30 September, 2015

Spiders: Some Thoughts

Eight. That’s how many spiders a person is said to ingest in an average year. The presumption is that everyone sleeps with his or her mouth open, I suppose. (How else would you ingest a spider if not in your sleep?) But even if we grant this much as true, how does a person not feel the tickling of eight little hairy legs picking their way through hills and valleys of facial fuzz? If one were a heavy sleeper, maybe. Otherwise, I’m not buying it. Spiders could, theoretically, descend on silk threads in the dead of night, like Navy SEALs from helicopters, into the pit of a sleeper’s gaping craw, but this seems exceptionally unlikely. Not that their aim is bad. Arachnids like warm, dark places. A mouth also has a dampness factor. Who wants a wet cave when two dry ones — the ears — lie just downhill and a couple of slightly weedy ones — the nostrils — are right next door?

No one touts figures for how many spiders lodge themselves irretrievably in human orifices. We’d all call bullshit if they did. Hospital ERs don’t fill with panicked patients begging for arachnid extractions, and few people sleep with screens over their head holes. The idea that spiders are simply drawn to mouths, in which they’re sleepily pulped and swallowed, sounds silly to me.

I don’t have any particular fear of spiders. This is good, since “they” also tell us there’s always one within five feet of you. Small spiders, even if they had a mind to, lack the mandibular fortitude to pierce human skin. The bigger ones tend not to be aggressive unless you make sudden movements into their territory. Generally hermetic creatures, spiders are content to hide within walls and under floorboards, between rafters and behind refrigerators, for the duration of their lives. I prefer a few spiders around than a thousand insects, so whenever one happens to cross the path of my domestic duties I stop what I’m doing and perform a relocation. Scooping it up (or trapping it under a cup, if it’s a potentially venomous variety) for transplant to an out-of-the-way site is no major operation. I don’t understand the instinct to squash or spray. One leaves a disgusting mess, the other releases toxins into your immediate environs. Neither of these seem preferable to simply knowing there’s a spider over there.

Don’t think this is an effort to brag about how enlightened I am. I once put on a shirt that had been folded in a drawer, only to find every visible inch of my skin suddenly teeming with waves of white specks. Spider babies. I promptly tried to shimmy out of my skin. When that didn’t work, I ran to the shower, fully clothed, and washed the itsy-bitsy spiders out. I left the shirt in a wad under the running water for another twenty minutes before re-entering the bathroom. For years thereafter I had intermittent nightmares about spider-blankets, spider-socks, spider-pillows, and spider-underwear. I habitually turned clothes inside-out before putting them on. I never found anything but lint balls, so eventually I gave up looking.

Of course, I’m fascinated by spiders’ grotesque forms. It’s one of those things — they’re so alien that they’re kind of alluring. Like Anne Hathaway. I can watch their biomechanical motions for hours, rapt with revulsion, and often do. Several have taken up residence in my window, which faces north and catches a decent breeze that blows all kinds of delicious flying bugs into it. The perfect place for a web. At least until a good, driving rain. Like Angelinos, who tolerate the occasional earthquake for the privilege of mild weather and a bit of cultural cachet, the spiders in my window know the first rule of real estate and rebuild accordingly.

The webs that currently enmesh my window have been, for the most part, difficult to see in certain light. Now that it’s mosquito season, though, they are revealed by a bandolier of desiccated husks — a diagonal swath of dead Anopheles like a beaded curtain in the wind. There are too many corpses to count. Other bugs the spiders charge out for, trussing them with the practiced dexterity of long-fingered department-store gift wrappers, then haul the parcel away, out of sight, for leisurely consumption. Instead of feeding on the mosquitoes, the spiders leave them out to rot, like so many unwanted hors d’oeuvres at a banquet, cluttering the tables. Apparently spiders dislike the Winged Plague as much as I do. But that’s a whole other essay.

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