My friend Rob, who spends a lot of time in third-world countries, once told me a story about a scorpion. He said the only time he killed one was in a hotel room in Nicaragua, and that he beat it so hard his arm was throbbing the next day. That’s how scared he was. At the time, I was suitably horrified. We’d bonded over our arachnophobia since fifth grade, and what’s a scorpion but the worst possible spider crossed with a lobster? But now that I live in the exurbs of North San Antonio, I have a slightly different point of view: I mean, at least his scorpion deathmatch went down in some moist Nicaraguan flophouse and not in his own cozy laundry room, which is where I had my first showdown with a scorpion a couple of years ago.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I came similarly unglued when I found the thing lurking under my garbage can. Think Robert De Niro in The Untouchables, but instead of a baseball bat he’s brandishing a flip-flop. And, as in the movie, blood is flowing — not from some hapless consigliere’s head but from my finger, which I somehow managed to lacerate in the frenzy.
That’s the sort of incident that’s made me wonder if I have what it takes—the gumption—to live in Texas. You can’t be afraid of bees and freeways to survive here, the theory goes, yet somehow I manage to soldier on, shedding my old anxious New Yorker ways, like a scorpion molting its exoskeleton.
After that first confrontation in the laundry room, killing scorpions got easier. Granted, they’re not tough adversaries. Slow-moving creatures with a perplexing tendency to stand their ground, they seem to think they can take you despite being only a few eminently crushable inches long. I’ve slayed ’em in sinks and bathtubs, amid piles of wet towels, in dog- food bowls, under the living-room rug, and at the foot of my bed. I’ve extinguished them with shoes, phonebooks, and old copies of Vogue. I’ve even laundered them to death.
You’d think that at least one scorpion would’ve been able to unfurl its curly tail fast enough to sting me, but I’ve emerged unscathed from
every encounter. It’s left me feeling both cocky and nervous. While I know our local scorpions aren’t lethal, I also know their stings hurt. How badly depends on whom you’re talking to. It’s
either less painful than a wasp sting or infinitely worse. The little ones do more damage than the big ones ... or maybe it’s the other way around.
Since moving here, I’ve collected scorpion stories the way some people collect swizzle sticks. There’s the woman who’s been stung so many times she hasn’t gone barefoot in her own home since the ’80s. The friend who was stung on the face by a scorpion that’d been chilling on her towel — then again when it tumbled down her shirt. And, of course, the tales of the little bastards’ affinity for footwear are legion — I’ve come to believe that everyone in San Antonio or at least their best friend’s mother-in-law’s pool-man has been stung because they forgot to shake out their shoes before putting them on.
In grim anticipation of the inevitable, I’ve spent many an idle moment Googling scorpion-sting remedies. Funny then that I didn’t have a thick paste of meat tenderizer and baking soda at the ready when my luck finally ran out a few weeks ago. It happened in my 4-year-old daughter’s bedroom, while we were debating the pros and cons of wearing underpants to preschool. I irritably kicked a pile of laundry toward the hamper — then plopped to the floor, clutching my foot and spewing profanity. I thought a shard of glass had pierced my toe, but then spied a scorpion looking eager to go another round. Before my daughter could shriek in protest, I flattened it with Six Read-Aloud Princess Tales.
So, for all you scorpion-sting virgins out there, here’s how it felt: After a few painful minutes, my toe went disconcertingly numb. It reminded me of the time I was 10 and repeatedly shocked myself on an electric fence (don’t ask). But I’m glad it finally happened because sometimes the not knowing is much more awful than the knowing. Not that I’m looking for it to happen again. From now on, I will view every pile of laundry for what it is — a potential ambush. I may even start sleeping in my shoes. •