Doing battle with eight-legged freaks

By Kris Ferrazza | Aug 15, 2014

It’s been a rough summer for arachnophobes.

A Kansas woman set fire to her home in June, using a lighter to ignite some towels in hopes of killing a nearby spider. Just weeks later, a Seattle man took it to the next level, using a homemade flamethrower on an eight-legged freak. Armed with a can of spray paint and a lighter, he set fire to a laundry room wall and caused $40,000 damage to his rental house. Contents worth another $20,000 were damaged or destroyed in the blaze.

Like any nosy reporter, when I reached the end of both of those news articles this summer, I had but one question: did the spiders survive?

Something tells me they did.

Now I have a little bit of experience with spiders. And I know exactly how wily they can be.

Growing up around a barn, spiders were just a fact of life. My approach was never to kill them. I just avoided them at any cost. We believed in the whole “live and let live” thing in my house, and many a time I watched my mother carry a spider out the front door on a tray or atop a phone bill or trapped inside a water glass.

“What if you were a spider?” she’d ask. “Wouldn’t you want someone to let you go?”

In the barn, I kept a wary eye out for spiders and steered clear of them as much as possible. The barn at our house was devoid of farm animals and instead housed my father’s “Mainely Junque” antiques business. We had an old sleigh in the back, and lots of other odds and ends stored there, and high in the rafters was a spider my brother had befriended and named “Maurice.”

“Psst, come on,” he’d say, palming a tiny morsel of cheese after dinner and heading for the door.

The barn at dusk was not my favorite place to be.

“Watch this,” he’d say, his eyes searching the loft.

“Maur-ice,” he’d whisper in a comical, creepy voice, summoning his pet. Then he would flick the cheese high into the spider’s web. In a flash, Maurice would sense the disruption and emerge in all his epic barn spider glory to retrieve his prize. But instead of a horsefly or a moth, he would find a tiny chunk of provolone or Parmesan.

“Are you sure spiders like cheese?” I’d ask my brother. He’d shrug: “Who doesn’t?”

As a teen, I had a pony boarded in a small barn nearby. Each weekend, I would arrive to find the eaves filled with spiders and their icky webs. Though they did not interfere with the door, the first time I carefully swung it open, spiders rained down all around me.

I’m sure my screams still resonate somewhere out in space.

So instead of doing battle with the spiders, I went to find my brother, the spider whisperer. He said sure, he could solve my spooky spider problem...for a price. And that day we struck a deal. If I paid him $5, he would pick up the biggest stick he could find, bang it around in the eaves, and destroy all the webs and scare the spiders away for the day.

We shook on it, and that is how arachnophobia cost me a large chunk of my babysitting money. As for my brother, he made $5 for 30 seconds of work.

In my 20s, I rented a lake house, and from the street, it seemed like a picture-perfect setting. The Queen Anne Victorian had a turret, a corner porch, and a dock with a boat.

Then came the spiders. One day my sister and I were sunbathing on the dock and a boat passed by. The wake from the boat caused small waves to lap against the shore and rock the dock, sending countless spiders up from below deck through the cracks. It was like a horror movie, as we went from pure bliss and relaxation to sheer terror in a moment’s time. We screamed and ran to the house and never made that mistake again.

The corner porch had a comfy couch on it and offered a stunning lake view, not that we ever enjoyed it. That porch was reserved for the spiders and had been surrendered long ago.

One day we decided we’d had enough. We were taking back the porch. With a broom and a renewed determination, a group of us went out to evict the arachnids.

Not much sweeping had taken place before the William Wallace of spiders emerged from under the sofa, running straight into the center of the floor. (He may have cried, “Freedom!” but I didn’t hear it.)

We were aghast at the sheer size of the thing. My brother told us to stand back and proceeded to violate my mother’s “live and let live” creed by picking up a nearby cinder block. He positioned it directly over the spider and dropped it. I shrieked and covered my eyes, waiting for the spider splat.

It was a direct hit, but nothing could have prepared us for what happened next. The cement block broke in half and — you guessed it — the spider walked out from under the wreckage and escaped, completely unscathed.

Now I am not suggesting the spider was supernatural and somehow broke the cinder block. That would be ridiculous. Clearly, the block must have struck a rock or something on the porch. Or it was cracked already, and the impact finished it off.

But the experience of seeing that happen, right before our eyes, with witnesses and in plain sight in the clear light of day, was more than I could bear.

We packed up our broom and left. Spiders 789, Ferrazzas, 0.

And the beat goes on.

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