Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Scorpion Incident

When I was sixteen, we moved into a very small town in the Texas boonies. Now, for those of you who think of cowboys and horses and long wild stretches of red rock and sunlight, well, most of the time you'd be wrong. In this case, you're pretty close. Our house was in the middle of mesquite brush. I say "brush" and not "forest" because "forest" implies trees that grow taller than your house. One of these trees had a beetle plague and split in half without any warning whatsoever. It fell on the SUV and wasn't even big enough to scratch the paint job.

This was a gorgeous house. One story ranch with beautiful woodwork, miles and miles of the softest white carpeting and (very important IMHO) two built-in bookcases in my room. And (other than the three-am freight train phenomenon right across the street) it was so quiet you could hear the grass breathe. Life in this house was probably the last quiet moment my family got before things all went to hell. I loved every single aspect, even the mesquite brush.

Well, except for the scorpions, of course.

The second night we were there, my mother shouted, one of those wordless oh shit sounds that indicate something unexpected has occured. We all came running. She had a small jar with a piece of paper held firmly on top. She held it so gingerly my brother and I immediately realized whatever was in it was live. And there, in the bottom of the jar, was a small beige scorpion about the size of a silver dollar.

This was not entirely unusual. We'd had a scorpion in the house before. One. This other house was also out in the boonies--live oak brush, this time--and the scorpion was outnumbered by the taranchulas four to one. (Possibly five. We brought one home from the road once). These things were not intimidating. They actually look kind of cute, in a aww how--SHIT GET IT OFF ME GET IT OFF GET IT OFF kind of way.

I think my brother named it Bob.

We fed Bob small pieces of other bugs and decided that as soon as our internet connection was up we would find out how to keep Bob around for his natural life span. He would wave a pincher with a half-eaten grasshopper leg at us, little tail bobbing in a way that was amusing and also very terrifying. And our infatuation lasted until we discovered the next one. And the next one. And the one after that.

Apparently the mesquite brush was absolutely infested with the godddamned things. We were finding at least one a day, usually walking down the hall with its little tail erect, pinchers high and if it could have whistled, we would have heard the witch's theme from Wizard of Oz as it trundled down the carpet. My cat, a princely white-and-marmelaide long haired lion named Goofy (don't ask), became expert at spotting them. I swear to god, it was like having a pointer dog, only it was a cat. We'd see him looking at a box or the floor, or scratching at my piano, and we'd know. Goofy found another one. Go get the jar. After one month, we had forty of them in there. We'd sit and listen to the dry sound of their carapaces rubbing against the glass. We no longer knew who Bob was, and part of us devoutly hoped his creepy-crawly bretheren had eaten him.

I had one on my leg once. And didn't realize it until I brushed it off and it went rolling down the tile.

My mother discovered that bug spray cannot kill them. Terminex men can show up clad in white jump suits with their Ghostbusters gear on their back and the scorpions will spend several hours huffing the fumes and then go after the catfood because the munchies have kicked in. They glow under a blacklight. Experts recommend you fight a scorpion infestation by going out at night with a blacklight and picking up everything that glows for a couple hundred meters. And when the scientists suggest you go pick them up because chemicals just ain't gonna do it for ya, you know you've pretty much lost the evolutionary advantage.

My mother not only refused to do this, she point blank refused to let either my brother or me do this. She knew we would find hundreds and hundreds every night and keep them.

Dad was pretty indifferent to the whole thing. They were bugs, after all. A thing to be conquered by the combined powers of Raid and a fly swatter. Explaining that the house had been recently sprayed and that all research showed Raid only pissed them off did nothing. Begging did nothing. Dad would hold the jar up, watch multiple barbs go for his throat, and grin like this was no big deal. Then he'd take a book or the paper back to his bedroom and go to sleep.

Goofy was still my cat, but he'd decided around this time that he liked Dad best of all. The cat would follow Dad around like a puppy, twining between his ankles and crying until he got petted. Dad went along with this reluctantly. Cats, even a scorpion-hunting cat, were supposed to live in barns, catch mice and generally stay out of your way. Goofy's scorpion count (we stopped at forty, when my brother entered his scientist phase and filled the jar with Windex. They were still moving two hours later) had redeemed him somewhat, but not enough for Dad to actually like him. Goofy would usually wind up sleeping on the windowsill over Dad's head, and Dad would complain in the morning about the cat tail getting in his face all night.

About a week after drowning our catch in window cleaner, my brother came in the room to ask my Dad a question. Dad lay sprawled on the flowered comforter, half reading the paper, half drowsing, and the cat was on the window above him. My brother paused in the doorway, frowned, and said "Dad, what is the cat looking at?"

Dad put down the paper and saw the color drain out of my brother's face. He looked at the cat, who was staring intently at the ceiling right above dad's head.

And there, hanging from a vent directly over my father's head was a tiny little gray-brown scorpion dangling by one claw. Its frantic struggles to grab the vent with the other had it swinging violently back and forth.

My dad is a Vietnam vet. He has faced down bullets, rockets and exploding munitions bunkers. I do not think he ever moved as quickly as he did, right then. My brother ran and got a new jar, the old one still being full of Windex, and my father cautiously maneuvered the paper so that the thing fell into the jar and not the bed. He fastened the lid down, gave my brother a hug, and then turned to Goofy.

Goofy jumped down onto the bed and gave the jar a sniff. He looked up at my dad. Looked back at the jar.

Dad sighed. He reached down and scratched Goofy under the chin. "Good kitty," he said.

That night was the first time Dad let Goofy sleep on his bed.

No comments:

Post a Comment