Spiders on a Shingle

Spiders are our friends. They eat other insects. They were good guys in Charlotte’s Web. But that doesn’t mean I want to live with them, especially when they’re poisonous and breeding faster than Amish rabbits.

I moved into a duplex sight unseen when I arrived in Columbus during the winter of 2000. Everything was fine for six months. But in early July, I came home to find our duplex deserted and a plastic container on the kitchen table. My then-wife labeled it, “Brown recluse spider – do not open.”

Um, okay.

I wasn’t really worried. The spider is called a recluse for a reason. There’s rarely more than one in a house, and you need to look in the dark corners of the basement to find that one. Brown recluses aren’t even native to Ohio; they hail from southern states. They ride here in suitcases or boxes belonging to Southerners heading out of Dixie.

A few days later, my wife found another recluse by the front door. And above our daughters’ bunk beds. And dancing across the kitchen floor. This was not a reclusive group of spiders. It was the Animal House frat party of spiders, complete with John Belushi smashing beer cans against his little arachnid head.

We called Ohio State University for help. OSU’s spiders guys reacted as if I said Kate Upton swore off athletes in favor of spiderologists. They rushed to the duplex to collect spiders two by two.

The spider guys were freakishly happy about finding so many brown recluse spiders. They also said it would take six months to kill all of them. Then they asked if we could catch more specimens for them – and if it wasn’t “too much trouble,” could we catch them alive?

Although bites are rare, a brown recluse can cause a “festering volcanic wound.” Your skin splits open, pops up like a volcano, and seeps goo for months. What else could I say? “Sure, we’d love to catch more spiders for you.”

So there we were in brown recluse Club Med, and the spiders raced around the house like drunken college boys searching for the Girls Gone Wild tour bus, and OSU added “spider hunt” to our list of things to do.

But the spider hunt had to wait. We needed to get the kids out of that duplex, and we needed to make sure the spiders didn’t hitch a ride to our new house.

To keep the girls from being bitten – heck, to keep me from being bitten – we went through everything we owned to make sure neither the spiders nor their eggs went with us. Whenever something was certified spider-free, it went in a plastic tub, and when the tub was full, it went in the backyard, which quickly took on the look of a department store display run amok.

We couldn’t sleep in the duplex. When the weather was nice, we camped in the backyard with our plastic tubs. When it rained, we stayed at hotels and left the plastic tubs to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, the Ohio State Fair was about to start, so hotel rooms were hard to find and even harder to afford. The nightly quest for lodging led to this late-night exchange in a hotel lobby.

Good ol’ boy from Alabama: “Where you from, boy?”

Me, just wanting a spider-free bed in which to collapse: “A few miles from here.”

Good ol’ boy, peeking curiously behind me: “Whatcha doin’ here? Sneaking in a filly?”

Me, too tired to feel either offended or complimented: “We’ve got poisonous spiders.”

Good ol’ boy: “They wouldn’t be brown recluses?”

Me, nodding with great effort and minimal result.

Good ol’ boy: “Hell, we got those crawlin’ in the grass back home. Just brush ‘em off your pillow when you go to bed.”

Me, trying to save some dignity: “I’ve got kids.”

Good ol’ boy: “Our kids make pets out of ‘em. I remember one time …”

Apparently, I’d have to be a lot tougher to live in Alabama.

Moving day finally arrived. Everything was packed. We just needed to load the truck and get the heck out of Dodge before a desperado spider took one of us down.

It was a simple plan.

It was a good plan.

It was not a fail-safe plan.

I woke up with chest pains and a severe rash across my chest and arms. It felt like six sumo wrestlers doing the tango on my torso. I was scared, but I took comfort in knowing that I could count on my wife to stay calm during this new crisis.

She screeched, “Oh, my God, the spiders got you!” and rushed me to the hospital.

Several unrushed hours later, as the spiders met and strategized at home, the ER doctor said that I wasn’t bitten. Instead, I had stress-induced shingles. It felt like fire ants feasting on my roasting flesh whenever I moved a muscle, so the doctor offered medication for the pain. “Just don’t operate heavy machinery after you take it,” he said.

Ever the calm one, my wife burst into tears and sprinted into the hall. The doctor looked confused for a moment before chasing after her. Finally, a group of nurses and orderlies managed to bring her, sobbing as if I were dying, back into the room.

“Ma’am, your husband’s going to be ok,” the doctor said.

“I’m not worried about that,” she whimpered.

“Then what – ”

She burst into tears again. “He can’t take pain medication! He has to drive the truck! It’s rented in his name!”

Guess who didn’t take the medication?

I spent that day loading couches, chairs, tables, beds, a washer, a dryer, and a million plastic tubs onto the rented truck, then unloading it at the new place, all the while trying not to grimace so my wife wouldn’t feel guilty.

A few days later, I mentioned to someone that we were still new to Columbus. “Oh,” he said, “how do you like it so far?”

“Still getting the bugs out,” I muttered.

(C.W. Grody is the author of 13 published books, including 12 for children through various publishers. His most recent book, Since Before You Were Born, is a collection of humorous stories about his childhood. It’s available here: http://www.amazon.com/Since-Before-You-Were-Born-ebook/dp/B00EHT3B5G.)

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