Tuesday, October 17, 2006

On Women and Their Relationship with Insects

Years ago I had a friend who, while she could be called neither sane nor sober (certainly never the two at once) could always be relied upon to be rather entertaining, to have the perfect turn of phrase - in fact, to be funnier than hell in any situation. One could say that this, and her loyalty as a friend, was always her saving grace. I remember during one particularly frantic time in her life asking her how she was bearing up, her reply being that she felt as though she was 'running through life with a bug in her hair.'

Now any woman can instantly understand that metaphor. Not only does it explain the feeling of the moment rather vividly, one also gets a very clear mental picture of a woman running about, waving her arms over her head, slapping at her hair and screaming. God - who I think has a very dry sense of humor but at the same time loves good physical comedy - must get the ultimate chuckle out of women with blonde or white hair standing next to their front doors at night, desperately trying to get their keys into the locks by the glow of the 'bug lights' before the moths can move into their coiffures.

Just as women have a special, fond relationship with anything on four legs (excepting pigs and goats, in most cases), we have a very wary, live-and-let-live-as-long-as-you-don't-come-anywhere-near-me relationship with the multi-legged.

I don't consider myself to be at all squeamish. Ok, a little, with like blood and parts that were intended by God to be on the inside. But I can look a rattlesnake in the eye - from a safe distance - with the best of them and say, Ok, buddy, this house isn't big enough for the two of us, and you had just better go pack your bags. I can deal decisively with smaller insects: efficiently swatting houseflies with a newspaper, clapping a mosquito into eternity, vacuuming up the spiders who think that with cooler weather they should move into my house. But before anything that is Bigger Than It Ought To Be, or anything that moves faster than it has the right to, I am reduced to a helpless, screaming ninny.

And the helpless, screaming ninny condition magnifies exponentially the more vulnerable a situation I find myself in when encountering The Creature. One such situation that springs to memory was the time I was perched on the potty at school many years back, my jeans around my ankles, when I suddenly found myself facing off with a largish daddy long-legs spider. Not quite the classic Little Miss Muffet story I grant you, but one can easily see the parallels. You may rest assured that I finished my task in record speed and departed with all haste, edging out into the hall, trying my best to keep the door between me and it. I must confess to you here that I did not wash my hands on that occasion before leaving the bathroom.

In the desert, we are not only cursed with the well-known tarantulas, but also with a peculiarly aggresive and terribly large item called a wolf spider. These are every bit as enormous and unattractive as the garden variety tarantula, but will also chase you across the room if it feels threatened. It ain't afraid o' you, by God! I once witnessed one chasing a grown woman out of a room and down the hall at work. (It really was rather funny.) One morning while throwing myself into the driver's seat of my car, late for work as usual, I made a mental notation in mid-sit that there was a largish wolf spider already occupying the seat in question. I was able to arrest the sideways and downward movement of my bottom in an instant, and while leaping gracefully out of the car and screaming my fool head off, I looked quickly about me for a suitable weapon. Spying the broom leaning against a wall, I took it up with the intention of using it to sweep the hideous thing out of my car. Which I did. Only to have it chase me screaming (me, not it) all the way around the car in one circuit, whence I was able to leap back into the driver's seat and speed off. It is probably still running up and down River Road, looking for me.

I should note that I come by this deep aversion naturally. My mother is also possessed of a passionate dislike for insects, and for the legless creatures as well. Her encounters with snakes are still legendary in the neighborhood where I grew up.

One evening when my Mom was sitting outside in her patio chair, enjoying the view of the city lights and contemplating life, I went out to chat with her. When looking down I noticed a large brown spot moving into position under her chair. (Tarantulas are notorious for liking to hang out with people. People are notorious for not liking to hang out with tarantulas. You can see the inherent conflict.) With a care for Mom's cardiac health and fervent wishes for her continued existance, I merely said to her in soothing tones that she might like to vacate her chair. Now, you should know that although she played basketball in high school, that was many years in the past and my Mom was no athlete at the time this story took place. However, despite her limitations and lack of practice she was on the far side of the pool fence before I could finish speaking. I can't say with any degree of certainty that she jumped the fence, I do know that she was in the driveway in an instant and I neither heard nor saw that gate open.

On another occasion around that same time, I was spending the rare evening at home - decided to take my contacts out, put on my jammies and slap a nice gooey green mask on my face. There I was laying on the living room floor, chin propped in hand, face crusting over and watching tv - in short, minding my own business - when a large tarantula popped out from under the tv just to say hello. I was upright in a heartbeat with a cry of horror on my lips, dashing for the hose to our internal vacuum system. Only to find that his body was too big to fit down the end of the hose, he would just plug the thing up. Here we were, I doing battle with the beast while wielding a vacuum hose and with a countenance reminiscent of something out of Dawn of the Dead, while my mother ran to and fro on the outside of the living room windows, looking in and yelling, I can't help you! I can't help you! I actually had to go next door to the neighbor's house in that condition, and beg him to come over and rid us of the thing.

When I was single I would deal with ugly bugs by placing an upended glass over their little selves wherever I would find them indoors. So it was not at all unusual in summer months especially to find several small drinking glasses upside down all over the house. My theory was that they would eventually run out of oxygen in there and give up their little bug lives, so I could then neatly vacuum them away. And this solution worked well for some time. This was the same period where I discovered that hairspray was fatal to insect life. But when I married, a whole new world in insect removal was opened to me.

It should be noted that my dear husband can't kill a fly. Literally can not kill a fly. Oh, he has the best of intentions, and can run about the room smacking at furniture and walls alike with a rolled-up newspaper and a great deal of enthusiasm. But eventually his lack of success causes him to lose interest and he will wander off, whereupon I will take up the weapon and knock the offender dead in one decisive smack. However, this summer, in this house, for the first time in my desert life, we have a problem with what are politely called 'sewer roaches'. These are large brown creatures about the size of Paris Hilton's dog, and twice as ugly. Twice as ugly as Paris Hilton, that is. Her dog is certainly not to be blamed for its unfortunate circumstances.

Sewer roaches love to surprise their victims when they are in vulnerable situations, such as popping up a drain or out from behind a water tap when one is standing naked and sudsy in the shower. They, too, are fond of running out of the shower stall in the middle of the night to greet you when you are in mid-pee. They like to dash across the living room of an evening when you are peacefully knitting away and not harming anyone. Waiting on the bedroom curtain for you to wake up, or on the wall in the dark next to a light switch are also favorites with these playful creatures. I find they especially love to hide in your closet on the floor, or even better, in a pair of favorite shoes.

My aforementioned husband, while always obliging, no longer comes at a breathless run to rescue me as he did in the early days of our marriage. The bloom is off the rose, the honeymoon is over. In those early days I could let out a blood-curdling scream (I'm sorry, but they startle one so!) and he would come dashing to my aid in an instant, dragging a bouncing vacuum behind him, prepared to do battle. Picture me now several years into our marriage, encountering a large ugly brown multi-legged creature and being very taken aback. Though why they have the power to surprise me anymore I don't know, but they do. I let out an ear-piercing scream. Husband, in next room at his computer, rolls his eyes. Gets wearily to his feet, goes to the hall closet. Takes out the vacuum. Strolls sedately down the hall. Looks at me with infinite, irritating ennui and asks, Ok, where is it? I point a shaking finger. All the while, as he is coming up the hallway so slowly one would think he is slogging through jello, the beast is dashing pell mell across the room to safe hiding as I keep calling out in higher and higher tones of distress: Honey? HONEY? HONEEEEEEE??????

Now I ask you, if it were my husband standing on the living room couch and screaming for my help, do you think I would wait until I had finished my row of knitting and set it properly down before I went to see what he was on about?

One time, after he expressed a strong wish that I wouldn't scream when encountering a large insect, that I would instead calmly call his name in dulcet tones, I explained to him that by nature a scream is an involuntary response to a terrifying occurance. In other words, I explained, I'm a girl, this is what we do when we see big bugs. I can and have fought off a mugger with all I was worth, but if the man had been holding a wriggling insect I would have handed over my purse without any further effort on his part. Hmmm... maybe I shouldn't write that, just in case there are any muggers reading. But then, ok, what are the chances of that? Anyway, I then made it very plain to my husband in clear, ringing tones that if my screaming distressed him so, perhaps he might care to take the time to putty up all the holes around the various water pipes and thus add a few years to both our lives. This he has done, and I am happy to report that the beasts have not darkened our door since that time.


Blogger Vivian said...

Lynda, I followed your link from one of the knitting groups. Your writing is so incredibly funny! Love the part about your mom and the tarantula; and how your husband has changed his response over the years (I got one of those at home too). I used to live in tropical place, the roaches are so big and so loud at night, my hair still stands up at the thought of them!

I put a link of your knitting blog on my blog so I can come back later to read your stories, hope you don't mind.

10:31 AM  

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