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Home on the Range – A former New Yorker's guide to the texas adjustment


You know that TV commercial where the guy and girl are camping and they wake up in the morning and the girl has a giant tarantula plastered on her face and the guy is freaking out because he doesn’t know how to tell her? Well, every day I wake up wiping a (thus far) imaginary tarantula off of my face. Such is the lot of the tenderfooted Yankee transplant with profound arachnid anxiety and a very vivid imagination.

Still, after more than a year of living in the wilds of North Central San Antonio, I thought I’d made peace with the fuzzy arachnids — though we did get off to a rocky start, wherein I screamed a lot and the tarantulas mostly ignored me. I was cool with their hovering around my back door, rearing up like tiny eight-legged horses if I surprised them by moving the garbage can they’d been skulking under. I could even tolerate the occasional home invasion, as long as they had the decency to submit to being whisked out with a broom. I understood that when the temperature dips below 85, tarantulas, like most San Antonians, get chilly and want to come in out of the “cold.” I also understood from the feverish Googling I’d done the first time I encountered one that our local species is not venomous or aggressive and plays a vital role in the Circle of Life: Apparently, they eat scorpions!

But now our fragile peace has ended and I have decided that life really is a Werner Herzog movie — it’s man against nature and man against man and God against everyone because that’s the only explanation I can muster for why a big hairy tarantula would bite me while I was reclining on my daughter Dale’s girly pink bed, heatedly debating the relative merits of Sleeping Beauty’s prince (Philip) and Cinderella’s prince (the nameless guy with the shoe fetish).

This was pretty close to my worst-case scenario — you know, the one you dream up just for kicks, knowing it could maybe theoretically happen but that it never will because only an arachnophobic paranoid ex-New Yorker could come up with something so outrageous?

I’d gone to roust Dale from her nap, and as usual, she was working her way through a stack of books and demanded that I climb into bed and engage in a little literary discourse. We chatted for a while, and just as she had agreed to remove her naptime diaper, put on some “big-girl pants,” and get on with the day, I felt something bite my right forearm — not a hideous pain, mind you, but a sharp prick that was most definitely a bite — and as I reflexively was bringing my hand down to slap the offending insect (a mosquito, I assumed), I cast a sidelong glance and realized there was a FREAKING TARANTULA ON MY ARM.

Yes, a tarantula — nestled cozily amid Teddy, Furry, Beary, Clown, Tiger, Dolly, and all the rest of Dale’s gang of stuffed animals — biting my arm. I shrieked, of course, and quite possibly unleashed a string of profanity, and rocketed out of the bed. Dale, who was already on the floor and in the midst of taking off her diaper, just stood gawking. I recovered quickly, and lapsed into the third person like I do when I’ve just been bitten by a tarantula:

Me: `hyperventilating` Oh, did Mommy scare you? I’m sorry, Mommy’s not scared — that spider just surprised her. Now what is that silly spider doing in Dale’s bed?

Dale: `near tears` Mommy, why is that spider in my bed?

Me: Oh, uh, she’s just like Miss Spider, right? She’s probably come for a tea party, but this JUST ISN’T A GOOD TIME, IS IT?!

But how to get the spider out — that was the question. Tarantulas are too big to squash. That would be like killing a mammal. Hell, maybe they are mammals. If I had to kill one, I would probably puke and that might be more traumatic for Dale, especially if I had to bludgeon the thing with one of her stick horses. And I wasn’t sure the vacuum cleaner could suck up something that substantial. Besides, I knew that if I took my eye off of the spider for even a second, it would bolt and I would never find it again. So I did what seemed most expedient at the time: I grabbed the four corners of Dale’s hot-pink comforter and dragged the whole shebang — stuffed animals, special blankies, beloved books, one perturbed spider — through the house, out the back door, and onto the patio, while a horrified Dale trailed in my wake: “My blanket, my Teddy — Mommy, nooooo!” Ignoring her pleas, I shook out the comforter, stuffed animals shot in all directions, and the spider scuttled off into the ivy.

I’ve heard that one method for keeping scorpions out of a baby’s crib is to place the legs of the crib inside four wide-mouth glass jars, because apparently scorpions can’t climb glass. (They can coexist with a houseful of allegedly predatory tarantulas, but that’s another story.) So now I’m wondering if this technique might also work with tarantulas (and king-size beds)? Because for all I know there’s one chilling in my underwear drawer and it’s only a matter of time before I wake up one morning wiping an actual tarantula off of my face …  

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