I hate spiders – and I’m sure they hate me.
I am one of those do-gooders who goes on and on about the beauty of life. People get sick of hearing me preach about it. I believe that life should be respected and revered at all times and in every way – unless you are a spider in my home – in which case you are going to die.
I know that spiders have the right to live, I know they are the glorious result of millions of years of evolution, and I know they play a necessary role in the ecosystem…blah blah blah…I don’t care. I still feel compelled to thin their population at every opportunity.
Spiders are scary. I was once with a relative at an air show. (The relative in question shall remain nameless to prevent any embarrassment to him and because my standing with that side of the family is already shaky at best.) As we were walking down a runway to look at some WW II planes, we could see something moving in the distance on the concrete. As we got closer, we realized it was a tarantula. I froze in mid-step – but my relative, who may or may not have been mentally unstable at the time, exclaimed, “I’m going to catch it!”
He streaked off towards the tarantula that was slowly moving in the opposite direction. As my relative went running up to within about five feet of the enormous spider it suddenly turned and jumped straight at him. My relative, who instantly regained his awareness of reality, screamed in terror like a ten-year-old girl and sprinted past me. He did not slow down until he was safely back in our car with the doors locked.
Of course, most encounters with arachnids occur indoors. In my home, the killing of spiders is a divided responsibility. If they are smaller than a quarter, I make a weak and usually unsuccessful effort to terminate them. I mean, after all, I am the man of the house. If there are critters to be killed than it is my responsibility to do it. As the male of the species, I am required by nature to protect our home against all invaders.
Now it is important to understand that there are different killing techniques for different situations. If the spider is on the floor, my feeble attempt at eradication consists of tiptoeing around them and then, once I’m convinced they can’t see me coming, I sneak up from behind and stomp down with my size 10 shoe and all of my weight.
However, because I usually have my eyes shut tight, (I don’t know why – I just can’t help it) I frequently miss the spider entirely. This usually produces a disgusted reaction from my wife along the lines of, “Oh my God! You are pathetic.” At which point she walks over, steps on the spider, picks up her victim in a paper towel and drops it in the trash.
This is always a humbling moment for me, so I try not to let my wife see that my hands are shaking. After forty-six years of marriage, I’m not sure why I keep trying to impress her with my bravery but believe me, it’s a lost cause.
But even worse than a spider on the floor, is one on the ceiling. I know with all my heart that spiders cannot wait for the chance to jump on me. And I know that they can see me coming, and they know full well what my intentions are. I would assume that the spider finds it quite irritating that I am going to try to end their life. The challenge is to get close enough to do some damage but not close enough that the spider can retaliate. That makes a tennis racket the weapon of choice. (I gave up golf and sold my clubs, so I can no longer whack them with a driver.)
My wife and I will be sitting quietly in the front room reading when she will look up and casually ask, “Is that a spider I see on the ceiling?” Of course, upon hearing those words I scream, jump to my feet and take off running. This little ritual never gets old for my wife. She delights in seeing my panic as I leap over our little dog Zoey and bolt out of the room.
She knows that after a few seconds I will timidly stick my head around the corner and whisper, “Where is it?”
She will stare at me with that look of hers that silently conveys the question, why did I ever marry this idiot? but then she will smile weakly and say, “Honey, it’s on the dining room ceiling.” I follow the direction her finger is pointing, and I see the terrifying spot off in the distance. The thing is huge. It’s a least the size of a dime.
I take a deep breath and boldly announce to my wife, “I’ll get my tennis racket.”
The ensuing battle is epic. I run back and forth taking endless swats at the spider while screaming and covering my head so that if I am lucky enough to even graze it, the thing won’t fall on me. This life and death struggle can last for quite some time as my wife stands back with a mixture of pity and resignation on her face. She personifies the stoic, long-suffering woman whose patience is tested again and again by the man she loves – that is until I take a big swing at the invader, (who, by the way, has not moved an inch since he is in absolutely no danger whatsoever) and I, unfortunately, smack the side of the china cabinet making one of her antique dishes fall over and break.
Suddenly everything comes to a halt, and I realize that I am now in far more danger than the spider. “All right that’s enough!” my wife growls. With her antiques in danger, she has grown weary of my pitiful efforts at pest control, so she quickly takes matters into her own hands. She rolls up a magazine, swats the spider and sweeps it into a dustpan. The entire episode takes five seconds.
Of course, there have been occasions when my wife was not around to save the day.
I was driving home from work one afternoon on the turnpike going 70 mph. The sun was bright so I reached up and lowered the visor to shield my eyes. Incredibly, attached to the inside of the visor was a huge – and I mean huge – hairy, black and yellow spider. I let out a blood curtailing scream as my heart went into palpitations. This gigantic monster from hell was roughly twelve inches from my face. I was utterly trapped. I couldn’t move from the driver’s seat, and I was boxed in with cars on every side.
I sat frozen, hurtling down the turnpike, staring in horror at the creature as it stared back at me with all eight eyes. (At that point it would have been interesting to have had a blood pressure cup available. I would be curious to know just how high the readings can go before you have the stroke.)
I couldn’t help but think that it would’ve been so much better if this had happened on my way to play tennis so I would’ve had my racket with me. The seconds passed by like hours and after what seemed like a week but was probably about 30 seconds, the spider decided to move. He lifted several of his hairy legs and repositioned himself. It felt like my heart was going to explode. Beads of perspiration trickled down my face as I watched him move ever so slowly down to the edge of the visor, and then……HE JUMPED.
It is an actual miracle that the breaking news that evening was not about a ten-car pileup on the turnpike during rush hour. No witnesses were interviewed to explain how some maniac lost control of his vehicle and jumped the median into oncoming traffic. No highway patrol officers or EMTs had to be called…and what makes this so miraculous is the fact that the giant black and yellow spider actually jumped into my lap. Please bear in mind that I have never been closer than a tennis racket to any spider of size and yet I now had one sitting on my crotch as I was navigating through traffic at a high rate of speed.
All of my life I have heard about the fight-or-flight response. At that point I experienced it. When under severe stress the nervous system is activated, and the reaction is so quick that we do not have time to think. We simply act. Obviously, flight was not an option, so my body chose to fight. Having no weapon at my disposal, I unconsciously began to frantically slap myself in a very delicate area.
I must say that I never foresaw an occasion where this would be something I would choose to do. But, as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. And should you ever drive past another motorist who is grimacing in pain as he hits himself in the crotch you can rest assured he is also experiencing a desperate time.
I suppose the surprise nature of my attack caught the spider off guard because he finally succumbed to my repeated blows. However, he was not the only one to suffer. As any man can tell you, that particular part of the anatomy is not where you want to do battle with another living entity. Even if you win – you lose. Fortunately, my wife and I had decided decades ago that we were through having children.
Ten minutes later, I arrived home. Doubled up in severe pain and taking short shallow breaths, I gingerly stepped into the kitchen from the garage and came face to face with my lovely bride. “Tough day?” she quipped as I gritted my teeth in discomfort.
I tried to respond, but I was hoarse from all the screaming.
She smiled sweetly and said, “I have a chore for you.”
She suddenly produced my tennis racket from behind her back. “There’s a big one in the bathtub. Would you mind taking care of it?”