Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Chekhov's Spider

I am an excellent driver. Excellent. Excellent Driver. Typically. But not today.

When I left for the office this morning, I noticed a wispy cobweb across the steering wheel. I tried to reassure myself it was just a stray left over from Move2010 (the ex-basement was covered in them). But in the back of my mind, I was thinking of Chekhov, and the dramatic rule that says, more or less, if a gun is introduced in Act 1, it better blow somebody's brains out by Act 3. (I'm paraphrasing.)

So, by Act 3, I was driving home -- dodging all the construction barrels -- when I glimpsed movement out of the corner of my left eye. It was coming from inside the car.

On closer inspection, it was (and this is the technical term), "a black hairy spider" crawling up the driver's side door. I tried to google it just now to get the correct name, I swear I did -- I wasn't going to post an image (unless I wanted to guarantee that I could never flip through my own blog ever again) -- I just wanted to know what it was, so I could fully convey the depth of the horror of how awful it was. But I looked at two images and then had to flip the Pank shut. (I can't see a picture of a spider in a magazine without needing to throw the magazine away... and the magazine has to go all the way out to the Herbie; it can't stay in the house.)

This isn't a girl thing, and I am not a girlie girl. (I feel compelled to point that out because somebody said just the other night that they thought Military History seemed like a surprising choice for half of my undergraduate work for someone like me. When I wondered aloud why -- maybe he thought, erroneously, I was a pacifist? -- it turned out it was just because I'm a girl. And then everybody had to sit through a lengthy discourse on the state of the modern military... tracing its roots back to the Peloponnesian War. I don't think I'll be invited back by those cocktail party hosts.)

Phobias -- obviously -- run in my family. With my Mom, it's snakes. With me, it's spiders.  I had to move out of an old apartment years ago because of the spider that took it over. Everybody thought I moved out because the crazy guy upstairs set the place on fire with the candles he had on the altar he built to beloved character actor Victor French (Mr. Edwards on Little House on the Prairie). In fact, he set the place on fire three times, but that is not why I moved.

I moved because one night, I came home and flipped on the kitchen light and there was something that looked a lot like a tarantula skittering down the wall over the sink. (I think I wrote about it in the first book, but if I did, so what, it's not online and I can't find it.) I realize they're not indigenous here, but I am not exaggerating. And this was before Ambien was invented, so my memory is crystal clear. Here is how big it was: when I turned on the light, it scampered down the wall to seek cover. OK. This was a very old house that had been converted to apartments, and the baseboards had long since come loose, with miles separating the baseboard from the walls. This spider was so big, when it tried to disappear into one of those giant crevasses, it actually couldn't slip between, and just kept bashing his fat furry head in futility against the wall.

I promptly abandoned ship and went to stay with my former roommate Marj, and called my then-fiance, who responded that he didn't see how there was anything he could reasonably do about it from Atlanta, where he lived at the time. Whatever. Rationally or not, I refused to go back there until he went with me. (Marj's husband would've gone of course, but this was MY man's job, and I had no intention of sub-contracting it out.)

So I went to work the next day, and by quitting time, he had made it to town. We went back to the apartment and he turned off all the lights -- hoping this would lure it out -- and then we went to dinner. When we got home, I stayed in the hall -- refusing to budge. The look on his face clearly indicated how ridiculous he thought I was being, but I think he also secretly kind of liked being The Big Strong Man (a role, I might add, he very rarely got to play in that relationship, but that's another story for another day).

He unlocked the door, went inside, and snapped on the lights (again, it was an old house, so those lights really did snap on, and I remember exactly how it sounded that night). As soon as I heard the snap, I deftly leaned over and softly shut the door behind him -- while I stayed safely on the other side of it, in the hall. The living room must've been clear, but then I heard the kitchen light go on. Followed by a shriek (again: not exaggerating; there was a reason he didn't often get to be the man). It went something like "holy SHIT," and this was followed by a scutter, scutter, scutter, and then a brisk jerk of the door so he could escape, close it behind him, and then lean against it, panting in shallow breaths... exactly like a cartoon. 

Although it seems like something I would take great delight in, I almost never do this, but that night, I said, "I. Told. You. So." Then he went out to the car for some hard-soled loafers (we both had on flip-flops at the time). When he went inside for the second time, I heard what sounded like maybe a brief scuffle, and then a loud smack. He came back outside and assured me it was all taken care of, but you know what, I never really did trust him. And that is why I moved. NOT because of Mr. Edwards and the pyromaniac upstairs, which is why everybody (plausibly) thought I moved.

I say this by way of explaining what my first split-second idea was when I saw this aforementioned movement out of the corner of my left eye -- which was to slam on the brakes; shift into park; abandon the vehicle in traffic; post it on craigslist from my blackberry; and hope someone would buy it before it got impounded. I didn't say this was a good plan, and it admittedly had a fatal flaw. The spider was blocking my exit. It was kill or be killed. I was Athens, and he was Sparta (if I am remembering my Peloponnesian War accurately -- for a Girl -- and I think I am), settling in to commandeer my fleet.

I grabbed the closest weapon from the passenger seat -- the Oxford American Music issue -- and I started whapping it at the driver's side window.  (Also: maybe this is where I should disclose that I was screaming.) I think I got him on the first blow (shut it), but with his dying breath, he braced his furry little legs against the window and pushed off -- striking a glancing blow against the upper left thigh-hem of my sundress on his way down. And this is where it's lucky that there was no one behind me, for several reasons.

The first being: OFF came the dress. Over my head and flung into the passenger seat. Luckily: I was wearing a t-shirt underneath it. Not so lucky? I wasn't wearing anything else. (It wasn't a sexy/commando kinda day; it was just laundry day.) Luckily: my vehicle sits several feet off the ground, and nobody got much of a view -- I did still have to stop at the bank on the way home, but this one time, I used the far lane (I always use the window-lane, and I'm sure they were curious as to why I didn't -- I never deviate from my Rainman routines -- but they didn't say anything).

Once I got home, I stepped into the driveway, shielding my nakedness as best as possible with the car door (where the neighbors already hate me for ripping out their utility lines on move-in day, to say nothing of the Ambien-Walrus that summoned me, in a thong and a wifebeater, to the patio last Saturday night for chocolate-covered cashews) and shook out the dress as hard as I could, til part of the little spider corpse floated free. (I took the Oxford American subscription card and ruthlessly scraped the rest of him off the window.)

When I went to put it back on -- standing there in the harsh glare of the sun -- I noticed that my favorite sundress has holes in it. And, it must be pointed out, that these holes were strategically located in such a way that it instantly became apparent that I had made some very, very poor choices about Laundry Day.

I don't remember what Chekhov would call that.


  1. Oh god, I am dying laughing here. I am also terrified of spiders. Even my kids think I'm being a baby, which is kind of embarrassing considering one of them still craps her pants on a regular basis.

    But I digress. Spiders. One of the worst memories of my life is when I was sitting on the couch reading a novel, when I heard a meaty *thunk* next to me. This gigantic wolf spider had dropped from the ceiling and landed about an inch away from my wrist. At least three neighbors in our apartment complex came to the door to see who was getting killed. Of course, it was just me screaming hysterically and beating that little sucker to Kingdom Come with a hardback copy of Hearts in Atlantis.

    All of which is to say: I sympathize. And I don't know what Chekhov would have said about the holes in your dress, but Thucydides would have warned you about the enemy using secret passages to sneak in. *shudder*