Spider, Man
by Bill Bilodeau

"...some things are just too frightening to confront..."

"...stopping only to adjust the bass..."

It began in typical Tales From the Crypt fashion. I arrived home from a long day to a dark house. I turned on a small lamp for enough light to see by, and took exactly two steps before I saw it. It wasn't actually the spider itself, but its shadow, in the glass doors of the home entertainment center. Slooooooowly it crawled across the glass door, stopping only to adjust the bass, and then disappeared in the cabinet among the VCR, CD player and tuner.

There's a scene in every Indiana Jones movie wherein Indy, that paragon of manliness, who through bravery, charm, wisdom and not a small amount of blind stinking luck always manages to triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds, is faced with something that not even the most courageous, heroic symbol of testosterone-driven adventurer could tolerate without shivering. I speak not of a relationship, for some things are just too frightening to confront, even with the aid of a bullwhip. I mean vermin: wiggling, crawling, little squeaking and squealing life forms such as snakes, rats and spiders.



If these scenes don't send shivers up and down your back, and you are more than 12 years old, please seek psychiatric help immediately. Let's face it, most sane adults are more afraid of having tiny bugs, bats and rodents scurrying around their homes than they are of, say, state prison early release programs. There's just something about tiny, fast, germ-ridden creatures that gives us all goose bumps.

Kids don't seem to mind these creatures at all. In fact, it's hard to keep them away from anything small, slimy and moving. My niece, who is 10, has the hunting instincts of a cat, lunging for anything that shows signs of life and can fit in her hand. Luckily, she also has the coordination of newborn Bambi on the frozen pond, so she rarely has anything to show for it. But I think all kids basically like anything small and wiggly. When I was in the sixth grade, I did a science report on arachnids, those less than adorable crawly things also known as spiders. At the time, collecting and studying these small, powerful, agile creatures (Spiderman comic books, I'm afraid, accounted for a significant portion of my research -- I got an A) was almost fun. Now, the mere thought disgusts me. I'm not sure what happened. I guess that's what growing up is all about.

"...we're so damn smug..."

Of all the vermin we come across in the course of our lifetimes, few have as strong an effect on our adrenal glands as the dreaded spider. I'm not sure why. Maybe because they simply look unlike anything else we encounter, with their small, bulbous bodies and long... well, spider legs. Or maybe it's the helpless image of the fly caught in the spider's web.

Personally, I think it's because spiders bite.

That was one of the things I learned in the sixth grade, and never forgot. Almost all spiders bite. If you don't believe me, sit down some Saturday afternoon and tune into the Sci-Fi Channel to catch one of the dozens of 1950s films in which spiders, through the healthful benefits of nuclear radiation, are transformed to the size of Delaware and immediately become a threat to mankind. (This, of course, brings up the totally unrelated question of why all radioactive mutant insects and other assorted animal, vegetable and insect life always attack humans immediately upon becoming big and powerful enough to do so in such films. While an argument could be made that this is a manifestation of the egocentricity with which the film makers depict the universe, I don't think this is actually the case. I believe giant insects attack us because we're so damn smug and conceited that every other living thing on the planet just naturally wants to kick the crap out of us, just to wipe that smarter-than-thou smile off our collective faces).


But I digress... The story, in case you've forgotten, was me and this spider thing alone in the living room with low lighting and music. Judging by the shadow, it was about four or five inches across, which would not have upset me if it were a trout. But since it was clearly a spider, my first thought was, "I need something really, really big and heavy to whack it with, preferably something that I can crush it with AND stand about twelve feet away." Of course, nothing in my living room quite fit that description, and by the time I got back from the hardware store, there was no sign of the spider (although I'll admit my woofers never sounded better).

You might think this would be even scarier than knowing where, exactly, this mutant being was. You're right. However, it was late and I was very tired. Several days later, I forgot all about the incident and convinced myself it was just a hallucination brought on by the stress of having seen a huge spider in my living room (I realize that from a logic standpoint, this does not make sense. That just shows how upset I really was.).

"Clearly, we were at a stalemate."

So it was distressing when, one week later I, clad only in a smile, stepped into the bathroom to take a shower and saw, in the mirror, a seven-inch spider brushing its teeth with my bath brush. Mustering all my courage, I confidently leaped three feet onto the sink and screamed. The spider, perhaps frozen with fear at such a brazen maneuver, or perhaps patently disinterested, did not move. Clearly, we were at a stalemate. Taking the bull by the horns, I slowly crept off the counter and backed into my bedroom where I dressed and armed myself with a broom and a can of Raid.

This seems like a good time to point out that this whole traumatic tale took place in Florida, where cockroaches wear beepers and mosquitos have to get clearance from the tower before landing. You can imagine the reaction a spider this size had to a can of bug spray. He laughed so hard he almost choked on my loofa. Now, I had never actually seen a spider this gigantic before, except on television and in the movies. In all those examples, the spiders had never shown any inclination to move with greater speed than, say, a second-day priority package at the post office. In addition, I had somehow gotten the impression that, since I am approximately 8,000 times larger than the spider, it would probably be as afraid of me as I was of it. So you can further imagine the laundry problems that resulted when the thing vaulted straight at me with the speed of a Southeast Conference offensive lineman at a steroid sale. Needless to say, I was poetry in motion. I bobbed. I weaved. I shrieked and ran like hell, slamming the door behind me and leaving the spider to meander calmly into the kitchen for round three.



One thing you learn when you live in Florida is that bugs are a fact of life. Not just ants on amphetamines and mosquitos that suck blood through turkey basters, but basically every bug you can think of is larger, faster, and more aggressive than anywhere else. Mostly, you get cockroaches. No matter how clean you keep your home, they find a way in. If you set up roach motels, they hang up little red lights and rent them out by the hour. If you try to bug-bomb them, they take hostages. It's a never-ending battle. So early on, in addition to buying bug spray, I filled a spray bottle with rubbing alcohol, which is effective on roaches and usually doesn't stain walls or other surfaces. I decided this was a better choice to combat the ten-inch leaping spider.

I located him in the kitchen, on the wall above the trash can, thumbing through a local supermarket circular. Turning the nozzle of the bottle to jet propulsion, I hit him with a stream of alcohol that knocked him to the floor. He scurried into a corner this time (apparently looking for the 10-cent bar shrimp) and I really let him have it. After a few minutes, when the bottle was emptied, the spider sat in a puddle in the corner, singing sea chanties in an Irish brogue. I realized more forceful means were still necessary. Edging around the kitchen perimeter, I found, under the sink, a bottle of chlorine bleach, and refilled my spray bottle. Taking careful aim, I fired at will and...

"...with the aid of a fire department smoke fan..."





If you've ever made the mistake of tossing a color garment into the wash with a tiny bit of bleach, you already know the outcome of this story. Three days later, when, with the aid of a fire department smoke fan and oxygen mask, I was able to re-enter my kitchen, I found the foot-long spider, curled up into a ball in the corner. I also found out what the original color of every surface in the room would have been if they were all made of cotton. But I had won. I could once again sleep soundly without revisiting the climax of Arachnophobia every time I shut my eyes.

Until later that year I was visited by a snake...


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