“With great pleasure, I would like to welcome our newest addition to the family…¡Mira!”
There were no cries of joy, no warm embraces, only cold blank stares of horror at the Mason jar with circumspect air holes punched out of the lid.
“We can’t keep a black widow as a freakin pet. Have you gone off your meds?”
“Well, I can’t kill this beautiful specimen of nature. Plus it’s a great lesson for our son to have a pet. I’m rather non committal on a fish right now.”
“Where do you plan to keep this dangerous pet?”
“In the liquor cabinet, locked away and safely secured with our 2001 Millessime Rosé Brut. Besides, I can care for her there, as I’m often tending to the bottles.”
After losing that argument, I placed ¡Mira! in a more suitable corner in the garage. I suppose it was her natural surroundings that convinced me of the compromise.
“Mommy, what will we feed her? Candy?”
“No darling, ¡Mira! eats insects.”
“Wow mommy, I want to feed her!”
“No honey, only mommy feeds her, you can watch.”
With that, my husband reared his beta male head and pleaded for me to extricate this arachnid from our lives.
“Damn it, why do you have to keep a black widow as a pet?”
“Because I can relate to her.”
He was nonplussed by the veiled threat.
Hunger calls, so enthusiastically we ventured to the strip mall for lunch at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant which coincidentally was next to an Aquatic pet store. What manufactured good fortune. After some Spring rolls and a bowl of soup, we paid the bill and I sauntered into the pet store.
There a sickly, gaunt eyed youth sat idly, waiting for a customer. His black concert T-shirt and skin tone were glowing under the black light of the latest aquatic technology. I wanted to offer him a Dorrito and multivitamin, but we were in a hurry.
“Excuse me sir, I have a pet Black Widow, what should we feed her?”
“Wow, that’s kinda cool, I guess. Well I suggest you feed her live baby crickets.”
After we acquired 5 hapless “crickettes” we rushed home. I studied up on Black Widow husbandry before attempting to feed the beast. After adequate study, I started the preparations. Well, here goes nothing!
I turned the glass mason jar upside down as she was netted quietly at the other end. Those baby crickets are quite vigorous so capturing one was a small feat. But after a couple escaped into the claws of our cat, we finally managed to toss one into the jar, close the lid and watch the show. Nothing really happened. Oh, well. Let’s go play some Minecraft and let nature take it’s course.
Hours later. Nothing but a spastic cricket and a static killer.
Hours later. There lie a dead cricket and a satisfied customer with swollen abdomen that pronounced her hourglass figure. Success!
Life with ¡Mira! was rather uneventful. The garage was dank, and inconvenient. I soon relocated her to more upscale living arrangements.
I checked on her daily as I dusted the liquor bottles, fed her weekly, and admired her deadly beauty. My husband and I never really discussed it, out of sight out of mind I suppose and he stopped drinking so he didn’t look in the liquor cabinet much.
Not much to report until a notice came home with my son.
“Mommy, it’s bring your pet to school day, I want to bring ¡Mira!”
“No, no, no, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Let’s bring FluffinStuff, or how about a picture of FluffinStuff as she’s not a good traveler or pleasant with children.”
Wailing tears of sorrow, frustration, anger, mommy spite ensued.
Faster than you could say “foster care system” I relented. My better judgement of course was swindled by my flawed rationale. Everything would be perfectly ok with adult supervision and a the flair for the natural sciences. Viewing creatures in the confines of a tightly lidded Mason jar is deriguer for children around the world! Why deprive these fancy brats accustomed to Labradoodles, ShuShuDoos and Cockapoos the simple pleasures of back yard arachnology?
With tears boiling on his corneas, I tilted my son’s head up and said “Let not share this with daddy.”
He hugged me so tight, I could barely fear the possibility of a child custody battle. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Routine is critical to sustaining a peaceful common life. Routine has been routinely a stranger to me. My days, weeks and hours were once heavily calendared with commotion. “Peg, what is on the agenda for today?” I would exclaim as I rushed past her desk into my office, feeling the oncoming doom of the first meeting of the day, aka another needless circle jerk of confounding perpetuity. “You have a budget meeting and – it’s in conference room 3NB. Oh wait, it’s been changed to conference room 5SC.”Another day, another conference room appointed on the basis of maddening geopolitical determinism.
Before I could drop my coat, dribble coffee and calm my solar plexis, I hear Peg exclaim,”meeting cancelled, you’re free until 10am.” Great, I can put down the map, and tackle my aggregate of emails missed while commuting, check the stock price and commence my prayers for an annual bonus. In a corporation, you can never bestow enough homage to the dark lords of the bonus pool. They can decide to grant you a check of such largess you now have the means to acquire an Audi convertible before summer, or an all inclusive tropical family vacation. Alternatively the dark lords can withhold all reward and damn you to a staycation of updating your resume. With pauper’s pleasure, I have now moved on to a simpler life free of conference rooms named after bogus affectations of emotional intelligence. See you in conference room “C U next thursday sucka!”
I digress….back to my bucolic horror story.
On the agenda for today was a thorough assessment of gopher damage in our “rustic’ garden. My, how life gives you twists and turns. Fall was here in full crisp beauty. The vineyard beyond the weathered fenced was a blur of golden browns and yellows. Acres of dark etched vines preparing for their winter rest. The morning sun was beaming above the ridge separating Sonoma from Napa. As I took in this sights, smells, sounds I neglected to think. I naively transferred my foot from a cozy shearling slipper into a well worn, muddy, garden clog without checking for inhabitants.
Hmm, something was in there, like a very soft jelly bean. It’s touching my right big toe and jiggling. Must be a leaf or a blossom. My left foot slipped uneventfully into the other clog and off I went to survey gopher carnage to our unsightly 3/4 acre patch of “ornamental” bermuda grasses, forlorn rose bushes and neglected half barrel planters.
You may be thinking, “How impetuous to put your foot into an open shoe left outside overnight.” The idea surfaced not long after the sensation of that soft orb against my toe triggered it. What if….
I took off the shoe and lightly upended it shaking downward. What bounced out onto the gravel was a black widow SPIDER! Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh. Oh my God. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.
If the neighbors were spying through the fence at that moment, they would be entertained by my vigorous and impromptu Native American War Dance with accompanying cries. Before the gardeners 3 doors down could dial 911, I was phlegmatic. My composure may have been due to the onset of shock, but my self diagnosis was soon thwarted by the sight of that poor little arachnid in fetal position, legs contracted inward, frozen from the assault of my right big toe.
Had I killed it or had it crawled up into my garden clog to die? Faster than you can say “Kübler-Ross” the bugger started to unfold on the gravel and move about. Our mutual death was not our fate today. The bulbous black shiny abdomen with the tell-tale red hour glass was seductive. What to do next? How could I exterminate this beautiful specimen? How could I set it free only to have it procreate more lurking killers? I had an idea.
“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”
― Oscar Wilde
I have lived in big cities all my adult life. The transition to a small rural town in wine country was altogether freeing and confining. The paradox lies in the contrast between blissful anonymity in a densely populated metropolis and the jarring intimacy one has with the denizens of a small town. It’s like a tsunami of friendliness that sweeps you up and leaves you clinging to any palm tree to save your life…of privacy!
The luxury of open fields and mountain vistas can easily be supplanted by the unwarranted hugs and kisses of a drunk neighbor, or the droning neighborly chit chat about fruit trees and coveys of quail. I smile, I nod while I dream of my vodka chilling in the freezer and how good that quail must taste roasted to perfection.
You escape to a bar only to realize after a soulful confession of your recent transgressions that the bartender you entrusted is married to the hair stylist who is the daughter of the council member who is the attorney for the sister of the neighbor who keeps trying to hug and kiss you as you get in and out of your car with groceries. Incestuous.
Nothing could be more alarming when your personage is then confused with someone else in the hamlet. The resulting damage to your identity is now 10 fold to anything a Croatian hacker could do to your credit report.
I soon discovered I had a dopleganger while strolling along the town square perusing all the tourist sundries and restaurant menus. Someone from a convertible Fiat 500 yelled “looking good Monica!” Thumbs up and all. I had no idea what to do so I smiled and curtsied.
A similar curious occasion presented itself while I was at the market poking around the cabbage. A kindly old lady smiled and said, “I have an excellent recipe to trade with you.” I was taken aback but not entirely frightened. “your last recipe for Pancet was terrific!” Before I could refute, she exclaimed “I’ll text it to you.” And she whisked away snatching the head I had carefully selected.
Intrigued by this series of events is an understatement but I refrained from taking things too seriously. I’m sure this person is a lovely woman of discerning tastes and interests. A pillar of the community and certainly I could use her recommendation of a hair stylist.
One morning after devouring a pain au chocolate at the Basque Boulangerie, me and my coffee proceeded to aimlessly window shop. It was still early enough that the shops were not open, but good news, the designer consignment shop was putting out their racks and dusting off their furs. The shop girl was busying herself in the back while I started filing through the reclaimed Diorr, Versaces, Guchi and Channel.
“Excuse me! No food or drinks in the store plah-eeez.” a disembodied nelly voice shouted violently at me from behind a copious rack of Torrie Birch. I sheepishly said “Sure, no problem.” and proceeded to drink my coffee inconspicuously behind the ample piles of Jimmie Chus and Pradda shoes. And then it happened. As I looked at the price tag of an item of interest, I flipped my lid – literally and it splattered all over a Burberrie Poncho size 38.
Shop girl out of sight, I fanned the coffee beads off the “wool” threads and impressed with my work, proceeded to exit. Hastily I proclaimed “Thanks – great stuff – have a good day!”
Quickly I disposed of my weapon in the nearest trash bin, wiped my hands on my jeans and expediently walked on. Did I hear faint cries off in the distance? Was there a familiar nelly voice faintly calling out for me to return? My imagination. Possibly my conscience playing tricks on me. If there was truly serious damage, I would step up and be accountable. Anyone with a penchant for forgeries of designer goods couldn’t be as discerning about a slight discoloration in their poncho that might be identified as a coffee stain or the irregularities of unnatural fibers.
Soon a hear that nellie voice screaming at the back of my head. “Hello there! I think you forgot to pay for this!” The poncho was suddenly in my face faster than a pain au chocolate. A Filipina transexual shop girl was confronting me like a Marine ranger at Guadalcanal.
“I beg your pardon!”
“That’s not all your going to be begging for, you sprayed your coffee on this poncho, ran out of my shop and now you need to buy this. I take cash or check only.”
“What? You don’t have square?”
“Cash or check.” I had barely a penny but several credit cards. Who the hell uses paper currency. This place was definitely in a time warp.
“Hi Monica, is this person bothering you?” A burly bear of a man with a handle bar mustache from the wine shop decided to interject. “If she is I’m happy to hold her while you call the police.”
“Ok, ok, this is getting out of hand! I am not a common criminal, I am perfectly suited to resolve this, let me pay for the dry-cleaning.”
“Not a chance. This poncho is now yours. $246.00 please.” With that price tag, I remembered the shock that caused the clandestine spill in the first place.
“That is not a real Burberry poncho, and even if I wanted it, I would never pay full price, moreover, who the hell is wearing ponchos, it’s so 2012. Might I add, counterfeit goods are illegal, shame on you for profiting from contraband.”
“Monica, this person is getting hostile, I think we need to call the sherif.”
“Hey mustachio, mind your own business. I don’t think you are needed to complete this transaction. Go reconfigure your facial hair before you become as sartorially obsolete as a poncho.”
Burly then said “Hey, you guys look like sisters! Possibly identical twins.”
Monica proceeded to exclaim “hardly, she’s much heavier than I am.”
With this personal affront, I broke free. I heard the screams of capture as I ran through the park past the swing sets. For whatever reason, they chose not to take chase. On the run, and blocks from home, I was now an outlaw.
“I mean, it’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace.” —George Hanson, Easy Rider
I finally took the leap. I had to abandon my lot in life and take these erstwhile indulgences elsewhere. I needed a community void of psychopaths, narcissist and sociopaths slithering about the building with their cups of designer coffee, pulsing smart phones, access badges and sycophantic smiles. The competition for most vile was tough out there. Who needed it? Not this emotionally disturbed careerist.
Abruptly, I evacuated and landed in a bucolic, fantasy of lifestyles. Here I was planted, like a shoot in the vineyard, a vine ready to flourish, produce fruit, make a fine vintage of life. However pleasant, my new community was void of something else. Outside perspective. As refreshing as this hamlet of wine country may be for tourists, visiting relatives and vagrants, to me, this microcosm was a fantasy peppered with nightmaric frustrations only a neurotic like myself could discern. And I grew up here. Amonsgt the vines, I saw punk shows, stole liquor, played hide and seek. I remember harvest fairs and ice cream trucks and kick ball in the street until sundown. I don’t think I ever fathomed how good life was because all I wanted when I reached a certain age was to get the hell out of here for the city. As trite as it may sound, I’ve come full circle.
Inside this lovely bubble is a comfort zone where rarely there was a ruffled feather before a nonchalant nicety emerged. It is rather vapid although some might consider the naiveté charming. If you ask me, it gets didactic. Here I am a shark in a wading pool of guppies, out of place, under stimulated and the damn guppies are barely an amuse bouche. What does this all mean?
It was time to recallibrate and lead a common life. Could I do it? For Christ’s sake, I was now a mother! Egads, what novelty to raise your child in such Mayberry. I had only ever used my “Baby On Board” suction sign on the rear window of my car when I needed to go “solo incognito” while driving in the carpool lane. Now I was parenting, volunteering for kindergarten art class and chaperoning field trips to the retirement village for bouts of moribund Christmas caroling. Now that was a kindly shock to the system. I digress.
To paper mache the bigger picture, these are stories of transition and transgression from one life to another. A detox, a come to Jesus, decluttering the affectations, a bit of Green Acres meets Apocalypse Now (as you can tell from my preamble, I’m truly insufferable.) These stories are not autobiographical but some of the anecdotes are. Why hell, you may even ask yourself, I cannot relate to this, I have no business reading this, my God, why waste my time on such drivel.
The practical answer: If you’ve read this far, you’re in too deep to give up now. Could get better, could get worse, let’s take a gamble.
The philosophical answer is: Those who indulge my practice of literary prostration are steps closer to heaven through introspection, and by golly, I bet you 72 virgins, there’s a bunch of rich fatty foods, fine wine and perfectly crafted cocktails not to be missed in the afterlife.