Keep your eyes open

“Any poor souls who trespass against us, whether it be beast or man, will suffer the bite or be stung dead on sight by those who inhabit this land. For theirs is the power and this is their kingdom as sure as the Sun does burn. So enter this path, but heed these four words, ‘You shall never return.’”

– The Raconteurs, The Switch and the Spur


Arizona covers some rough terrain that’s uncompromising in its rugged beauty as well as its dangers. The summer Sun defines what heat is in a fashion as loud, abrasive and clear as the onomatopoeia from the old Adam West Batman series. Instead of “BAM!,” “BOOM!,” and “POW!” we have “GUSH!” from the sweating, “INSERT CURSE WORD HERE!” directed at the Sun, and the “GLUG” from all the drinking of water or whatever beverage strikes your fancy. Many of our plants (not just cacti) are armed with spikes that are as impressive as they are ouchy for any fool unfortunate enough to press bare skin against them. I’ve been that fool a time or two, or five. Our baseball team is named after the rattlesnakes that call our state home; relatively peaceful creatures who no one wants as a neighbor… or house guest. There are wolves sprinkled around. Coyotes aren’t wimps and even the adorable javelinas (cute little peccaries – boar like animals) have been known to gore adult humans here and there. Yep, keep your head up and eyes open. Try to keep from being overly distracted by the big skies, glorious sunsets, imperial saguaros, relatively upbeat / happy people and pretty mountains. The desert is hard, just and unforgiving.

Well, I think that about sums it up except for, oh yea… the insects. I don’t hold phobias of any animals but the alien and unpredictable nature of insects always put me on alert. Bugs are all over the world. I’d seen my fair share while growing up in Michigan but most were familiar… crickets, ants, grasshoppers, beetles, flies, bees, wasps mosquitoes and so on. Spiders too, not that they’re insects but close enough. In Arizona, we have all those as well as some of the well-known big boys and gals in the stingy, snappy, bitey bug world. Scorpions and black widows, both arachnids, often top the list. Those can be creepy and I’ve yet to have been bitten or stung by one but they don’t really get my hackles up like other things I’ve seen. Things, critters I can’t put a name too. Add alien and unpredictability with the unknown along with unexpected times and inopportune places (like my home) and I’m in full xenomorph fighting mode.

One night I was getting ready for bed after brushing my teeth. All was well as it was several thousand nights before. I’d taken off my glasses before heading into the bathroom. They were sitting on a table near my bed, about ten steps away from the bathroom sink. Switching off the bathroom light with a yawn, I turned to head toward my cozy little sleep nest. I had my blanket prepped and pulled back for easy access into the blissful pocket of warmth and softness. After taking a few steps, I saw it… a big, brown THING which my ignorant brain registered as some sort of centipede. UGH!! I do NOT like those fucking things. They’re fast, agile and possibly filled with god knows what kind of poison or venom… maybe none but what the hell do I know? This wasn’t the time for thought, it was time for action. The damn thing needed to be removed. I’d have squished it right where it was but ah, you see, that wasn’t an option. The bastard was right there, smack dab in the middle of my pillow!

Without hesitation, I turned toward the kitchen to employ Austin Bug Removal Plan Number 2. I’d grab a drinking glass and a piece of paper. The strategy involves, after acquiring the necessary tools, sneaking up on the animal trapping it in the glass then sliding it over onto the paper. Afterwards, the captured beast’s fate depends on its nature. Some meet the outdoors, others meet their maker.

I remember grumbling as I hastened to the kitchen, “Damn thing is on my pillow! Probably laying eggs or some shit…” I grabbed the glass then a piece of paper towel folded evenly once and then again into a near perfect square. “I’m going to have to wash it all, sheets, pillow cases, blankets. Grumble, grumble… Gonna be up too late… sleepy at work. DAMN IT!”

We all know a bit about the speed of light. 186,000 miles per second. Fast. What about the speed of thought? Ever think about that? You just did. Quickly.

Anyways, it was interesting how rapidly past close encounters of the bug kind came to mind while I was preparing for battle. I recalled one night I was minding my own business, lying on the couch watching a movie. The only light in the house came from the TV. All was fine until: FZZZBBHHTT came the sounds of a flying invader’s wings as it flew through the family room, right across the television. I jumped up, turned on the lights and spent the next half hour trying to find and then deal with thing which was as weird and foreign to my brain as it was fast. Don’t worry, I prevailed.

Another time I was dabbling away one night, playing a little World of Warcraft while conversing via nerd speak, I mean Mumble with some of my fellow role players. It was around 8pm when “Tap Tap Tap” came from the sliding glass door leading to my patio (by the way, again, I was raised in Michigan and we call those “Doorwalls” which I’ve learned is a label some others around the country are baffled by). More tapping… I get up to look, not foolish enough to open the door, by turning on the outside light and pulling the blinds back. Good lord. The mutant was a mix of a grasshopper and a mosquito, bigger than my thumb with long legs that seemed to go everywhere. It was right there, on the other side of the inch thick glass looking at me. Since the abomination was already outdoors I didn’t really need to fight but I tell you, every time I took Maggie, my dog, out to pee that night, my eyes were wide as saucers (there’s another word I’ve learned some aren’t familiar with – saucers, they’re small dinner plates. It’s where the description of flying saucers comes from I believe).

To be sure, there were other heart racing, grossed out face making, willy inducing instances with grotesque insect oddities but my apartment at the time wasn’t that big so I only mostly thought of the two occurrences listed above. Back to the present emergency, I had my glass and my paper towel, heading back into my sleep chamber, suited as best I could be for battle without my glasses in my pajama pants and bare feet. Willpower was on my side. I was going to get that prick, take care of it then do some laundry. I only hoped it hadn’t moved in my brief absence. To my delight, after rounding the doorway into my bedroom, I saw it was still there, on my pillow, probably taking a damn nap.

I didn’t even take the time for a good, reassuring deep breath. No, I moved in for the capture, six steps away… five, four, three, tw- Wait a minute… I squinted my eyes, bringing the world a little more into focus. What? I drew even closer to the monster then felt reprieve settle over my heart. That deep breath, yea I was holding it in, finally escaped my lungs. It wasn’t an alien; it wasn’t a dangerous, poison filled invader. It wasn’t a centipede. It wasn’t even a bug. It was a feather that had come from my pillow. Crisis over. Good night!