I was innocently vacuuming my basement when it happened. Innocently sucking up innocent tufts of Yara’s innocent hair.
Yara is my Norwegian Forest Cat. A fluffy and neurotic animal who spends much of her time staring at bunnies through the patio door. She runs away and hides if the bunnies get too close. She’s an innocent beast. So was I, gentle reader, until it happened.
I warn you, kind reader, this blog is not for the feint of heart. Or the innocent. Hide the women and children. The men too. Batten the hatches. These waves are about to get rough.
I opened the patio door to suck up some dirt and grime. That Central Pennsylvanian wilderness that collects in the boundary between my civilized basement and the wilderness beyond.
There it was.
The spider stood eight-feet tall if it stood an inch. It stared at me with its forty-six million eyes. A tarantula? A Brazilian Salmon Pink Birdeater? No, it was worse than that. It was a Pennsylvania Furnace Sam-Tanner-Eater. Come down from the Thickhead Mountain Wild Area, through the Rothrock State Forest, up Tadpole road and into my backyard. It had a bloodthirsty grin on its face. A fork in one arm. A knife in the other. Some soy sauce in another. And a bib wrapped around its girthy neck. The creature was hungry, friends. It needed to feed.
The creature begin skittering and I squealed a squealish squeal. It sounded like this:
I’m a city boy, okay?
Born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. Spent the better part of my adulthood in Minneapolis. A tiny apartment in Uptown. A little house on 20th Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis. I can walk gentrified city streets with the best of them. I don’t mind ungentrified streets, either. In fact, I prefer those areas of the city that haven’t been flooded with white money. Give me that urban sprawl, baby.
I moved to Central Pennsylvania five years ago. To chase tenure at THE Pennsylvania State University (!Altoona campus!). I submitted my dossier last week. In pursuit of the elusive tenure monster. If I don’t get it? It’s back to the drawing board. The unemployment board. If I do get tenure? I keep my job. Keep working. Probably harder. I’m a scholar. The work is never finished. What a gig.
Yes, I’m a scholar. But I’m also a citizen of THE Central Pennsylvania. A land of rolling green hills. Snakes and bears, so I’m told. I’ve yet to encounter such creatures. But I’m told they stalk the gentle mountains behind my house. Not really mountains, but mountains to me. I’m just a city boy from St. Paul, Minnesota learning to be a rugged creature of this Central Pennsylvanian wilderness.
The spider smelled the stink of the city on me. It had the upper hand and it knew it. It reared back on its legs. Towered over me. It was seven-times my size.
“Please, no,” I muttered.
“What yinz gonna do about it, city boy?” The spider asked.
Yinz is part of the Pittsburgh vernacular. You wouldn’t get it unless you’ve defeated the kind of spider that was eyeing me up and down. It looked at me like this was a Hooters, I was a waitress, and the spider was a balding executive in its forties.
“Just leave me alone,” I spit out. “I’ll let you finish your business.”
“You’re my business, boy,” the spider had a look in its eye. The kind of look Joe Biden gets when he inhales female hair. I was afraid. So afraid.
“Please,” I whispered. “I’ll go back to Minnesota. You can have the house. You can even take my tenure. Just let me live.”
The spider tightened its bib.
“C’mon here, boy. Let me smell yinz.”
And then it happened.
I walked to my garage. Grabbed a can of Raid. Returned to my patio door. I sprayed with all my might. Half the can. The spider skittered here and there. I closed the glass door after I doused it. I watched it curl in on itself. I watched it die.
“Solomon! Samson! Katie! Come look at this.”
My family saw what I had done. Yara emerged from underneath the couch in our basement. She had watched the whole thing. They all looked at me differently after that. My innocence was gone. I was capable of anything.
I took a broom from the closet. Swept the spider’s emaciated body into my dirt pile. Central Pennsylvanians have dirt piles.
I was mowing the lawn later in the week. Proudly walking the grounds of my dominion. My backyard is an aviary in May. Cardinals. Pennsylvanian Ruffed Grouse. They dance in our many trees. A Pennsylvania Furnace Chick-a-Bird landed on a branch as I mowed.
“There’s something different about you, Sam,” the bird told me.
I smiled smugly.
“You’re one of us now,” it said. And then it took flight.
I nodded with the quiet confidence that comes from experience.
“Yinz right, Chick-a-Bird. Yinz right.”
And the wind moved slowly over Central Pennsylvania.