spider chow

I want to get a dog. Dogs provide companionship, loyalty, and someone to blame your farts on. But I’m not allowed to have a dog in my apartment. Cats are OK, but my landlady is racist against dogs.

So I’ve thought about getting a cat. I am hesitant, though, for several reasons. Among them is the fact that I’m sometimes vaguely allergic to cats, and I haven’t spent enough time around them to determine whether it’s only certain breeds or certain kinds of fur or just certain specific cats whose essence conflicts with me. I’d hate to get a cat and THEN discover we’re not compatible. What I should do is borrow a cat for a couple weeks and see what happens, but I have looked and there is no such thing as a cat library.

My other concern is that I would be resentful toward my cat for not being what I really wanted, like when you want to hang out with your friends but your mom makes you play with your little brother instead, and so you’re mean to him the whole time, even though it’s not HIS fault your landlady won’t let you have a dog. It would be unfair to my cat if I gave it a dog’s name, like Rover, instead of a cat’s name, like Susan, and treated it like a dog: walking it on a leash, trying to play fetch with it, expecting some kind of devotion or affection from it rather than disdainful stares, etc. This would be as frustrating and unfulfilling for both parties as John Travolta’s marriage.

Meanwhile, as my inner struggle continues, I must make do with the pets I never wanted in the first place: spiders. I live in Portland, where the relatively cool and shady climate makes it a great place for spiders to settle down and raise their families. That’s OK with me, because we are very welcoming and inclusive in Portland, but often these spiders attempt to inhabit dwellings that are already occupied, like my apartment, and I am forced to evict (i.e., smash) them. The soles of my shoes and the sides of my rolled-up magazines are smeared with reminders of my zero-tolerance policy toward squatters.

Snide Remarks about spiders:

9/11/2006: Spider Remarks
8/20/2007: The Adventures of Spider and Man
8/3/2009: How Sweat It Is
9/12/2011: Arachnophilia

I assume it is because of my vigilance in getting the message out that not as many spiders showed up in my apartment this summer as in summers past. No doubt the Yelp reviews of my place are now exceedingly negative. And so I turned my attention to the spider who lives in the basement, next to the coin-operated washer and dryer. The spider has had a web in this spot for several years. It appears to be his summer home, as he stays only from May to October and then vanishes to wherever it is that spiders go during the rainy season. Perhaps he is retired.

When the spider first built his web over the dryer, my initial reaction was to file a grievance over his decision to build so close to the appliance. As you know, spiders are permitted in basements through a centuries-old treaty designating as dual-use zones all manmade subterranean structures not continuously inhabited by humans — but a web directly above the dryer seemed unnecessarily close, like he was flaunting the shared space and daring someone to do something about it. But then I decided I liked this spider’s moxie, and since his web didn’t interfere with the laundry process per se, there was no reason to hassle him.

Besides, he had staked out a prime piece of real estate for himself. He was probably the envy of all the other spiders in the basement, which was already a pretty elite neighborhood, in spider terms. His web was partially affixed to the light just above the washer and dryer, giving him easy access to the many flying insects it attracts. The nearest human equivalent I can think of would be living next door to a doughnut shop that randomly tosses perfectly good doughnuts through your window every few minutes.

I would observe the spider whenever I did laundry, admiring his comfortable lifestyle and his endless supply of food and his ability to make productive tools from the stuff that came out of his butt. I marveled at something else, too: none of the building’s seven other tenants had disturbed his web. We all use that washer and dryer, and surely I’m not the only person who is initially uneasy about large arachnids living in such close proximity to the laundry facilities, but apparently we all had an unspoken agreement not to harass the spider.

We definitely never discussed it. I mean, I hardly talk to my neighbors at all, for anything, let alone to formulate a policy regarding basement spiders. So it was weird that everybody was going along with it. All it would take is for one person to go down there to do laundry one day and say, “Holy crap, there’s a huge spider web above the dryer!,” and knock it down with a broom. Why had this not happened? What sort of power did this spider have over us? Was he controlling our minds?

And then there was a new tenant.

Now, I cannot definitively put the blame on the new person, who of course I have not spoken to and probably never will, unless she parks in my spot. All I know is this: The spider was in his usual place the last time I did laundry; a new person moved in a couple days later; a couple days after that, the spider was gone without a trace. I know what you’re thinking, that the spider returned to his winter home several weeks early, maybe due to a family emergency. Believe me, I considered that. But his disappearance was so sudden and thorough that I suspect foul play. And then I thought, well, if this is the kind of disregard that people show for one another’s pets, maybe it’s a good thing I don’t have a dog.