The catalyst for this entry was a couple standing in front of me on Saturday night at Mo Betta’s Hawaiian BBQ. It was hard to tell at first if they were on a date or just friends. Since the line was very long they provided ideal fodder for a mental exercise where I imagine a backwards extrapolation of the social connections between two strangers. After observing them for a while I was reasonably certain they both swung in the same direction.
The girl had pixie cut and wore a long black and maroon pea coat with an intricate paisley pattern and crisp collar. The high fashion vibe she gave off was spoiled by a barcode price tag peeling off the side of her jacket. The guy was dressed like a typical hipster millennial; skinny jeans, canvas high tops, fashionably ratty hoodie and the trendy haircut where the sides and back of the head are shaved short but the top is left as a mop.
I stared blankly around so they wouldn’t notice me listening to their conversation. At first, I thought the guy was talking lovingly about a roommate or maybe his dog. Only after he pulled out his phone did I realize he was talking about an exotic African spider. “It would only cost a hundred dollars,” he said, “It is the perfect choice for someone afraid of spiders.” I would shit my pants if I saw that thing in the wild. Even seeing it on the screen made me nervous.
My wife often makes fun of me for occasionally jumping out of bed in the middle of the night beating at the blankets and shouting “Spider!”. It’s always a dream, but it takes about a minute before reality catches up with my fevered brain. Sometimes they are crawling on my pillow, others they dangle above my face about to drop in my mouth. I don’t have these dreams often, but when I do at least a year is removed from my life each time.
About 5 years ago my family did a Spring canoe trip down the San Rafael river. That year we had a big group with my mom, siblings, cousins, 11-year-old niece and numerous dogs. We were floating along a particularly calm stretch of water and decided to take a quick rest in the shade of a tall Tamarisk. The next thing I heard was Erica screaming “SPIDER!!!” I looked back at the bottom of the canoe where a dark-brown spider with a body the size of my fist was charging at me with impossible speed on spindly pipe cleaner legs. In that moment, 34 years of arachnaphobic terror blossomed in my mind in a crawling explosion. I remember bravely stabbing at the demon several times with my oar, but the next few moments are completely blank. I remember swimming in the river, the canoe floating away and the dog paddling towards the bank, but nothing before that. My family now refers to this incident as the “swearing spider” because I let loose a stream of profanity that shocked everyone and scarred my little niece for life.
This intense phobia comes from the years growing up in my parent’s basement where every morning I would go into the bathroom to find a thousand arachnid webs spun while I slept. I would spray them with every chemical I could find and relished the sight of their little bodies writhing on the ground and curl up in a soup of hairspray and bathroom cleaner. In the shower I was blind as a bat and not infrequently a spider would dangle from the ceiling and I wouldn’t see it until it was right in front of my face. Trapped naked in the shower by a giant spider. Sounds like a John Candy movie.
The only exception to this unwavering fear of the 8-legged beasts was in 2009 when we moved into this townhouse. The basement was unfinished, and one window was completely covered by a majestic black widow’s web. Shelob (what else would I have named her) dangled for days in the window, her black carapace shining like a black marble. We had swarms of locusts pouring out of the desert that year, so I caught the largest one I could find and promptly tossed it into the web. She spun it into a cocoon and over the following week I watched her grow fat and almost double in size as she drained the locust to a desiccated husk. I came home from work one day and found that Erica killed and disposed of the creature. I’m not sure how she managed it, because killing a god is impossible.