Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Black Widow

I was four-and-a-half years old and fascinated with spiders, grasshoppers, and all creepy-crawlies in general. I particularly loved spiders, and thought they were pretty--especially garden spiders with their yellow and black abdomens and gigantic webs.

One morning, I went outside and made a beeline to the water meter because I was hoping to find some slugs to play with. There were almost always slugs there, and I was high on anticipation. I stuck my finger in the hole in the lid and pulled. The lid was stuck. So I tried again, pulling with all my strength. No luck :-(

Being the determined optimist I am, I looked around and found a rake with a handle that would fit in the hole. So I jammed it in and lifted the lid off. No slugs! I was disappointed, but only momentarily. Much to my surprise and delight, on the underside of the lid, just an inch or so from where I had placed my finger was a gigantic black widow! I knew immediately what I had encountered, and was struck by how shiny and pretty she was.

I knew black widows were poisonous, so I did what any other normal four-year-old boy would have done. I ran inside, got an empty mayonnaise jar, and ran back to the water meter. The spider hadn't moved. Excellent!

I didn't want to get bitten (Duh! They're poisonous!), so I found a stick roughly two feet long, opened the jar, and touched the spider. Immediately, it came racing up the stick so fast I thought it might get me and I would be dead. Reacting quickly, I tapped the stick against the rim of the jar. Success! The spider was in the jar! Not wanting to give her the chance to escape, I screwed the lid on as fast as I could. The spider had left a web in her wake, and I was quite surprised by how strong it was. (Years later I would learn that they use black widow webbing to make the cross-hairs in rifle scopes.)

Man! What a pretty spider! I bet Mommy would be impressed!

So I traipsed inside to show my poor mother my prize.

"Look, Mommy! See what I found!"

Her eyes widened with panic and all the blood drained from her face.

"James! Are you OK? Did it bite you?"

"I'm OK. It didn't bite me."

"Are you sure? Are sure it didn't bite you?"

Why does she keep asking me if it bit me. I already said it didn't.

"No, Mommy. It didn't bite me. See how pretty it is?"

I can only imagine what must have been going through my dear mother's head. At the time I was disappointed that she wasn't more impressed that I had caught this dangerous spider all by myself. What was wrong with her!? Didn't she get it? I had caught a black widow! I was pretty hot stuff!

I left my prize on the counter. The next morning I woke up to find the poor spider floating in half a jar of water. Someone had murdered my beloved pet!

For years I thought my parents had done the sensible thing and killed the dangerous creature. Wrong. My older brother, who was nearly six at the time, was jealous of my accomplishment and had done her in.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How to Tell When You're Really Sick

I didn't go to work today. That's because I am sick. For those of you who aspire to a career in the medical profession, here is how to tell for certain--100% dead certain, that is--whether or not a person is honest-to-goodness, truly, verifiably sick.

WARNING: It's not pretty. Continue reading at your own risk. Consider yourself warned.

Tossing and turning all night does not a sick person make--even when that tossing and turning is caused by a body that aches in places one does not have in one's body. Stress could cause that. Neither does waking up with that feeling in the pit of one's stomach. This could be explained by gas. The same could be said for another special feeling deep within one's bowels. Possibly gas as well.

Sprinting to the bathroom so quickly Usain Bolt would be chowing down on one's dust, only to lose half one's body weight in water (through a process other than peeing) means nothing either. Quickly flushing, dropping to one's knees, and un-eating one's dinner while gripping the toilet seat so hard one's fingerprints become part of the wood is also inconclusive. So too is heaving so hard and fast that trying to breathe between retches nearly results in literally inhaling one's dinner (after figuratively inhaling it earlier). Super soaker-like jets of tears shooting from one's eyes at the same time one's stomach inverts itself prove nothing.

No, my friends, there is yet one more symptom that decisively proves one is ill. Suppose one has the coolest electronic leash on the planet, which enables one to receive one's co-worker's support requests, even whilst on one's deathbed. One might even manage to reply to such an e-mail. The true determining factor in whether one is ill or not lies in one's response to the following message:

Thanks a bunch. You can have chocolate when you come by!
If the thought of actually eating said chocolate causes one to jump up, frantically seeking a suitable container just in case the feeling doesn't pass, then it's conclusive. You are looking at someone pounding like mad on Death's door, screaming his or her head off, begging and pleading to be let in already.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

Because we tend to set grandiose goals for the wondrous, New Year™, we frequently set goals that are very difficult to attain and consequently, set ourselves up for failure. For instance, how many times have we resolved to do something big like exercise every day, or never yell at the kids ever again? Then how does it make us feel when we inevitably fail to keep up that behavior for an entire year? Exactly.

When we operate under the impression that we have to bequeath a grandiose gift to the New Year™, our expectations for ourselves are, in my opinion, unrealistic. Just as we gain self-esteem by accomplishing goals, we lose self-esteem every time we fail. The loftier the goal (if it's for the New Year™, we have to make it count, right?) the harder the failure hits us. At least that’s true for me. The few times I tried to set New Year’s Resolutions and only kept them for a few weeks, I felt terrible. In retrospect, I see that the problem was that my expectations for myself were unreasonable, and I had set myself up for certain failure.

Instead of setting overarching goals for the New Year™, I propose that we instead set goals with a much more limited scope. Instead of resolving to make some great change over the course of a year, why not determine to do something differently tomorrow? Instead of “This year I resolve to lose 25 pounds,” let us say, “Tomorrow I will exercise and not overeat.” If we fail at keeping a daily goal, we can always renew the resolution the next day, and the sting of failure is not felt as keenly.

Seriously, how many of us, when we flub a New Year’s resolution say, “OK. I blew it today, but I can always pick back up tomorrow and keep my resolution for the majority of the year”? I bet none of us do. I think we say instead, “Great. I blew it again. Oh well. There’s always the next New Year™.” Then we proceed to hold on to our bad habits until there is another New Year™ worthy of our sacred resolutions.

This year. Wait. No. From now on, I resolve to do more introspection and set more short-term goals. Tomorrow I will be patient when my children forget to use their inside voice or interrupt me when I’m talking to Rebecca. They will go to sleep, completely secure in the knowledge that I love them with all my heart and think they’re the most special children to ever live. I have other resolutions for tomorrow, but I think I’ll keep them to myself :-)

Happy New Year and Happy Tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

For My Angel

I wrote this for/about Rebecca before we met.

If ever an Angel mine eyes did behold

With snowy white wings and a halo of gold

Or if there a mermaid should somewhere be found

Whose voice flowed like honey, whose hair bathed the ground

Or should there a Siren's sweet song fill the air

Or spied I a rainbow, you'd not find me there

For these make but little impression on me

All pale in the face of the beauty in thee

Oh, I could adventure upon the high seas

And sail the world over however I pleased

Or I could climb mountains, ford river and stream

In search of my destiny, chasing a dream

Yea, many's the wonder I'm yearning to see

And places a plenty my heart longs to be

Though countless and sundry the things I could do

My soul lies content simply being with you