[Editor’s note: This was written and first published in 2007, when George W. Bush was President of the United States. Seeing that Jeb Bush is currently seeking that same office – and feeling that we shouldn’t expect him to be a great improvement over his brother – I thought a refresher of the “W Days” might be in order. – RC]
by Erin Abernethy
Spiders invaded our workplace here a few months ago, and we did what any red-blooded Americans would do. We declared war on them. After all, a spider-bite can kill you. OK, I admit I wasn’t 100% positive about that, but better safe than sorry, right? It seemed prudent to kill all of them, just in case.
“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, you spider-loving liberal!”
The invasion of the eight-legged terrorists began with a very sneaky variation of the old Trojan horse attack. A nearby office was closing; they said they’d give us the desk from their back room if we’d just come and pick it up. Anyone knows that writers need desk space, even ones who use laptops. In fact, we need more desk space than the average person because we tend to be messy; we make lots of notes and do lots of doodling on scrap paper, and print out pages of research off the internet, which we then stick into folders (maybe) and stack all over our desks so we can pretend we’ve accomplished something when all we’ve actually done all day is change a semicolon to a period and play Free Cell while listening to NPR and drinking too much coffee. But I digress; the point is, we need lots of desk space and we’ll do anything to get it. Some people go so far as to say we’re addicted to desk space, but I think that’s overstating the matter – and anyway, it’s not like these sideline critics are providing any viable alternatives. So when someone offers you a free desk, you jump at it. You wouldn’t turn down a free tank of gas, would you? I thought not.
We brought the desk in, and I made myself at home with it. I set up my computer. I stuffed the drawers with pens and sticky-notes and Kleenex and chocolate bars. I stashed a couple of reams of paper in the bottom drawer. I sat back, thinking about taking a nap on my new desk, and then I saw it: an ugly black spider scuttled along the edge and disappeared into one of the drawers. Naturally, I screamed bloody murder.
When everyone came running, I told them (from my perch on top of someone else’s desk) about the spider. “It’s horrible!” I said. “It’s as big as my hand! It had bloody fangs! It could eat your cat in one bite! Why, it could probably eat your neighbor’s dog!”
I knew I was exaggerating, but I also knew I had to convince them of how horribly dangerous it was if I expected to enlist their help.
They looked a little alarmed at my assessment of the situation. I knew I was ever-so-slightly exaggerating, but I also knew I had to convince them of how horribly dangerous it was if I expected to enlist their help to get rid of it. I was terrorized and traumatized, so I figured it was OK to misrepresent the facts just a little.
It worked. “It’s OK,” they quickly assured me, gathering an assortment of sharp sticks and rolling up some old magazines to use as weapons. “We’ll find it and kill it.”
They searched all around but didn’t see it. I pointed out the drawer where it had last been seen. They tore open the drawer, then some more drawers, but it was nowhere to be found. All the excitement, however, did flush out a half-dozen more of the little buggers. They’d apparently been hiding inside the desk, and as the search rousted more and more of them, we found ourselves dealing with not one spider but dozens.
“See there?” I said. “I told you we were under attack! We’ve got to wipe out these critters before they eat us alive!”
“This is ridiculous,” said our senior editor, as all work came to a halt while everyone ran around in a panic, swatting at spiders. “I will not stand for this workplace being terrorized by a bunch of spiders. I’m calling an exterminator.”
The exterminator couldn’t come right away, so in the meantime the spiders continued to run rampant. I was terrified to open a drawer or pick up a folder for fear that a spider would jump out and bite me. A couple of my co-workers got bored with watching for spiders that never seemed to appear when they were watching, so I kept them fired up with tales of the ones I’d seen. “Hideous things,” I insisted. “Legs the size of your arm! You don’t want to think about one of those waiting for you under the basement stairs.”
One of our more rational artists (now, there’s an oxymoron for you: “rational artist” – almost as good as “military intelligence”) tried to explain to me that not all spiders were bad. “Some of them are very good for gardens,” she said. “They eat insects that would ruin your plants.”
“That’s all fine and good, but these aren’t in the garden!” I pointed out. “They’re in here with us! When they’re indoors and there are no garden pests to eat, what do you think they eat then? Us, that’s what!”
She tried again. “Even if a spider did bite you, only two kinds are really poisonous,” she said. She brought out one of those pretty colored nature field guides and attempted to show me pictures so I could identify which ones were poisonous. She pointed out maps claiming that the poisonous ones don’t live around here. I told her she’d clearly received faulty intelligence on the matter, and I wasn’t buying into her pacifist propaganda.
“As far as I’m concerned, if they’re inside the house and they have eight legs, they’re a threat and they’ve got to go!” I yelled. I did a quick search online and printed out a couple of pictures for her. “See that?” I pointed triumphantly. “That’s the pinky finger of a woman who was bitten by a spider. A pinky finger isn’t supposed to look like an eggplant! Spiders are evil! It’s us or them! We’re in a war, here! If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, you spider-loving liberal!”
Some of these traitors seemed to think that if I’d followed advice, we wouldn’t be in this mess now. “Woulda, coulda, shoulda,” I sneered. “Playing the blame game won’t help win the war on spiders, people!”
Despite my attempts to keep everyone focused on the crisis, I noticed that some of my co-workers were beginning to lose interest and get back to work. To remind them of the facts, I used a dustpan to scoop up a couple of the dead spiders we’d managed to squash early in the battle, and I carried this around from desk to desk. “See? See? There really are spiders here, and you’d better believe they’ll crawl up your leg and bite you as soon as you let down your guard,” I warned.
“No one’s denying there are spiders all over the place,” they agreed, “but what do you expect us to do? We’ve got to get back to work and get on with our lives. We can’t stand around all day waiting for spiders to show up.”
As I made my rounds, displaying the mangled spider carcasses to anyone who would look, I became aware that others were just as terrified of the things as I was, but they didn’t think we could ever really be sure we’d found and killed them all. So I changed my tune a little. “We’re winning!” I declared. “These are just a couple of the ones we’ve killed! With a little more effort, if everyone pitches in and pulls together, we’ll get them all! We’re winning!”
This might have worked too, if it hadn’t been for that ugly diversionary rumor that started going around. Some voices of dissent seemed to recall that before the desk was brought inside, our senior editor had told me to make sure I cleaned it up because it had a few cobwebs and spider eggs on the bottom. Some of these traitors seemed to think that if I’d listened to him and followed his advice, we wouldn’t be in this mess now. “Woulda, coulda, shoulda,” I sneered. “Playing the blame game won’t help win the war on spiders, people! You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”
Since things weren’t going so well and that exterminator didn’t seem to be showing up any time soon, I decided to get some outside help. I announced that I was appointing Blackie, the neighbor’s hound, to the newly-created post of Top Dog of Interior Security. A few people thought this was a little silly, so I figured I’d better justify my choice. “He’s imminently qualified for the position,” I explained. “After all, the job title is ‘Top Dog,’ and he’s a dog. Also, he’s black and furry like the spiders, so he probably understands the spider mentality better than we do. I expect everyone to cooperate fully so he can do his job here.”
What’s a little invasion of personal space compared to the peace of mind of knowing there aren’t any spiders lurking in your boots?
This didn’t work out quite as well as I’d hoped. Blackie was zealous about prowling around our workplace, diligently searching out spiders. Maybe he was more interested in the sandwich crumbs under our desks – I can’t really be sure – but I thought he did a bang-up job. Other people thought he was a little invasive. I heard a few complaints about him drooling in the coffee, slurping in the toilet bowl, and tipping over the wastebaskets to rummage through the garbage. “He’s just being thorough,” I assured everyone. Our editor’s wife complained that he rushed her at the front door and tried to hump her leg. “He’s only doing his job,” I insisted. “What’s a little invasion of personal space compared to the peace of mind of knowing there aren’t any spiders lurking in your boots?”
“He has fleas,” she informed me.
“I’m shocked,” I gasped. “I screened him so carefully for this job!”
She went to make another call to the exterminator. I went to tell the Top Dog that his services were no longer needed. “Heckuva job, Blackie,” I said. “I appoint you to get rid of spiders and you bring in fleas. I can’t tell you how embarrassing this is for me. Don’t let the door hit your tail on your way out.” On the up side, the Top Dog scandal did temporarily get everyone’s attention off how badly we were doing in the war on spiders.
An exterminator finally arrived. We had to empty all the cabinets and closets and vacate the building while he went around spraying the baseboards and setting off bug bombs. After twenty-four hours we were allowed to return, and we set about the task of restoring order. We’d been warned that we might run across some dead bugs while we were putting things away. What the exterminator hadn’t prepared us for were the still-very-much-alive spiders that kept charging out at us from hiding places deep within the files of papers we’d removed from the cabinets. Our reorganization efforts were punctuated by bloodcurdling screams and shrieks as one person after another was ambushed by ferocious insurgent spiders lying in wait among the office supplies.
I admit it: mistakes were made. We underestimated the spiders.
Our senior editor called the exterminator and put him on speakerphone so we could all hear. “We still have spiders,” he said. “They’re not gone. And we haven’t found any dead ones. In fact, I think you just made them mad.”
“Oh,” said the exterminator, “I didn’t know you wanted me to get rid of spiders. Your wife said to spray for fleas. Maybe you ought to get together on what you want before I come out again. Sounds like the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand’s doing.”
Our senior editor snapped off the speaker and took the phone upstairs to continue the conversation where his wife could hear it. I picked up an extension from another desk to listen in. “Do you think you ought to be doing that?” someone asked me. “I think he took it upstairs so he could have a private conversation.”
“If his wife is going to divert resources to some pet project of hers and sabotage our war on spiders, I think we need to know about it,” I said. “During wartime, you have to expect the curtailing of a few civil liberties here and there.”
One of the writers checked his watch and started to pull on his coat. “Where do you think you’re going?” I demanded.
“Home,” he said. “I get off at six.”
“Not anymore,” I said. “We’ve got spiders to kill, man! Your comrades need you!”
“But I’m not trained to kill spiders. And I’ve been here since seven o’clock this morning,” he whined.
“Nobody leaves until the job’s done!” I said. “Believe me, I want us all to go home and sleep soundly tonight as much as any of you do. But we can’t do that until we know that every single spider here has been neutralized and we can once again nap on our desks without fear of being attacked!”
While everyone else went about the business of putting our workplace back together and waging war on spiders, I went upstairs to talk to our senior editor. He informed me that the exterminator could come back in two weeks and would spray for spiders then. In the meantime, he said, we’d just have to fend for ourselves.
“That’s OK,” I assured him. “I know now what we need to do. I admit it: mistakes were made. We underestimated the spiders. But I have a new plan.”
“What is it?” he asked warily.
“The problem,” I explained, “is that there are just too many spiders and too few of us. What we have to do is double our staff, and the new hires can hunt down the spiders and kill them while we get back to work.” He gave me a look that suggested he wasn’t entirely on-board with this plan. “Also,” I added, “I’m going to appoint Mr. Fuzzy as the new Top Dog of Interior Security.”
“You’re appointing our cat as Top Dog?” he asked. “That’s an… interesting choice.”
“Mr. Fuzzy will be even more zealous about hunting and killing spiders than Blackie was,” I pointed out, “but he understands the need for personal space, so we won’t have those privacy-invasion issues that kept coming up before.”
“Good, good,” he agreed. He patted me on the back. “You know, I think it’d be good for you to take some time off and get away from all this for a little while. I was thinking… my wife is an avid quail hunter, and she’s looking for someone to go out shooting with her next weekend. Maybe you could go with her.”
© Copyright 2007 by Erin Abernethy. Republished 2011, 2015.
Many thanks to Patrick Redding. Without his help, this probably would have turned out to be just another one of my rants instead of the heavy-handed satire he helped it become.
Artwork via Pixabay.
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