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Dinner with Amelia

A fable:

Weeks ago, a spider set up shop in my office/basement/bunker. It was a very Charlotte-looking spider with long, almost daddy longlegs-ish legs and a petite little body. It built a nearly invisible, wispy web tethered on three sides by a goofy stuffed animal hanging on the wall, my floor lamp and a pile of stuff I don’t look at very often sitting on top of a rolling set of plastic drawers.

I had an instinct to kill it but then I remembered two things:

  • One, they eat other insects and are generally supposed to be human-friendly; and
  • Two, on rare occasions they have been known to spin words into their webs.

I made a mental note to watch for said words, and – in the event the words she spun were “Some Pig” or an equally offensive comment about my weight – kill her immediately.

Days passed, maybe weeks, and my friend proved to be a completely benign roommate. She rarely moved and I occasionally wondered if she were dead or, like me, just contemplative about her life choices. Then one day a fly flew in front of my face. Yes, a fly. A big, fat, fairly slow-moving fly.

What the actual…? I am in a basement with no windows, in a house with central air conditioning and two cats – one of whom is a proven killer. Where did a fly come from? No matter, there’s nothing here for it to live on. I will be the bigger man and let Nature work its course.

Yeah, that didn’t work. I began grabbing things off my desk and flailing at the fly like a crazy person. It was big and slow-moving but, sadly, I am bigger and slower. I kept alternating between ambivalence and rage, each day propelling me more toward the latter. But every time I tried to kill the damn thing he avoided me and hid until I was engrossed in thought, or on a Zoom call, or just savoring being alive during this amazing time.

OK, that last one was a joke. But the first two, definitely. And then he would come out again, little bastard, and ruin my sanctuary.

Today I was on a call and the little f---er flew past my nose. Before I could even react, before a single blood vessel in my eye could rupture, the fly must have strayed too close to the wispy, near-invisible web. He got caught, and my friend the spider, quicker than I could have believed had I not seen it with my own eyes, scampered to him, wrapped him up like a little fly burrito and, sometime later, carried the doggie bag “home” to the bottom of the silly, fuzzy stuffed animal hanging on the wall. Just a little something for later.

It was amazing and wonderful and terrifying. I was reminded of this scene in Beetlejuice.

So now I have a new friend.

***

I have found one of the curious consequences of quarantining (take that accidental alliteration, take it!) is the search for hidden meaning. Maybe it’s not a COVID-related issue, perhaps it’s just me getting old. But I feel like it has become easier, or more common, to be mindful and aware of things going on around me. And, given that, to be curious about what the lesson might be.

***

I wonder what it says about me that I considered leaving Amelia (that’s her name, I’ve decided) alone to hang out in my bat cave with me, without doing a lick of research. So I did some research. I Googled something like, “Hey is it cool to have a spider in your basement?” And guess what? Not only is it cool, but my new friend is actually called a “common Long-Legged Cellar Spider.” Which is awesome, because that’s about the most concrete name for her you could find, even if it doesn’t roll off the tongue like Amelia.

According to an article I read, there are three reasons to consider not messing with your new arachnid friend. They are, in no particular order:

  • They eat common indoor pests, such as roaches, earwigs, mosquitoes, flies and clothes moths.
  • In doing so, they help curtail the spread of disease. (Insert Trump COVID joke here.)
  • They kill other spiders and eat them (survival of the fittest, baby!) – including the Black Widow! I’ve never seen a black widow spider in my basement, but you can never be too careful.

This family of spiders is called pholcids, and they live on literally every continent on the planet except Antarctica. I completely understand this and also prefer my basement to cold weather.

According to Wikipedia, “When pholcid spiders detect prey within their webs the spiders quickly envelop prey with silk-like material before inflicting a fatal bite. The prey may be eaten immediately or stored for later. When finished feeding they will clean the web by unhooking the remains of the prey and letting the carcass drop from the web.” That’s gross, but I would be lying if I said I never left my trash on the floor. Amelia gets a pass.

There’s a myth that the venom of the pholcid is more poisonous than the black widow’s bite, and that it’s only the short length of its fangs that keeps them from being a danger to humans. But since it’s a myth, the Mythbusters had to check it out and, in 2004, they did an episode in which Adam Savage put his hand in a “container with several daddy-long-legs, and reported that he felt a bite which produced a mild, short-lived burning sensation. The bite did in fact penetrate his skin, but did not cause any notable harm.”

I had a mild, short-lived burning sensation once. But it was college, and 7 days of antibiotics put me right back in the game.

***

So many parallels, Amelia and me, but I still don’t know what the lesson is.

Maybe it’s that all life is sacred, and the mercy I showed Amelia was rewarded in what is now a fly-free zone. Maybe, but I don’t think that fly feels validated at all. But screw him, he was torturing me.

For years and years my wife has tried to get me to accept help when it’s offered – is that it? I couldn’t kill the fly, and it was ruining my peace of mind, but lo and behold, salvation came from the smallest, most unlikely source.

Is it a commentary on the necessity of man striking a balance with nature if he is to continue to evolve and maintain his role as the Big Man On Campus here on planet Earth?

Is it that vegans are stupid? I know that’s a little random, but my new friend likes her some meat and I’m cool with it.

What is the lesson – there has to be one, doesn’t there? Or is this how mythology and religion started? Life happens around us, things we don’t control and can’t explain. We come into contact with organisms we can’t communicate with, and we witness natural phenomena that occur blissfully independent of our existence. That can’t be right, we are the big dogs! 

So as humans we anthropomorphize. We attribute meaning and intention where there is none, so we can feel aligned with a world that doesn’t give a shit who we are or how many followers we have on Instagram.

Maybe that’s the lesson. Or maybe I just need to get outside more.

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