I rented half a duplex in Tampa, Florida after graduating. The cockroach infestation was included at no extra charge. At least they weren’t the euphemistically named ‘Palmetto bugs’ which are roaches with a bad case of gigantism.
Someone suggested I buy pet lizards, reputed to eat cockroaches. I could then have pets and the upkeep would be low. But I worried that should my pet lizards become too successful at decimating the roach population, I would then have to import more roaches, lest they starve.
Or if the lizards themselves became too intrusive, would I have to import a suite of armadillos or whatever their natural predator is to control the exploding lizard population. It promised to become much too complicated, so my roaches got a reprieve. Clever buggers.
Previous to that, I shared a house with several others, known to the neighborhood, simply as ‘2001’. There was no number on the house. My housemates had erected a tall black monolith around the mailbox and the United States Postal Service intuited the rest.
This house was reclaimed from the swamp. When moving in, an early project was removing the stand of bamboo growing up through the floorboards in the living room.
Another day, one of my housemates gingerly removed a pygmy rattlesnake from one of the closets. I would hate to be polishing my snakeskin boots only to get polished off myself.
But we didn’t have roaches.
I don’t know if there was a connection but we also didn’t have heat. Warmth is generally taken for granted in Florida, until it snows. It was more comfortable studying in my closed car than to huddle beneath a blanket in that dank house.
Many a chilly evening was spent happily passing a bottle of Jim Beam around the campfire built (a safe distance from the house) from scrap wood lately detached from the decrepit shed (known as ‘2001 Junior’), also on the property.
As marginal as it may sound, this was a huge step up from my one month sojourn sharing a mobile home. What a pit that was. Situated in a cow pasture, I was awakened every morning by a flock of turkey vultures energetically tap dancing on the tin roof above my room. It was a long month.
So, one night at the 2001 house, I entered my room planning to read until I got sleepy. I turned on the light and saw a female mouse spider attempting to scare me away with an aggressive territorial stance. This was no recluse. It was huge and aggressive.
Spiders give most people pause. But the Florida brown mouse spider can be truly daunting, though they are not thought to be dangerous. Greyish brown and hairy, it would barely fit in the bottom of the average coffee cup. With its legs stretched out, you would have trouble hiding it under a coffee filter. Think of a tarantula but not as cute or exotic.
So, it was on my bed doing its version of pounding its chest while laying claim to my bed. I was not in the mood, so I waved my arms and it retreated, out of reach, down the far side of the bed.
Silly me, I went about my business and forgot about it. I got into bed and started reading my book. I read until I came to the word ‘spider’.
Hmm. What happened to the spider?
As if on cue, it plopped down onto my book from the ceiling. I convulsively threw the book and leaped from the bed with a shout. The spider’s timing could not have been better, making its point very effectively. Who knew spiders could read? (So that is where those indecipherable marginal notes came from.)
This was a true nemesis. I could almost hear the shout “Touche!” as she scurried Ninja like, under the bed to safety.
I made a concerted effort to locate and be done with her at last. A master of guerilla warfare, she had melted into the gloom without a trace. How does one flush a determined spider from an undetermined location?
Was it really down to her or me? I knew she wanted me to dismantle my whole room in my search. But I also knew she was probably long gone. The house was about as weather tight as a cardboard box. Spider tracking was obviously not in my Mark Trail, survival kit.
Exhausted, I shut the light and went to sleep. I spent the night with no further disruptions.
However, the next morning, in the bathroom, I discovered something horrible. On opening the medicine chest I found the remains of two such spiders obviously having fought to the death over territory. It was a tableaux fitting the dark end of some Shakespearean tragedy.
One spider lay crumpled up on the top shelf. The other, badly wounded, had valiantly dragged herself to the bottom shelf. Too weak to exit, she had expired in the corner with several legs trailing behind her. It was a shocking sight.
Imagine blearily reaching in there one morning only to discover one of these things riding on your toothbrush! Yecchh!
I cringed at the memory of what I yelled that night, during my desperate search. “Pick on someone your own size!” What had I wrought?
With the reverence appropriate to the sad occasion, I disposed of both carcasses, and my toothbrush. I was only happy they didn’t have opposable thumbs.