Suburban landscape

Jon and I bought our house from a middle-aged single man who worked as a flight attendant for a major airline. He only spent two weeks a month in the house, so he left very little impact on anything. The hardwood floors were in perfect shape, and all the original molding had been preserved, but he decorated everything as if he were paying homage to the color of stomach bile. When I saw the color of the walls for the first time I was immediately reminded of the time in fourth grade when I threw up a ham sandwich on the school bus and the driver had to pour large flakes of saw dust on the puddle so it wouldn’t slosh around when she took a hard right.

The rumor was that the previous owner was a lonely gay man, and he didn’t get along with anyone on the block. He used to call Animal Control on the next-door neighbors any time he saw their cat in his yard, and once left a threatening voicemail that he was going to sue them from the emotional distress he had suffered at the hand of their cat’s poop. Another neighbor told us he used to party when he was in town and that we could probably attribute the towel in our sewer line to one of those raucous nights, because “who knows what happens when those crazy gays start drinking vodka.” I’ll tell you what happens! BEHAVIOR THAT DISRESPECTS THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE. Because crazy gay drunks? SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT THAN CRAZY STRAIGHT DRUNKS.

The yard was also very tidy, the grass green and cut as close as a military haircut, but he had lined the flower beds with giant concrete slabs that looked exactly like parking dividers. During our first summer in the house we tried to beautify the lawn, and the first thing we did was haul those slabs to the dump. But that was the extent of our collective gardening experience — taking things apart — and when we tried to plant a variety of bushes and flowers I accidentally destroyed most of the work the previous owner had done. While digging through the soil I kept finding walnuts buried several inches down, and after chucking a handful into the street I asked Jon, “Why would someone bury walnuts?” He hadn’t been paying attention, and once he turned around and saw me throwing things into the street he dropped his shovel and ran over to interrupt my pitching practice. Turns out those walnuts? They were tulip bulbs. Imported from Holland. Was one of those instances when Jon could feel confident that he had totally married up.

A couple years ago a new set of neighbors moved in next door, the taxidermist and his wife, they who once used a stuffed yak as a decorative gargoyle. As a gesture of hospitality the taxidermist offered to bring us a truck full of rocks he had found near his Death Shop in the mountains, and we used those rocks to decorate the uneven line between our two properties. On his side of the line he planted an assortment of plastic flowers, many of them very life-like, and two petrified tree stumps he had found on the side of the freeway. Within a couple months weeds had grown up through his artistic landscape and were thick enough to hide an advancing army and tall enough to shade the second story of their house.

A few weeks ago after learning that the taxidermist was moving out of state we hired a small landscaping company to rip out the line of rocks along the property line. The man in charge suggested we plant sod between the houses so that instead of two disparate plots of uneven soil we could have one rolling lawn, but that in order to do so we’d have to get the neighbor’s permission. So I cornered the taxidermist’s wife one afternoon because once, while we were making small talk on the sidewalk, she looked at her yard and then back at me while rolling her eyes as if to say SHHH, DON’T TELL ANYONE, BUT I HAVE PLASTIC FLOWERS IN MY YARD. She said that she wouldn’t mind, but since they had just got an offer on the house she didn’t know if she could give the go ahead. “What if the new owners really want the tree stumps?” she said laughing.

“You’ve got a point,” I said. “If I were paying that kind of money for a home I’d want the weeds thrown in, too.”

Within a couple days the landscaping company was ripping apart our lawn, digging up yards of ground cover I had planted incorrectly. One person was in charge of hauling out all the rocks, and while he was lifting up one of the tree stumps he stepped on a giant tarantula. Taran. Tula. While crushing it with his shovel another one crawled out from under a mass of weeds followed by two smaller tarantulas, perhaps its tarantula babies. We were destroying their lovely tarantula home where they had rested their wee tarantula heads.

Jon didn’t tell me about this until the day after it happened, which was incredibly smart on his part. If I had known about the tarantulas while the tarantulas were happening I would have gotten in the car and driven off the edge of the Earth. My guess is that the rocks the taxidermist brought down from the hills were carrying tarantula eggs, which is a little frightening because there are four other places in his yard where he deposited rocks from that same batch. And they are still there flanked by a decorative flourish of plastic hydrangeas.

  • TigerLambGirl

    Hey. My husband went into the garden two nights ago – to his nightly ritual of turning off the perimeter lights that surround the garden and pool area. As he went up the steps (we’re on a mountain side in the Middle East) to the front gate he heard a hiss.

    Uh. It was a viper. A baby – but a viper no less. And he was wearing no shoes and only a wizzar (kinda like a towel) round his manly bits. Luckily he had a shovel with him and he quickly smacked the hell outta the snake.

    We scooped it up – poured some vinegar over it and gave to the Survival guy (air force survival trainer) at work.

    But that’s not why I was posting. It’s just I’m still reeling over that nasty creature.

    Anyway, you oughta see the spiders we get here. One is called the Camel Spider (google it – it’s a nasty, vicious little creature). When we go camping – we have to be careful to check the tents before we zip up for the night. Camel Spiders have a nasty habit of injecting a substance into the skin that numbs it. Then they proceed to eat a huge portion of flesh.

    Nasty. Nasty. Nasty bites they are.

    Thank God you only have tarentulas round yer parts thar, Heather. They’re pretty harmless compared to the critters we get round here. (Since we moved into this house 6 mos ago – we’ve ‘come across’ – gulp – 4 scorpions. Not the innocuous black ones — the little poisonous bastards).

    I flucking hate spiders. And snakes. Especially poisonous and/or flesh eating ones.

    Having said that, I’m probably truly more terrified of cockroaches. Hate those bastards with a passion so – that I turn into a complete hysterical raving lunatic until someone kills the motherflucker.

    Brrr.r…now I’m gonna dream about this shit tonight.
    Thanks a lot.

  • hopefulloser

    My house’s previous owner also planted plastic flowers everywhere. And my cousin’s neighbor has astroturf as their whole front yard, it’s pretty surreal.

    I’m sad they killed the spiders :-(

  • Jacey

    I hear north American tarantulas can’t kill you. Perhaps a child, but not an adult. A friend of mine was once bitten by her pet tarantula and her arm swelled up and she lost all feeling of it for a while. But after some hours, she got the feeling back and the swelling went down a bit. It was just sore for a couple of weeks.
    A rattlesnake got a hold on my ankle seven years ago. I had to make a trip to the hospital for that. The snake was killed and we kept the rattler as a souvenir.
    We don’t have much in south Texas but spiders, snakes, and tumbleweeds.

  • ketty

    “It would be awful if they started to fall out through the dash board on your feet while you are driving. Maybe you shouldn’t wear sandals when you drive… know, just in case.”

    Oh. Oh god. Oh. That was the meanest thing EVER! I will never be able to drive again!

  • Mack’sMom

    I can smell the bubble gum scented saw dust right now…not to mention the pungent smell of whats underneath it! ugh.

  • dancingnancy

    The only good spider is a dead spider. You should see the ones they have in Australia. Love the country, can’t stand the ginormous buggers….

    Has anyone mentioned that these camel spiders are fake? As in, hoax? That’s the word on the street people….

    I refuse to believe that people put plastic flowers in their yard. Refuse.

  • 6degrees

    Ahhh, the beloved plastic plants. We have a few Yahoos in our neighborhood who did the same… uh, we live in Minnesota… where there is snow… Not. Convincing.

  • victoria

    I come from Texas, where people find it amusing to round up and torture and kill rattlesnakes by the dozen. They celebrate these bloodbaths, even though (1) it’s almost impossible to die of a snakebite and (2) rattlesnakes never actually “attack” unless they’re stepped on. I wanted to say to these people, “So wear some boots when you’re walking in snake country and stop acting like the white trash you are.” But the inbred, ignorant Texans I grew up with thought it was vastly entertaining to kill animals that are commonly despised.

    Killing critters — even spiders — because you think they’re unattractive just seems backward and pointless to me. Snakes and spiders play an important role in the ecosystem.

  • JennJenn

    Tarantulas are the spawn of satan…

    Potatoe bugs ARE satan!

    Both die under the wheels of my car because I need a strong sheet of solid metal between me and those little fuckers.

  • Sylvia

    The bit about their “wee tatantula heads” almost made me feel bad for the demise they no doubt met.


    I would have had to have moved.

    And I need to join the fray – PLEASE take a picture of the plastic flowers!!

    And thanks for always bringing a smile to my face. Please don’t ever stop blogging.

  • Michykeen

    You know, it’s indoor season for spiders in the Northeast. And as I cleaned up my filthy apartment this weekend, I kept coming across them – in the shower, other areas of the bathroom, the kitchen while I was trying to fix a gin and tonic. Now, I’m not a girly-girl about spiders, but I found myself yelling “No!” as I squashed them with wads of paper towels, like they teach you to do to would-be rapists and muggers and wily dogs. But a tarantula? I’d probably just move.

  • pat

    Good God, you better watch where you walk. They can set up house on your property.

  • Pupsicle

    Yuck. What on earth posesses people to take plastic flowers and plant them in their yards as though they were real? Laziness? My neighbors do it, too, and I just don’t understand that sort of compunction. It has always seemed as though they think I’m so unobservant that I’d mistake them for real plants.

  • pat

    Good God, you better watch where you walk. They can set up house on your property.

  • Jonniker

    I had no idea tarantulas were indiginous to anywhere remotely near Utah. Or even in this country. And I kind of wish I still thought that, because now I’m going to be afraid of tarantulas in my yard, even though I live far, far across the country, in the deep, deep southeast.

  • AmersMann22

    You HAVE to take pictures of your neighbor’s yard before they move. I will be so sad if I don’t see those plastic plants and tree stumps. My Nana buys plastic flowers for her flower pots on her balcony and will even go out to “water” them so that the neighbors think they’re real.

  • di


    Just know that a lot of us would be in the car with you, driving off the edge of the earth Thelma and Louise style.

  • Caloden

    There is something wonderfully tingly about accomplishing backyard tasks, I think it our inner cavemen bellowing to get out.

    Couldn’t read the last couple of paragraphs, such is my crippling arachnophobia. Now I’ll never know what happened.

  • Wicked H

    HOLY CRAP!!!! I would have been in a vehicle with you on the way to the edge.

  • literatigirl

    Ignoring for just a moment the incredible creepiness factor of tarantulas, from what I know of most species they rarely bite and when they do it is usually no more harmful than a bee sting. But I could be wrong.

    When we moved to Georgia when I was a little girl, we were all terrified of the little scorpions that we’d encounter on occasion. One dark, soupy, buggy, Atlanta night, my older brother was bitten by one such miniature scorpion. My parents rushed him to the ER in a panic only to be told that they should ice it and give him a couple of tylenol.

    Now brown recluse spiders? Stay the fuck away; their venom will eat a hole in your leg.

    Yes, I watched the Discovery Channel this morning.

  • Snickrsnack Katie

    I love your article on the Dog Whisperer and your trials and tribulations with Chuck. I adopted a dog from the humane society about two months ago and it has been a real journey. If I hadn’t gotten an in-home dog trainer/behaviorist, I think I may have gone out of my mind. And with the added assistance of Cesar Milan’s book, I have truly begun to understand the nature and energy of my dog. I have yet to watch an episode of The Dog Whisperer, since I don’t have the National Geographic Channel, but I feel like I already am on the same level as Cesar Milan. Of course, I don’t think I could silence a dog with a swift karate chop or a glare like he does. But I am getting there with my dog Duchess.

    Great article, Heather! I am always glad to hear others’ stories of problematic pets. But aren’t those pets always the best? :-)

  • MommyofOne

    Thank you, Jessica, for officially ruining my crab fetish.

    Spiders of the Sea? I want to scratch my eyes out. I had crab ravioli last night.

    Heather, I love your Alpha Mom posts. Awesome.

    Another Jessica

  • ChickNurse

    Oh fuck, I would have died!! Maybe not died, but I would have at least moved far away, to the igloos.

    When I was visiting my Aunt in Belize, I had to sleep on the floor. I found out the next day that there was a tarantula nest under the house and they were all coming out do to the drought like conditions. There was some out on the front porch in the morning. Needless to say, I will never visit her again. It might have been nice and hot, but I’d rather live here where we have snow 6 months of the year.

  • absyfabsy

    Dear Heather,

    I have often thought you and I should be best friends. I also live in SLC and am a fellow exmo. We are the same age, both love Bono and Felicity.

    When my husband and I experienced our first early spring of home ownership and tulips growing, I thought they were ugly hairy weeds and pulled all of them out, including the bulbs. It wasn’t until later when I told my mom that she had the exact same weeds that I had, that she told me I killed all of my tulips.

    And a trantula family? aaaaaaaaaaargh! Now I won’t stop itching all day.

  • AnitaBonita

    Holy Freaking COW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Just the thought of that makes me want to scratch my arms until I leave red marks.

  • Emily Durand

    1. Tarantulas
    2. Mormons in Gub’mint
    3. Plastic yard hydrangeas

    Three reasons I will never move to Utah – thanks Dooce!

  • katehopeeden

    My daughter, Triniti, has zero issues with bugs. And I live in Texas which is officially The Bug Capital Of The World. Anyway, when she sees a spider, regardless of size, she walks over and steps on it. When she is satisfied that she has killed it, she takes a step back and says, “Good job, Triny, GOOD JOB!” and walks off.
    I love her.

  • lindsmarc

    My sister’s roommate was in a bit of a prank war in college. The guys decided to get her back by hiding several tarantulas in her room! Not only that, but they had numbered them with random numbers, so it looked like there were more. My sister had the unlucky accident of being the first person back to the room and had to run around trying to trap the nasty creatures under bowls, but even that wasn’t enough to keep some of them trapped. Later that day, she leaned back against a foot stool lined with fringe and completely freaked out. :)

  • Carolynne

    Just reading this gave me the heeby-jeebies! I’m suddenly very glad I live in the mid-west, where tarantulas exist only in science classrooms.

  • Bucky Four-Eyes

    *refusing to follow the spidery links offered by other commenters*

    It’s gonna take me lots and lots and lots of gay binge drinking/towel flushing to recover from the thought of tarantulas ANYWHERE, especially in your yard. I once almost fell out of a high-backed chair at work when someone thought it would be funny to approach me with a dead tarantula on his hand. I still didn’t want it anywhere in my sight after he told me it was dead.

  • liisemignon

    Keep Chuck fah fah away from those nefarious rocks my dear.

    Scorpions…I am a Scottsdale native and have only seen Scorpions in the actual desert areas…they are spooky. But since that movie, with John Goodman, came out Spiders freak me out way more. And sharks.


  • marcheline

    Hey –

    I can’t tell if your comment about drunk gay folks was meant as a joke or not… but I have to say that the activities of drunk straight people (including myself!) certainly have nothing to do with preventing the sanctity of marriage, either. But you probably knew that…

    I also find it interesting how few people sympathized with the tarantula family. Just because of how they look to us, it’s okay to kill them and their babies? That’s kind of a sad commentary on the world today… anything in our way? Squash it.

    I’m guessing the tarantulas can totally relate to the Native Americans.

    - M

  • Christinathemom

    We had a smelly nasty rotten California Endangered species variety tarantula cruising my livingroom floor. I only saw it because the Cat was following the dang thing very closely. It was raised up on all of its furry legs RUNNING across the room. I screamed ran out the front door (via the sofa and love seat) and gave the neighbors a good show as I screamed yelled and cried about the ‘F*CKING TARANTULA IN MY LIVING ROOM’
    The son wanted to keep it the husband couldn’t seem to kill it.. Im screaming all the while smash it, just smash the damn thing!

    finally my husband used a whole can of raid on it. Every time it twitched it’s little body it got another squirt.
    It wasn’t until about 5 months later while at the museum seeing a case with another live one in it, mentioning to my daughter.. oh that’s just like the one in our house baby.. the museum person says, oh their endangered. On the verge of being extinct even. I looked her right in the eye and said

    “especially when they come in my house.”

    gentle hugs from one who has been there done that.. and killed the Mother F*cker!

  • monkey

    Ew. Spiders are one thing. Big HAIRY spiders are another. I would refuse to walk outside!

  • kim from germany

    tarantulas as in = big, hairy spiders that can bite and kill you if they get really hungry? that would SO freak me out. i can’t believe you can sleep knowing they are OUT THERE!

  • bonkersmomof4

    What possessed me to read the link about the superglued tarantula?? I am itching all over. Ick.

  • Beachgal

    Oh dear lord, I could not have handled that at all. I despise spiders. I stomp on however many I can in the backyard. But I couldn’t stomp on a spider as big as my foot! I’ve got the heebie jeebies! Eww eww eww. Oh man. I hate spiders.


    I sure hope a nest of tarantuals didn’t find it’s way to your car. It would be awful if they started to fall out through the dash board on your feet while you are driving. Maybe you shouldn’t wear sandals when you drive… know, just in case.

  • Steph And The City

    Spiders, taxadermists – it’s like you’re living next door to a horror movie! Be careful!

  • napangel

    I seriously wish you hadn’t told ME about the tarantulas. Hell, I’m more than 1,300 miles away from you (I know, because I looked it up on Mapquest), and now I want to get in the car and drive off the edge of the Earth.

  • Tiggerlane

    Random thoughts:

    Why oh WHY did you make me think again of the infamous sawdust-vomit-cover? It brought back olfactory sensations that are making me retch at the workplace.

    In Texas, my gay friends taught me the pleasures of drinking vodka over ice. Blessed are they that extol the virtues of vodka!

    And don’t be surprised if the new buyers of your neighbor’s home get all crazy and kill their deal over the missing stumps. I have worked in real estate for over 14 years, and you wouldn’t BELIEVE what people want. If a bush dies in front of the house? The buyer can walk away the day before closing. If the stumps are buried (or otherwise attached), they should convey with the property. However, if you end up with neighbors who WANT stumps, then you might stay with the taxidermist and his wife.

  • Bess

    In college I went to the Spin Doctors concert at Lakewood Amphitheatre in Atlanta. We took public transit (bus) down to the show. Right as the bus left the last stop before the ride down, Suzy Sorority hurled her strawberry daqueri. We had to endure the entire ride with runny, pink puke creeping up and down the ruts in the aisle. With every turn, stop and acceleration the people in the middle had to to chin-ups as it passed underneath. We could have used some of that sawdust!!

  • Visible Wear

    Tarantulas, huh? At least they’d take care of those pesky birds…

  • claire

    Oh God.


    That’s what I get for stopping by Dooce when I’m eating my lunch. I can handle ham sandwich barf covered by sawdust. But tarantulas?

    Thanks a lot, Heather.

  • atpanda

    While kinda creepy, at least they’re not supposed to be too dangerous. You could keep one as a pet and carry it around. ;-)

    We’ve got scorpions down here in Arizona. I’d MUCH rather step on a tarantula.

  • Shana Banana

    Oh man… you wold seen a two pound crap, and then me fainting into it LOL Oh man.. I am VIOLENTLY affraid of spiders. Hairy Black big ones especially

  • Vaguely Urban

    Call me a fag hag, but if my neighbor’s cat poop had hands, I’d be emotionally distressed, too.

  • doctor tongue

    Oh, and ketty’s link reminded me that the retired president of the ATS, and author of one of the best taratula books in publication, lives here in Calgary. When he was active, one entire bedroom in their home was dedicated to over 100 different tarantulas (including a Goliath Birdeater with a legspan of 10″ who would only each mice), several black widows and a few scorpions. My kids used to love their bi-weekly open house.

  • Mack’sMom

    I didn’t know tarantulas could live this far north! Isn’t it a bit cold in the winter for them? I don’t know anything about them other than I would ride shotgun right off the edge with you!

  • vicki

    That’s just wrong…all of it just wrong.