Sunday, July 24, 2011

The tarantula that loved me.

Tarantulas and Love. While it's not peanut butter and jelly, they go together better than you think. 

Try and move past the fact that they are hairy monsters the size of a grown woman's palm and weigh as much as a damn hamburger patty. No, let's forget that for now. Let's think about love. 

See, tarantulas live most of their lives underground. Except once a year when something clicks deep inside the males' furry, creepy little hearts that says, "I gotta find THE ONE." It's like a Sex and the City episode without the bad puns. 

In fact, says some scientist on the Internet, 

"The males will continually search for mates until they run out of energy or until a female eats them."

Ain't that the truth, sister. Ain't that nothing but the dang truth.

So, yeah, these male tarantulas, they start out on a vision quest, searching for something to complete them, something hidden somewhere in the vast, arid desert mountains. Something that drives them to ramble on with no clear ending point and no guarantee of success-- they just know they have to go. It just feels right. 

Wait a second. That sounds a little like me. 

Oh shit.

So apparently me and the tarantula guys are simpatico; which is real sweet and all, but this does not make me feel any better reflecting upon the fact that I walked into my house at 1:30 a.m. last Saturday to be greeted by a crab-sized tarantula hanging out on my living room wall. 

Now let me tell you a little something about the movies:

In the movies Jason Bourne jumps from a bridge, sprains his leg, winces, gets up, and continues his chase. 

In real life, Paige walks in her Dallas condo's courtyard at 8 a.m., falls between two stupid, flat rocks, and sprains her ankle so bad that she can't hear or see straight for about 10 good seconds. Then her breathing goes shallow as her vision returns and, this is when she's like Jason Bourne, she hobbles up the stairs to elevate her leg and call her mother crying. 

What I'm trying to tell you is you may see something in the movies or maybe you imagined something in your confident, precious little head, but it doesn't mean that's the way it will go down in real life. (Tell this to your children, my pupils. Let the generations learn.)

For instance, just a few weeks ago, when I walked into my new home and realized I had not called to turn on the electricity or water and that the place was filthy dirty even though my landlord swore up and down he paid someone $100 to clean it, my mother began to worry. And at some point that weekend she asked me, "Aren't you nervous about finding a tarantula in your house?" 

This is almost an exact quote of what I answered back:

"A tarantula? No way. That won't bother me! They're harmless! They don't bite. No big deal."

Cut to a week later. I had just driven in from Marfa where I'd seen David Garza play (who kept coming up to me to talk. "I think he thinks you're someone else," said my friend Kirsten, especially after he says he's sorry he didn't bring any CDs he could give me. "I don't care. Shut up and go with it," I told her.) and afterward we headed to The Museum of Electronic Wonders and Late-Night Grilled Cheese place, where vintage TVs glow and gourmet grilled cheeses abound. There I met a lovely woman named Tigey, who is known for wearing silver horses' asses as earrings and never shies away from voicing her opinion. Basically, I was having a terrific night, and the drive back to Alpine was so pretty and clear and easy that I was feeling pretty great about life in general.

Then I walked in.

I immediately spotted Mr. Tarantula because he was like a new thing in my living room; a painting or a sculpture, and that was unexpected. I certainly didn't remember leaving a HUGE, BLACK ARACHNID when I left earlier that evening. This was a welcome-home surprise and he was taking up a shit-ton of wall space. It took me approximately .08 seconds to identify the humongous spider and assess the situation. So here's what I did: I screamed.

Petey, my dog, btw, was just chilling on the couch. I think he was happy to have a friend to potentially play with. For Christ's sake, the thing was just big enough to get away with playing tug-of-war with my dog & his toys and maybe even win. 

So I screamed, then I hyperventilated. Then I picked up the phone and woke up Genie in Dallas. Because that was a rational thing to do. Then her husband got on the phone and tried to talk me into getting it down with a broom, but I was scared it was going to scurry off under my couch and I wouldn't be able to live here anymore. I would have to abandon my furniture and my home and take my dog and leave West Texas forever, never to return. And during all this the tarantula and I were kinda staring each other down, and he was saying, "Your move, bitch." And I was like, "nuh-uh." So I hung up the phone and did the only thing I could've possibly done at the moment: I went next door and woke up my neighbor so he could catch it.

Please keep in mind this is Alpine. The restaurants close at 9. Really late-night gas stations close at 10. My neighbor was sound asleep and peaceful when I knocked on his door, close to tears. 

"What's going on?" he said, the door cracked.

"I'm so, so sorry, but there's a tarantula in my house and I'm terrified. Can you help me? Please?"

There was a pause. "Yeah, now's about the time they migrate," he said. "I'll be over in a minute."

Now, the rest is pretty simple and this post is much too long as it is, but suffice it to say that my neighbor Jeff is my hero. He caught the tarantula in a big, plastic cup and released it outside and didn't point and laugh at me (or even yell at me for being a sissy) once. He did say this, though, "You know, in all my 30 years out here, I've never once seen a tarantula in someone's house!"

That struck me as odd. Then, when I told my dad the next day about it, he said something similar. "In all my years in Laredo, I've never heard of one inside a house!" (This was after he laughed and told me he used to love to catch tarantulas as a kid. Weirdo.)

The next day my hero neighbor explained to me the details on the male tarantula's love migration. 

"So the females live their entire lives underground, but the males will come out and, about this time of year, they'll start walking. And it's like an internal compass is guiding them because they'll walk almost in a perfectly straight line looking for their mate. So what I'm guessing happened is that he was on his path in a straight line and it led right up to your door and he walked right in and was headed out the other side but he couldn't find the exit, so he crawled right up the wall," he said. 

"By the way, I'll be by to fix the weatherstripping on your door today." 

So I've been thinking about this, this strange phenomenon of a tarantula hiking its way in a straight line through the desert simply to land at my back door (and then under my door and up my wall). Listen guys, let's face it, I moved out here to change my life, and part of that change meant the hope for meeting new men, but this is NOT what I had in mind. I bet the tarantula and I are of similar minds on this one. That is, if they think, and god help me but I cannot deal with the idea of them thinking. My friend Janie said this of the tarantula, "He was looking for love in all the wrong places."

It's all so silly, but still, it's odd, no? So I'm taking it as a sign that I'm charmed. Or bewitched. Something like that. That little (HUGE) guy found me while on his life's quest. I wish he hadn't, sure, but he did. So let's reframe the horror and make it into some teen goth girl's Wiccan dream. Hooray! Love spiders! Maybe this is foreshadowing of a real love that is also headed for my door. Someone who also is looking for love, doesn't bite, and is sufficiently huge. Spider Man, where are you?!?

And as my neighbor Jeff left my house with a cup full of tarantula at 2 a.m. that Saturday morning, I asked him, with no uncertain sense of panic and urgency, "So what do I do in the meantime to keep other tarantulas out??" 

"Put a towel up against your door stop. It'll keep the bugs from getting in."

So, to the magical love of my life that will one day appear at my door: I hope you don't think it's too weird that I've got about eight towels shoved up against each door in my house at the moment, and probably always will. 

Just consider it West Texas weatherstripping to keep out crawly wayward souls and lovesick desert spiders. Consider it charming. And DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT TOUCHING IT.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The dirt and the sky.

I've been trying to figure out what to write since I got here. I can feel another post coming, but until then, there's this: what I have learned so far, is that in Big Bend you can look up at the beauty of the sky, but you can never, ever take your eyes off the ground.

First off, opened-toed shoes here are a joke. I don't know how you could walk around in them without your feet becoming completely gray from dust. And oh! The dreaded goat head thorns! They are like beige Medieval mace hiding under rocks. Petey is still trying to dig one out of his paw. And today the plant that grows them was described to me. Holy cow! I've seen a couple! I thought they were vines growing melons*, they are so big. But they do look sinister. What's a lush, green sprawling plant doing way out here? It's up to no good, I tell you. Beware.

And then you must look down because the red ants, which are about the size of your knuckle, and they are everywhere. What might be mistaken for bike tracks in the dead grass in a city are actually trails made by these fuckers. THEY MAKE TRAILS. And they don't make mounds, oh no, not in West Texas. That would be too easy. They burrow deep into the earth and emerge from sinister looking holes that, dad says, go three and four feet down into the colony. It's like the fucking matrix underworld down there. He and I walked around with Amdro killer when he was here and sprinkled their nests with tiny yellow nuggets that they'll deliver to the queen to kill her.

And it makes me wonder, what on earth is down there, beneath my feet, beneath this dry dirt? Because all I can imagine are millions of long, red ants. But it doesn't seem to bother anyone else, it's just normal occurrence here. And, truth be told, I'm getting used to it. Plus I have my Amdro. "Now, your job isn't to kill every red ant in Alpine," dad said. (That's what he thinks.)

And of course there are snakes and scorpions and for all I know, chupacabras out there, so you must always be looking down as you walk. Always. I told my mom that the landscape is insane out here and it makes me wonder how humans ever were able to settle in this place at all.

Then you look at the sky.

When it rains, the storm rolls across the horizon like a wall cloud of dark smoke and, especially on the first rain, the wind kicks up more dust than water, so a giant ball of orange dirt forms in the atmosphere and slowly rolls across acres and acres with a definitive beginning and end. It's an awe-inspiring to see. And the rain here smells different, too. It's a mix of dirt and water that hangs in the air for hours, even if the rain is miles and miles away.

Then there's the night sky. Night here literally drapes down like a velvet curtain over everything. And it happens at such a pace, it's like a parent who has quietly shut the last bedtime book of the night, whispers goodnight, and exits the room of her dozing child. The blackness seeps in through a sieve at the tip top of the rounded globe straight up above your head and the inky darkness slides down the sides of your periphery vision very slowly, like a cracked egg. And as it drips down, it eats away at the dark navy hue that was the night sky (the color most of us city dwellers would consider midnight), and continues, engulfing the deep purples until it has spilled over the last of the light the sun left behind.

Maybe I can describe nightfall like a the puff of a picnic blanket as it's shaken out to its full size, then gently glides down to the grass below-- if that makes any sense. It's the most calming transition I've ever experienced and it's stupefying to think I've spent so much time on this planet without ever seeing the night fully make its entrance. That guy is a scene stealer. Not to be missed.

Which reminds me, in a way, of those ants. Because they also move down, down, down into their dirt labyrinth below us, filing in and spreading out below ground. Really, they're just a mirror image of what's happening overhead. In this landscape, it's all about the sky above and the ground below, and you best not forget either one.

I'm getting a great refresher course in Life 101: there can't be beauty without ugly, just like there can't be light without the dark. You cannot move forward without first figuring out where you stand. Apparently it's easier to grasp this out in the country because you see it on display everywhere. Remember, we're told that the devil fell from grace because he loved god so much he lost himself. This desert reminds me you cannot lose yourself for a moment if you want to survive. I think we forget this stuff in the city. We're too busy running around on concrete that we forget the basics of how the world works, the next thing you know, we've created Hummers and Affliction t-shirts. And didn't the Bible warn us of this too, my children?

Yes, beauty surrounds me, so much so that I haven't quite stopped gasping or saying "Wow" on my long drives to the center of nowhere. But danger is out there too, and the combo is making for a very powerful, present experience so far.

"Everything out here will either sting you, bite you or poke you, including the cowboys," said Ty. "So watch yourself."

Warning heeded. Now get rid of those sandals.

*later I learned I was looking at coyote melon, not the deceptive sweet fern-like plant that produces goat head evil.