-sex) relations with one another. The stereotype is of a hinge man with two female partners; guys just wanna get laid. But a hinge woman with two male partners is historically well-attested.

A true triangular relationship — essentially, three interlocked couples — does happen, but much less often. I was in such a relationship for eight years, with my wife and my husband-equivalent (until she died).

There is much more to be said about such relationships, but these are not what the cartoon in #1 is about; what’s being offered there is in fact a (probably hallucinatory) casual three-person sexual encounter, not any kind of enduring relationship. The term for this, from OED 3 (Sept. 2009), is the noun three-way:

… 2. slang (originally U.S.). A sexual act involving three people. Cf. three-way adj. [1st cite 1967; all 5 cites are American, and the first 4 are from gay male contexts; the 2005 cite, from New York Magazine, has a straight couple imagining a three-way (presumably with a woman)]

Here again, there’s a lot more to be said. And, here again, I have relevant personal experience. But the question at hand is what’s going on in #1. The two saguaros address the desert crawler as handsome, and coyly suggest a little fun — plus, their flowers are pastel lavender and yellow. All of this suggesting they are either (straight) female or gay (male).

Then, as I noted in my 12/7/17 posting “The saguaro in bloom”:

the saguaro [Carnegiea gigantea] serves as an anthromorphic symbol — a man with both arms in the air — and a phallic symbol (an interpretation encouraged by the fact that the cactus is, oh dear, prickly).

That would seem to nail down los dos Saguaros as big, forward, seriously hung gay males (with pretty flowers in their hair) on the prowl for a hookup. Also, to judge from the crawler’s facial expression, decidedly unsettling apparitions for him.

Real saguaros and cartoon saguaros. Not only are we in a cartoon meme in #1, it’s set in a Cartoonland locale (a fictive Southwest — the mythic Old West) rather than a real place, and the saguaro flowers are prettier there.

Actual saguaros have white, waxy flowers,

(#3) Saguaro flowers (Wikipedia photo)

and they are native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican state of Sonora (just south of Arizona), and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California.

(#4) Carnegia gigantea in Saguaro National Park, near Tucson AZ

But from Wikipedia:

The saguaro is often used as an emblem in commercials and logos that attempt to convey a sense of the Southwest, even if the product has no connection to Arizona or the Sonoran Desert. For instance, no naturally occurring saguaros are found within 400 kilometers (250 miles) of El Paso, Texas, but the silhouette is found on the label of Old El Paso brand products. Though the geographic anomaly has lessened in recent years, Western films once enthusiastically placed saguaros in the Monument Valley of Arizona, as well as New Mexico, Utah, and Texas. The Dallas, Texas-based band Reverend Horton Heat pokes fun at this phenomenon in their song “Ain’t no Saguaro in Texas.”

And on this blog, a posting of 6/19/17, “Sales talk”, features saguaros as the cartoon icon of the Southwestern deserts:

Since the saguaro’s native lands include the Sonoran deserts, the plant also serves as a symbol of Mexico, sometimes presented as a stereotype of the Mexican man — even in that country’s tourism ads

One Response to “The desert three-way”

  1. Stewart Kramer Says:

    Saguaro spines are fairly straight, but the dialog makes me think of hookers wearing Old West ruffles.

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