November 15th, 2006

Curse of the Spider Woman

Okay, I don’t actually blame the spider woman. (Secretly I do blame spiders, though. Just a little.)


It started this morning, when I noticed that the third light on my DSL tower wasn’t lit. I unplugged the DSL, counted to 20 as the lovely people (insert sarcasm here) at AT&T told me to do, and plugged it back in before I left for the morning.


Unfortunately, I had forgotten this incident by the time I returned and was preparing to interview a spider biologist at a local university. I was too caught up in the spider part.


I don’t know that many people who are excited about bugs (in a positive way, I mean), but I have always been less excited about spiders than most normal people. (Other creepy crawlies apparently bothered me less, as I ate a large and varied diet of various six-legged things when I was little.)


Admittedly I went through a post Charlotte’s Web phase where I insisted my mother remove spiders—carefully—from the house, rather than smashing them. When I decided enough was enough, I can’t say; but the next phase in my arachnidevelopment was hauling out the vacuum and sucking unwanted visitors from the corners of the ceiling where I spotted them. (I have an excellent eye for trespassing spiders.)


Once I started substitute teaching, I realized that no arthropods could hold any fear for me. Or if they did, I had to disguise it. Okay, the time the shrieking kindergartners pointed out the roach in their bathroom, I didn’t handle the situation with as much equanimity as I could have. (I threw building blocks at it until the aide fetched the janitor to bring some closure. And some bug spray.) But other bugs I discovered I could smash without any guilt—regardless of my fondness for Charlotte—and with very little squirming or gasping. (On my part, anyway. I can’t answer for my victims.)


Nowadays I’m able to humanely capture trespassing crickets in my house and toss them out the back door. I’m aware of teeny, teeny spiders that linger on my windowsills, but I just let them be. (There’s probably too many of them for me to do anything about, really, anyway.) The bigger eight-legged neighbors that insist on weaving from my outdoor flowerpots I ignore until I can ignore them no more. Then I knock down the webs when they’re not at home and hope that they move to the garden next door. (Okay, it’s true: the other day I spotted a spider so big—no kidding, the body alone was the size of the head of a mushroom—that I freaked out just a little bit. I smashed it good—several times—and only almost broke my porch light.)


To sum up: spiders horrify and fascinate me. But mostly horrify.


So an assigned story on “Spider-Man 3” has me in a little bit of a quandary—as did my interview with the spider biologist. Especially since my DSL was still out—a fact I’d forgotten. I’d also forgotten that when my DSL is out, I can’t make calls (or receive them) on my landline.


I drove over to another computer and phone and forged ahead as willingly as I could. And the biologist was great. (Luckily it was a phone interview, so she couldn’t see my face when I learned this interesting fact: there are about 39,000 known species of spiders. Known species.)


We talked about big spiders. We talked about fast spiders. We talked about black widows and trapdoor spiders. (Another interesting fact: sure, black widows kill their mates after mating—but most male spiders don’t survive long after they mate, anyway. Once they reach sexual maturity, they basically stop eating and start looking for girls. Not a combination destined to result in a long life. Also: if there is a dearth of females in an area, some species of adult male spiders will just hang out in a discovered female’s web, waiting for her to reach sexual maturity. If that isn’t creepy, I don’t know what is.)


All things considered, it was a great interview. I got exactly the quotes I needed, a ton of species names to pass along to the art team, and I hardly felt nauseated at all.


Unfortunately, after I closed the document so I could save it to my memory stick, I made a horrifying discovery: I couldn’t find the document.


After much heart-pounding effort, I discovered where the file had saved. Unfortunately (again), when I opened it, I discovered that my interview notes were mysteriously not saved in the document.


I have to say, even I’m impressed at how calmly I took this horrific turn of events. I wrote a very lousy draft of the story, using paraphrased quotes I remembered. I have made peace with the knowledge that I will have to call my interview subject back and repeat a number of the questions she answered so thoroughly today. And I didn’t shriek in frustration when the DSL (and thus my phone) mysteriously kicked back in about an hour too late to have prevented this whole disaster.


I am very tempted to blame this awfulness on technology. I expect machines to do what they’re intended to do, not ruin my life one step at a time. I realize, however, that this is unfair: machines are fallible, as are the people who make them. (And, yes, as are the people who use them. Not that I’ve ever claimed to be infallible. Not 100 percent, anyway.)


So instead I’ll just blame it on the spiders. After all, there’s 39,000 of them that we know about. That’s plenty to carry the burden of guilt.