Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mr.Precious and the Dock Spider

If you are a naturalist or have entomological leanings and a sensitivity to the f-word, don’t read this. This is a story of the dreaded dock spider—and it is not a pretty one.

Dock spiders are those horrifying creatures that live in the dark undersides of your dock and come out in the spring and summer months. Where they go in the winter, I haven’t a clue and I don’t care. I only know that when I flipped our canoe over last weekend, four of them, the size of dinner plates, scuttled out and disappeared down the dock slats.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-entomology and I’m not even that squeamish. My own father was a gentle geologist who often remarked that if he hadn’t studied rocks and soil, he would have liked to have studied insects. I grew up loving and living with all manner of creatures; my favorite poem was-and sometimes still is- Alexander the Beetle.

Because of this, my biologist husband, Mr. Precious, cannot understand why the common Dock Spider poses difficulties for me. “Why do they bother you?” he asks in his best Perplexed Biologist voice.

Why indeed.

Here’s f-ing why.

a) They are f-ing HUGE. They have a leg span of up to 13 cm that would cover your face if you let your guard down and allow them to jump you. Plus they have repulsive sac-like bodies the size of your fist. Apparently, some females “exhibit female giganticism.”FEMALE GIGANTICISM!!!???? WHAAAAAT THE F**%%$#&!!!?????

b) They’re f-ing disgusting. Don’t forget this is the same species that made Arachnophobia a huge hit in the 90s when a strange spider from the depths of a jungle is accidentally transported back to the good old US of A. Through numerous coincidences and accidents, it finds a home in a doctor's new home (well, in the barn). After mating with a local spider, thousands of little spiders run riot in the small town. This wouldn't be too much of a problem, except that these "aren't ordinary spiders"; they're killers.

c) The f-ers DON’T DIE. You can smack them straight on with the flat of a paddle, only to see them re-inflate their disgusting selves and stagger off to the nearest crack in the dock and slide down it sideways. Often they leave one long finger-y appendage out just to remind you that they’re still there, alive—and pissed.

c) They move f-ing FAST. They appear out of nowhere, and lurch at you suddenly and unexpectedly, their bodies hunched up hideously over their grotesque legs.

d) There is never just one of them. They live in f-ing COLONIES or something.

e) The f-ers DON’T DIE. You can squash them flat under your heel and, when you raise your boot to survey the squashings, they scuttle horridly over the side of the dock to lurk there even more flatly and furtively.

f) UGLY.

g) They know how to F-ING SWIM, fer gawds sakes. Drowning them is not an option. They actually have some sort of HAIR on their creepy legs that traps BUBBLES so they can BREATHE under the water for something like FIFTEEN f-ing minutes!

h) The f-ers DON’T DIE! You can cut them down with your axe and they’ll still come at you. Cut off a leg, and they’ll flail towards you with 7. Cut off four, and they’ll drag themselves forward with the stumps trailing. Cut ‘em all off and they’ll fork themselves along with their fangs. They’re like Monty Python’s Black Knight, except Not Funny. King Arthur (cutting off both the Black Knight’s arms) : Look, you stupid Bastard. You've got no arms left. Black Knight: Yes I have. King Arthur: *Look*! Black Knight: T’is nothing but a flesh wound.

Over breakfast on a recent summery morning, I said to Mr. Precious. “This morning you must go on a Killing Spree.” Mr. Precious looked at me blankly. “THE DOCK,” I explain. “To kill the f-ing dock spiders and closely inspect the kayak and canoe interiors for any intrusions.”

Mr. Precious sighed and pushed himself up from the table. He put on his boots and started to make his way down the trail to the dock below. About a third of the way down, he stopped and turned:

“They can’t actually help the way they look, you know,” he says in his best Reasonable-and-Reassuring Biologist’s Voice.

“They’re ugly,” I retort intelligently, from the safety of the deck above.

Mr. Precious continues downward, stops again and looks back. “They’re actually GOOD insects since they EAT the bad ones, like black flies and mosquitoes,” he says in his best Earnest-and-Instructional Biologist’s Voice.

“They are Opportunistic Ambush Hunters with fangs,” I retort, citing Wikipedia. “They GRAPPLE prey with their foremost legs that are equipped with CLAWS,” I add for emphasis.

Mr. Precious takes two more steps and turns and says: “They have just as much right…”

“JUST KILLL THHHHEEEE F-ERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRSSSSSSSSSS,” I scream at the top of my lungs in the very best of all my Screaming Banshee Voices, causing whole flocks of birds to whirl up and out of the forest.

Mr. Precious rolls his eyes and heads for the dock. I hover from above, watching for signs of betrayal from his Inner Biologist but am reassured by the noises emanating from below—volleys of hard knocks with the metal bucket to the sides of the dock and heavy stompings of manly, steel-toed feet.

“I guess there’s a lot of them then?” I call plaintively from the above.

No reply.

Grunts and low cursings filter up from below, the dock sashays wildly in the water and the violent slashings of the bucket are now accompanied by loud smacks with the paddle that Mr. Precious is now brandishing.

“A whole colony then?” I say as Mr. Precious gives the dock a final kick and heads back up the trail, red-faced and panting with exertion.

“Just the one,” he says grimly, heaving the bucket under the steps. “But the f-ing thing wouldn’t die.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Monk's Smorgasbord

For anyone thinking that mine is a house of peace and harmony, this will serve to enlighten you. It is not. I guess it was once upon a time, but as we all know—things change.

There are frequent nocturnal disturbances in our home that not only disturb my sleep but also threaten my sanity. I am not talking about the policemen chasing bad guys through our back hedge with dogs—as they have before—nor the drunken and disorderly teens tumbling in at 4 a.m. Rather I am referring to the strange sounds emitted by my own bedfellow, Mr. Precious. Over the 25+ years I have spent living, (and trying to sleep) with him, I have come to recognize and affectionately label the various noises that he emits nocturnally.

The first most recognizable and consistent of these special night sounds is one that I refer to simply as The Drowning Cat. The first time I awoke to this one, I sincerely thought, in my half-asleep state, that there was a cat of considerable size drowning in a rain barrel outside my window. I don’t actually have a rain barrel outside my window but the guttural gasps, watery gurglings and high-pitched mews convinced me that I did—and that a cat had fallen into it. I jumped out of bed (my nakedness glimmering palely in the moonlight), ran to the window and peered out, only to realize that the sound was NOT coming from outside but was being produced by Mr. Precious next to me.

The second special but somewhat less reliable collection of auditory delights is what I lovingly refer to as The Monk’s Smorgasboard. The Monk’s Smorgasboard is a spectacular array of sounds straight out of an Umberto Eco novel. Imagine 24 monks, seated on each side of a long trestle table. Roasted wild boars and jugs of wine arrive and are placed in front of them. Suddenly there erupts a violent knashing of teeth, the tearing of flesh from bones, violent chewings, followed by gulping, swilling and swallowing of large mouthfuls of wine. And, if you listen carefully, just below the surface, you can detect the low rhythmic moaning of a Gregorian chant. That’s the Monk’s Smorgasbord and that’s what Mr. Precious sounds like at 3 a.m.

There is a third and pretty common one--The Caucasian Bubble Torture (kinda like Chinese Water Torture) but I won't go into detail--you can probably take a good guess at what it sounds like and the difficulties it creates.

But last night in the dead of night I woke with a start to a cacophony of yelps, yips, growls and short piggish snorts. I lay in the dark, fuming that Mr. Precious had indeed sunk to new and lower depths in his repertoire. HOWWWWWW, I howled to myself, clenching the sheets in my fists HOW.DOES. HE. DO. THAT. I finally rolled over to heave him onto his side and hopefully extinguish the sounds, at least momentarily, when Mr. Precious said very clearly in his own very awake voice."Do you hear that?"

I sat bolt upright. I listened. The nasty snorting continued. This time it wasn’t Mr. Precious at all! I got up and stepped out onto the back deck just in time to see a massive mother coon and her numerous baby coons scuttling off into the bushes.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Guilded Cage (Part III)

Afflicted Mother is enjoying her House of Harmony. The phone no longer rings ceaselessly from 3:30 pm onward. Gone is the jumble of shoes of Ill-fated Daughter’s Cherished Friends that normally fills the front foyer. The incessant clacking of the keyboard no longer disrupts the evening peace.

Ill-fated Daughter is confined to the Gilded Cage. From there, Ill-fated Daughter can simply observe the World of Evil about her. With clipped wings, she can no longer sprint through the garden of temptation tearing large bites from the flesh of Forbidden Fruits. Instead, she spends long hours perched before her mirror where she preens, exfoliates, tweezes, plucks and engages in other activities that involve Close Examination of Self.

Now and again, when Afflicted Mother happens to pass by, Ill-fated Daughter shouts down from her perch, “THIS IS POINTLESS AND RETARDED!”

Afflicted Mother says nothing but notes to self that this is also a tidy summation of Life as a Parent.



In the quiet and uneventful hours, Afflicted Mother likes to read about frontal lobe development in teens and other related topics. She favours articles with names like “Now I Know Why Tigers Eat Their Young.” She has learned that according to various experts, the teenage brain is a Work in Progress. It is NOT equipped for logical and organized thought and is full of Immature Circuitry! As such, teenagers DO NOT yet have all the brain power they need to make good judgments.
The good news is that sleep helps further the development.
The bad news is that full development is only completed by the age of 20.

In the quiet darkness of the night, while Ill-fated Daughter sleeps, Afflicted Mother tiptoes very, very quietly to the liquor cabinet.

More Misfortune (Part II)

Ill-fated Daughter walked in from work with ashen cheeks and less springiness in her step. No longer looking like a million bucks, it appeared that eight hours on her feet slugging Boilt Hams had taken its toll.

Afflicted Mother smiled inwardly in anticipation of upcoming conversation about Ill-fated Daughter’s pleasant sleepover with Friend Jess. She was looking forward to discussions of Movies Watched and Popcorn Popped and other Disastrous Details that Ill-fated Daughter might make up.

Ill-fated Daughter struggled through dinner with downcast eyes and cautious commentary. It was then that Afflicted Mother was quietly told by Informed Sibling that that Ill-fated Daughter may have been tipped off by a Concerned Friend.

Ill-fated Daughter pled various illnesses and left table, unable to eat her supper. Afflicted Mother finished her meal and cleaned up peacefully and then headed to Ill-fated Daughter’s darkened room. Ill-fated Daughter was underneath her blankets bed with head covered. Afflicted Mother opened her mouth to speak when Ill-fated Daughter suddenly threw back the covers, sat up abruptly and announced “I have made a Series of Unfortunate Decisions.”

Afflicted Mother then knew immediately that Ill-fated Daughter had indeed been tipped off… and was thus planning to play the Contrite Card.

“My first Unfortunate Decision,” began Ill-fated Daughter “was when I went to the party of the Goon Squad in the first place. “It all just sort of happened rather unexpectedly, and suddenly I was just there. I should have called.”

Ill-fated Daughter listened for reassuring sounds of understanding from Afflicted Mother but heard nothing in the darkness. Ill-fated Daughter squirmed under her blankets.

“My second Unfortunate Decision was to NOT leave the party and go back to Jess’s house when Jess did. I don’t know why I did that,” she explained in earnest, “but it just sort of happened.”

The story continued. Apparently the party continued into the night. Friend Jess returned home to her house in time for her curfew. Ill-fated Daughter chose to party on. Later, Ill-fated Daughter tried in vain to rouse Friend Jess in order to return to her house for the night but alas, Jess had fallen asleep and was not responding. Ill-fated Daughter spoke with the father of Host Goon to explain Her Predicament. The kindly man offered to drive her home but she declined, fearing trouble upon her arrival. Father of Host Goon therefore offered her a place to stay for the night somewhere safe and away from Goons. She accepted and was driven home in morning. “This was for sure my third Unfortunate Decision,” said Ill-fated Daughter sadly, shaking her head remorsefully.

And if you believe that, shrieked Afflicted Mother in her Outside Voice but inwardly, you’ll believe anything.

Stay tuned for the next installment entitled Ill-fated Daughter and the Gilded Cage.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Decisions (Part I)

(Not unlike the Lemony Snicket series, this is the first in a series of stories outlining the unfortunate decisions made in alarming frequency by a certain Ill-fated Daughter).

Our story begins when the Afflicted Mother is enjoying a Rare Evening Out. Mid-point in the evening, she gets a text msg from Ill-fated Daughter who is attending a hockey game with Friend Jess. The Goon Squad Boys are playing.

Ill-fated Daughter begs to have a change of plans and return home with Friend Jess and sleep over at her house. Afflicted Mother agrees and lays down the regular ground rules—these include calling in with the house phone number of friend, assuring that the friend’s parents’ are in agreement with aforementioned plan, and lack of permission to change locations once there. Ill-fated Daughter agrees to all conditions most fervently. Afflicted Mother’s red light pulses slightly due to a) quick plan changes at last moment b) potential for Goon Squad Boy involvement and c) Ill-fated Daughter’s fervor.

Ill-fated Daughter checks in with Afflicted Mother at 10:30 pm. The poor thing is feeling Very Fatigued. She and Friend Jess are renting a movie, feeling sleepy and both have to work early the next day. Afflicted Mother is assured that Friend Jess’s parents are home but also very tired and going to bed. Afflicted Mother’s red light glimmers faintly…Ill-fated Daughter is NEVER. EVER. TIRED.

Afflicted Mother goes to bed and sleeps dreamlessly knowing her children are safe and where they should be. The next morning, Ill-fated Daughter bounces into the house at 8:30 a.m. looking like a million bucks. Chatty and animated, she high-tails to her room to ready herself for work. Afflicted Mother’s red light glows.

Afflicted Mother drops Ill-fated Daughter at the grocery store where she works, parks and follows her in to pick up some groceries. Ill-fated Daughter sprints ahead to deli counter where Friend Jess is already working and has Quick Words. Jess glances quickly at Afflicted Mother and immediately averts eyes. Afflicted Mother’s red light surges on full power.

Afflicted Mother immediately returns home and picks up the phone to call the Mother of Friend Jess. Jess’s mother is deeply surprised to hear that Ill-fated Daughter has spent the night in HER house. According to her, an after-hockey party had been held and both girls had attended. When her own daughter returned from this event, she informed her mother that Ill-fated Daughter’s plans had changed and she was no longer sleeping over at Jess’s house.

AHA! Afflicted Mother has COMPLETELY BUSTED Ill-fated Daughter and Ill-fated Daughter doesn’t yet have a CLUE!!

Stay tuned for next in the series entitled More Misfortune.