Spider Season by Sherri Frank Mazzotta

Spider season is coming. Spring, summer, fall:  Every time the weather changes, those 8-legged predators appear. Clinging to the kitchen ceiling. Scuttling over counters. Rappelling down walls in the shower like….well, like Spiderman. I’m not one of those shrieking, jump-on-a-chair girly-girls. I don’t mind cockroaches and I love mice. But spiders scare the bejesus out of me.

We have a variety of breeds in our house. True, these are not the spiders of my Jersey youth; those baseball-sized “beauties” that lurked in our toothbrush drawer and under garbage bags in the garage. But they’re just as evil.  With their segmented bodies. Multiple eyes. Spindly legs stretched like claws. Waiting-sometimes hours at a time, I’m sure-to catch me alone.

Spiders are intimidating, and they know it. They have motive. They mean harm.

I get up before my husband each day, when it’s still dark. Nervously, I turn on the kitchen light but don’t step into the room until I’ve scanned the ceiling.

“If you hear me scream, it’s always a spider,” I tell him. “So come quickly.”

I don’t care that they eat flies and ants and other insects-I want them out of the house. I want them dead. Though I sign the execution orders, my husband is usually the one who kills them. He uses a wet paper towel to squash them with his bare hands. If they’re too high to reach, he grabs a mop and crushes them into the plaster. That’s what I call an action hero.

At one point he bought an expensive bug vacuum that was marketed as a “keep your distance” way to capture pests. It touted a telescoping nozzle and a 22,400-rpm motor that sucked insects into a tube and stunned them on an electric grid. According to the catalog copy, the stunned bugs could then be dumped outdoors. “Screw that,” I said. No spiders would be set free as long as I manned the vacuum.

It worked beautifully the first time we used it. Steve positioned the nozzle over a quarter-sized beast and turned on the power. The spider whooshed backwards into the plastic tube and we heard a sizzle. I smiled.

A few days later and alone-once again-in the early morning hours, I was confronted by those creepy legs. Confidently, I grabbed the vacuum  I placed the nozzle over the spider and hit the switch, but nothing happened. There was a sucking sound but no sucking. The spider began to move, so I pressed harder on the tube. I turned the vacuum off then on again, but the spider still clung to the wall. It was a terrifying moment of face-to-fangs intimacy, but I was losing confidence and the spider knew it. Finally, I dropped the vacuum and backed out of the room. I woke up my husband.

The “Keep Your Distance” vacuum hasn’t been used since.

Arachnophobia is one of the most common fears in the world. According to the website, Celebrities with Diseases (http://www.celebrities-with-diseases.com/), Andre Agassi, J.K Rowling, Jessica Simpson, Rupert Grint, and Justin Timberlake all have an aversion to spiders. Johnny Depp, Emma Watson, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Woody Allen….the list goes on. Perhaps the real question is, who isn’t afraid of spiders?

“Various therapies and self-help groups can work wonders to overcome arachnophobia,” the Celebrities site claims. “Gradual exposure to spider’s pictures or even touching the spiders can be of great help in beating arachnophobia.”

I’m not interested in beating arachnophobia. I think it’s wise to avoid anything that has fangs, injects venom, and liquefies its prey. But spiders seem hell bent on making my acquaintance. I’ve had spiders appear on the inside of my windshield while driving. Skitter across my table at a coffee shop. And parachute onto my salad while eating al fresco. Charlotte’s Web be damned, I’m not going to pet them!

One summer, I walked into our bedroom and found hundreds of spiderlings crawling over the walls and ceiling. Of course I screamed. It was my personal Nightmare on Elm Street. I’ve read that a female spider can deliver as many as 3,000 eggs-and judging by the number of tiny creatures scrambling over the walls, that sounded about right.

Steve and I grabbed wet paper towels and started crushing the seething mass. In the face of such an invasion, I was suddenly brave. Fueled by fear and anger, I dabbed hard at the walls. It took more than an hour to kill the ones we could see, and afterwards, I still imagined I felt them crawling on my scalp. Lice, I wouldn’t have minded.  But spiders?  I’d have to set my head on fire.

The only place in the world that doesn’t have spiders is Antarctica. But since the job market is especially tough in that neck of the woods, I’m resigned to fighting these seasonal battles. Sometimes I wonder if the spiders are keeping track of how many of their relatives I’ve killed. I wonder if they’re plotting revenge and just waiting for Steve to take an extended business trip. Then they’ll corner me in the basement and ensnare me in their silky webs. Descend upon me with thousands of fangs….It’s a horrifying thought.  And one reason why I’m thankful that my husband doesn’t travel much these days.

 “Naturalists have pondered this for years: there are spiders whose bite can cause the place bitten to rot and to die, sometimes more than a year after it was bitten. As to why spiders do this, the answer is simple. It’s because spiders think this is funny, and they don’t want you ever to forget them.”   – Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys

Flintstones Mobile

Thought I’d be back this Monday but turns out I’m on the bench for one last week.  So Sherri Frank Mazzotta has kindly filled the breach and is batting 4th.  Thanks, Sherri.  Will see everyone next Monday.


I never learned how to drive.  Not formally, at least:  No driver’s ed.  No practice rides in parking lots.  When I was 17, Dad pulled into the A&P and said, “Okay, you drive.”  So we switched places.  I got behind the wheel of his big-ass Lincoln Town car.  This was back in the early ’80s, before they’d shrunk the Lincoln and all cars down to environmentally friendly versions.  The hood stretched two-lanes wide.  The pedals seemed far away.  “Which one is the gas?” I asked, just to be sure.  Then I adjusted the rear-view mirror, clutched the wheel, and off we went.

We took back roads that had corn fields on both sides.  Cows and horses in pastures.   It was August and sunny and I was scared to death, wincing at oncoming cars, hoping the road was wide enough for both of us. But I was driving.

“Go easy on the brakes,” Dad said.   Every time I touched them, we’d both pitch forward toward the windshield.  This was before people wore seatbelts too.

By the time we hit the highway, I was feeling more confident.  I put my elbow on the arm rest, the way Dad always did.   “I’m doing pretty good, aren’t I?” I asked.  He just shook his head and told me, “Keep both hands on the wheel.”

I drove for an hour.  I was trembling but exhilarated by the time I got out of the car.   Dad let me drive on the way home, too.  All went fine until I stopped hard at a light.  He lurched out of his seat, grabbed the dashboard, and hit his head on the sun visor.  “That’s it,” he said.  “I’m driving.”

And that was the end of my driving lessons.

Still, I got my license on the first try, though I failed the parallel parking part of the test.  I guess parallel parking isn’t that important in New Jersey, where every house has a driveway and every store a parking lot.

Soon afterwards, I took Mom’s Mustang to the mall.  It was dark and raining when my sister and I finished shopping.   I got confused trying to find the entrance to Route 80, and somehow headed up an off ramp.  I managed to turn around, but as I made a second turn, a car rammed into our passenger-side door.

That was the end of driving Mom’s car, too.

After that, I became terrified to drive.  Not because of the accident, but because I never got enough practice.  My friends picked me up and dropped me off on endless trips to the movies, Burger King, and the mall.  It’s true, there wasn’t much to do in Jersey.  My older sister got up early to drive me to work.  My brother took me to play rehearsal.   I became a perpetual passenger, carted around like a sack of laundry.  Dependent on others to get where I was going–which I resented.

At night, I dreamed I was trying to drive but the car wouldn’t move unless I ran with it, like Fred in his Flintstones mobile.  Even then, I couldn’t keep it going for very long.  My legs got tired.  The car stalled.  Others speeded by, but I was stuck.

Then I moved to Boston and didn’t need a car.  I could get most places by bus or subway.   My friends drove, so I could also get to the beach–but only when they wanted to go.  I hated that Volkswagen commercial with the tag line, “Drivers wanted.”  It implied that drivers were bold, fun-loving people.  And passengers were just dullards, relegated to reading maps and scraping up change for tolls.

Then I moved to Boston and didn’t need a car.  I could get most places by bus or subway.   My friends drove, so I could also get to the beach–but only when they wanted to go.  I hated that Volkswagen commercial with the tag line, “Drivers wanted.”  It implied that drivers were bold, fun-loving people.  And passengers were just dullards, relegated to reading maps and scraping up change for tolls.

I was also ashamed I couldn’t drive.  It was my deep dark secret, hidden the way some people hide the fact that they can’t read.   To me, it meant I wasn’t an adult.  I wasn’t in control of my life, which was difficult to accept.

When I got a job opportunity in Sudbury, I rented a car for the interview.  Sure, I’d rented cars before, but each time felt like the first time:  Sweating.  Trembling.  Sleepless a week in advance.  After I got the job, I borrowed money to buy a car.  Maybe I was motivated by the prospect of a new situation.  Or maybe I was just tired of waiting on rides.  But suddenly I owned a car and I was a driver.  I was breathing the sweet scent of gasoline on a regular basis, and it felt good.

It took years to feel comfortable behind the wheel.  Now, I drive all the time:  At night, in the rain, in the snow.   Between Massachusetts and New Jersey.  On one of those trips, an 18-wheeler ran my car off of Route 84, and I ended up in the gully between lanes.  My husband jolted awake in the passenger seat, cursing.  But the car was fine.  We were fine.  So I just pulled up onto the road again and kept driving.  Sure, I was shaken.  But I knew how important it was to get back in the saddle.  Or in this case, back in the bucket seat.

Others may be proud of their golf scores or their cooking skills, but driving is still one of my biggest accomplishments.  Every time I merge onto Route 128 without being hit by a truck, it feels like a victory.  I take my place on the highway and smile, knowing that I’ve moved far beyond my Flintstones mobile.

“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” Mario Andretti