Spidey Senses

Have you ever looked at a spider close up? They’re cuter than you think.

Ever since I was a little kid, I had an agreement with the spiders in my room: “If I need to get a stepstool to kill you,” I told them. “Then I’m not gonna kill you.”

This was a very fair arrangement. The spiders had the entire ceiling and a perimeter of about two feet of upper wall space on which to putter about. The spiders had more navigable square footage in my room than I did. All they had to do was stay up there — and much to my surprise, that’s exactly what they did. I don’t know if spiders understand English or what, but they always kept out of reach, spending their days weaving web hammocks the size of industrial fishing nets.

I liked the webs. I was fascinated by them. Late at night when I was unable to sleep, I would sometimes flop on my back, turn on the reading lamp clamped to my headboard, and puff a lungful of air skyward to watch the webs dance in the breeze. It was a serene and pleasant way to wait for sleep to overtake me.

I liked my spiders.

Mom didn’t.

“Oh, my GOD, what is going on up there?” she announced one Saturday morning.

Saturday was cleaning day in the Allegra house. Every week without fail Mom would scrub the house from top to bottom. The only room she didn’t scrub was mine. That was my job. She might sometimes check to make sure I didn’t shirk this responsibility, but she didn’t have to worry about me much. I was a tidy kid and she knew it, so her snap inspections were largely ceremonial. She’d only glance to make sure the carpet was lint free and the bureaus wore a lemon-scented Pledge shine.

Until that day she looked up.

“Why didn’t you tell me you had all these webs up there?!”

When Mom took this kind of tone with me, my first instinct was to play dumb. “Hm?” I looked up and feigned surprise. “Oh. I… I never noticed.”

“Never noticed? You spend all day every day farting around in this room and you never, not once, looked up?”

“Uh…”

As usual, Mom’s BS detector struck me mute.

“There’s more web than ceiling!”

Without another word she tromped down the hall, off to get her canister vacuum. Mom’s vacuum was an amazing machine. I have no idea where she had bought it, but it was a weapons grade force of nature, loud as a Harley and armed with enough suction to rip a hole in the fabric of space and time. Like Excalibur or Thor’s Hammer, I always had the sense that Mom was the only person on earth capable of wielding it.

And wield it she did. In an instant, the spiders with whom I had shared such a cordial cohabitation were sucked into oblivion.

I wasn’t exactly sad to see the spiders meet this fate — they weren’t my friends or anything — but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it all felt terribly unfair.

Now I’m a homeowner. Mom and her vacuum no longer hold sway over my life. But my views on spiders have hardened over the years. I kill them now. Often and with extreme prejudice.

I don’t exactly know when or how I changed. Maybe it has something to do with me getting older and crankier. Maybe it’s because I am no longer charmed by the entertainment value of a web hanging over my bed. Or maybe it’s because — like my Mom before me — I do most of the housecleaning. Those webs really do make a house look filthy, don’t they?

But that’s a pretty shallow reason to commit murder, really.

Maybe someday my views will shift back to where they once were. My eyes are getting worse; maybe the webs won’t bother me so much if I can no longer see them so well. Maybe I will rediscover my childlike sense of wonder. Or maybe, with a little work and a little patience, I can learn to follow the philosophy of Live and Let Live.

It’s a nice thought.

But in the meantime, spiders take note: I have a stepstool and I’m prepared to use it.

Mouse Mindgames

Small fella, big brain!

I am pleased to report that, once again, our house is home to wee rodents, this time a pair of gerbils named Salt and Peppa.

Salt is the smaller of the two, clever, energetic, and mischievous. Peppa is more reserved, less social, and also mischievous.

Basically, if you own a rodent, you’re going to have to accommodate some degree of mischief.

Case in point: In 1970, my parents purchased their first home in the North Jersey suburbs, a modest, two-story fixer upper. My father wasn’t very good at fixing-upping, however, so he left the painting, hammering, and electrical stuff to Mom and searched out a task that was better suited to his unique set of skills.

When the house revealed itself to have a mouse problem, Dad was on the case.

He toddled to the hardware store to pick up a humane Havahart trap and borrowed an unused, dusty, rusty birdcage from Grandpa. Dad’s plan was simple. He would trap the mice in the Havahart and deposit them in the cage. Once the mice were all caught, he would take the cage to a wooded area some distance away and release them.

That night, Dad set the Havahart using peanut butter for bait. Then he fixed up the cage, stocking it with everything a mouse could ever want: plenty of food and water and high piles of shredded up newspaper to serve as bedding. (Dad was nothing if not a good host.)

Less than an hour later, the trap sprang shut. His first mouse! Dad deposited the critter into the cage. He covered the cage with a sheet (I’m not sure why that was necessary, exactly. For privacy, maybe?), got more peanut butter, reset the trap, and went to bed.

The next morning, Dad awoke to find a new mouse in the trap. He pulled back a corner of the sheet, put the new mouse in the cage, replaced the sheet, grabbed the peanut butter, and reset the trap. Late in the afternoon, the trap clattered shut yet again. Again, Dad pulled back a corner the sheet, deposited the new mouse in the cage with the other two mice, replaced the sheet, got out the peanut butter, and reset the trap.

And so it went. For days Dad caught mice and put them in the cage. He replenished the cage’s food and water supplies as needed. He also began to ask himself—with increasing alarm—Just how many freaking mice are in my house?!

The answer to his question was: one.

One mouse.

One mouse who really liked peanut butter.

This mouse liked peanut butter so much, he would escape the cage several times a day and get himself re-caught several times a day just so he could keep eating the Havahart’s bait.

The sheet draped over the cage was the means for his escape. The mouse had grabbed a corner of the sheet in his mouth and pulled it into the cage until the thin wire bars stretched apart wide enough for him to wriggle through.

The mouse—with help from Dad—had carved out a wonderful life for himself. He had complete freedom of movement, a safe comfortable place to sleep, and an endless supply of good food and water.

It was Mom who discovered the escape plan. When she did, she expelled what would be the first of several lifetimes’ worth of exasperated sighs. “How on earth,” she asked Dad, “did you not notice that there were no other mice in the cage?”

“I thought they were all hiding under the newspaper,” he replied sheepishly.

“It was at that moment,” Mom told me many years later, “I first realized that your father needs constant supervision.”

Mom was right, of course; Dad was not a guy one could leave alone with a task. But, to be fair, when a person engages in a battle of wits against a rodent, the smart money should always be on the wee one.

My Best Boss (2015)

Here’s my third and final pro-journalism peek down memory lane. This post is from February 22, 2015.

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The quality of one’s job is directly dependent upon the quality of one’s boss. I know this is true, for there is no other way to explain how the teenaged me managed to spend an entire summer slaving over a Burger King broiler without killing myself.

Continue reading “My Best Boss (2015)”