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.

  • Cauri

    I just got very itchy.

  • vicki

    hilarious but oh soooo wrong.
    Ohio only has wolf spiders in the plastic flowers and weeds. Ask my mother in law

  • April

    Dear. God. Is it on me? I feel like they’re crawling on me…

  • kristinindc

    heather, i just wanted to let you know that after reading this entry late last night, i had a dream about a hairy brown spider the size of my hand that was living in my t-shirt drawer – i could only see one or two big hairy brown legs at a time and the clothes moving around on top of him. i woke up in a blind panic and was afraid to roll over to go back to sleep, lest the movement in the bed arouse the spiders i was sure were lurking everywhere.

  • JustLinda

    If the tarantulas eat the mosquitos, bring ‘em on. I’ll just stay inside where it’s safe and cool. Maybe the snakes will eat the tarantuals. I’m not all that clear on the food chain after that point, but when it gets up to the COW, well, then I jump in at that point. Because I like a nice Porterhouse myself.

    There was an old lady who swallowed a spider, that wiggled and jiggled and giggled inside her. She swallowed the spider to catch the fly. I don’t know why she swallowed the fly. Perhaps she’ll die. (you simply HAVE to teach that song to Leta… if a parent doesn’t scare her kid to death about swallowing a fly (or an apple seed or piece of bubble gum or whatever) then WHO will do it, I ask you???)

  • doctor tongue

    WHAT?! You killed tarantulas?! They’re awesome!

    Perhaps this is where I should mention that I had a Lasiodora parahybana, or Brazilian Salmon Pink Birdeater (isn’t the name even pretty?)(until you get to the “Birdeater” part) as a pet. And that my son now has her, because I turned out to be allergic to her hairs. I discovered that while handling her. The previous owner (a woman) used to let her sit in the crook of her neck (they like the heat). Dora is her name, and she’s bigger than my hand. But not big enough to balance Heinies on her head.

  • lawyerish

    The mere *thought* of tarantulas (and tarantula BABIES – dear God!) is making me want to jump out the window of my office here in Manhattan. Mrphheeellllaaaaaaaggg. Yes, that is the strangled, horrified sound I would make if I ever came within the vicinity of a tarantula. Then I would kill myself.

    Of course, I’m not much for creepy-crawlies. When I was eight, I went to Girl Scout camp (in rural Georgia), and on the first day they warned us to shake out our shoes every morning to make sure there weren’t scorpions lurking in them. SCORPIONS, people! My solution was to not take my socks and shoes off. For the duration of camp – a week. When my parents came to pick me up, it took a pair of pliers to get my mud-caked, trench-footy socks off. And, really? Kind of sensible. I might do the same thing today.

  • Rebecca

    Ewwww that gave me the willies.

  • rivetergirl

    Yes, the yard obligation. We had the worst front yard on the block until my husband almost died while putting in a sprinkler system, sod and landscaping. Now we have a nice front yard. Our back yard is still nothing but a dog toilet. But since we’re true white trashies at heart, we spend all our time hanging out in the front yard.

    Hey, we’re be in your neck of the woods next month when Social Distorition and the Supersuckers play In the Venue. Woot!

  • Julie

    Gah! That made my skin crawl. And made me pull my Teva-clad feet off the ground even though I am 1.) in an office 2.) in Brooklyn, neither of which are known tarantula-habitats.


  • thejoyof

    There are only two things that send shivers down my spine:

    Tarantulas and snakes.

    I still remember with horror the Brady Bunch episode where I believe they were in Hawaii and came across a ‘deadly’ tarantula. I think Jan was involved…

    I digress…

    I am now going to Google if tarantulas are common in Ontario, Canada. Hope not.

  • Kristine

    I moved from a hick town in Northern California where ants are HUGE to Sacramento where you can’t see them at all.
    I thought I had ‘moved up’. I didn’t know for 2 weeks in the summer we get infested by WOLF SPIDERS.
    I almost moved after that first summer.

  • Amie Smith

    No wonder Leta screamed and tried to tear her face off when she saw you walk outside WITHOUT SHOES.

  • ketty
  • Whatever

    What does it say about me that I’d be more likely to get down on my hands and knees (from a respectful distance, anyway) and examine the eight-legged freaks?

    Tarantulas where I don’t expect them = Bad Idea

    Tarantulas where I’m expecting them = Kinda’ cool

    Then again, I wasn’t terribly fond of Zorkon, the tarantula my brothers caught and placed in a glass mayo jar on a shelf in the entryway… Having him view me through the bottom of the jar whenever I entered or exited the house was kind of creepy – like he was plotting to take over the world from his little cell.

  • Esmter

    Is there such thing as a cat whisperer? we’ve got the dog behaving like a gentleman, now its time for the jerk of a cat.

  • GeekDaddy

    Wow! Here I thought Vincent Price died years ago. And now I find out that all this time he was living in Utah. Who knew!

  • Wendy Mac

    My husband made the mistake of telling me he found two black widow spiders in our backyard.

    I can never go in the backyard. EVER. AGAIN.

    In fact, I think we have to move.

  • MississippiAnna

    Spiders: They are just as afraid of you as you are of them.

    So I say to myself.

    Sometimes it works.

  • AN

    When we moved to Las Vegas we lived in a newly developed area in the NW part of the city that was basically still the desert. How comforting it was to sit down to pee and see that 2.5 feet away from me, snuggled all descretely between the wall by the tub & the scale was a big hairy spider of the tarantula kind. My younger brother & I were the only ones home & when my ex-stepdad came home he accused us of spraying so much bug spray at the damn thing that we had created a “green fog” in the house (this is ironic coming from a man who would have all the doors & windows closed during the winter in LV, the heater on, and be smoking. I came home from school once & opened the door to -literally- a grayish-white “fog” of cigarette smoke that had taken the place of the regular air in the livingroom. nice.).

    There was also the time my mom was rearranging her bedroom (same house) & found a tarantula squeezed in between the wall & her bookcase. I don’t know what happened after that because I had to leave the room.

    Or the other time we found a tarantula in my brother’s messy room, crawling around or whatever AND COULD NOT FIND IT AFTER IT RAN UNDER HIS COMFORTER THAT WAS LAYING ON HIS FLOOR. I just hoped the damn thing couldn’t squeeze under his door & come attack me.

    I’m back in San Diego now & I mostly have Daddy Longlegs in my house, which is fine with me; I can deal with those. It’s kinda amusing to see the collection of ant carcasses littered below where the DLL is hanging out. But my grandpa’s house is Bug Central Station. He’s got spiders and all kinds of bugs in his place that give me the heebie jeebies. I mean, who get’s slugs in their kitchen cabinets? Once I saw a spider with a HUGE ROUND abdomen (like the Black Widow) but it was FURRY. It was in the planter right in front of where the livingroom is, as well as the window. Uuhh *shudders*

  • Naomi

    Wow. Several reasons:

    1. The anomaly that is the gay population in Utah (apparently). It’s almost like he was an urban legend in the neighborhood
    2. TARANTULAS! Scary.
    3. Plastic flowers planted in the taxidermist’s yard. That dude does NOT like living things, does he.
    5. TARANTULAS! I would so be in the car driving off the edge of the Earth. At breakneck speed.

    Incredible post. Your writing style keeps me from drooling in my sleep at work.

  • Princesspinky

    I moved out of my first apartment in KY due to Wolf Spiders. They just won’t die! Spray doesn’t work. You can’t drown them. And forget about catching them to squish…ewww! It still makes my skin crawl.

    I had been dating this guy for about a week and I just moved in with him because the spiders had taken over my shower. It worked okay though cause we’ve been married for almost seven years now.

  • christa

    Are tarantulas native to Utah or was it some escaped pet colony? If they are native, that is definitely one more reason not to move to Utah.

  • Ktkat

    Awww… you killed the purty spiders! And their babies… MURDERER!!! You should have given them to the taxidermist to stuff and then let Leta have them as pets. No? Bad idea? Hmmmmm.

    Anyway… “Neither representing nor keeping it real” is CLASSIC, as was your post! Keep it up girl, you make my day!

  • susan @ yow

    Death Shop in the mountains. HAHAHA! You cracked me up with this post.

  • Sunni

    Great post…but…..I am most grateful to see that Chuck’s collar has been turned the right way. The universe is back in alignment. Thank you.

  • Nicol

    ICK! I worked at hotel and we had a big-ass tarantula on the ground floor near an exit where many people passed by. I was screaming like a little girl! I live in Texas…..ICK!

  • marian

    Just wanted to pop in and say that I loved your dog whisperer post over at the other place.

  • Lily

    “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.”

    Yes. Exactly. I don’t care how nice, or harmless or whatever they are. Nothing that looks like that can be harmless. Seriously. Just ask my heart rate as I think about them in any sort of close proximity. BAH!

  • brandy

    OMG I would have died! Even after the fact!
    Theres a house in my ‘hood that has a lovely front yard full of rocks and fake flowers, nothing looks more lovely than a nice neat row of single stemmed roses, sunflowers and tulips.
    The only excuse for fake flowers is senility.

  • cailey

    i’m proud of you heather. i might not have been able to go outside of the house for a week after finding out tarantulas were there at all. i definitely would not be able to walk barefoot. and you are getting rid of those other rocks, right? you really would hate having a tarantula rip your face off. eewww…

  • Shelley Bonnechance

    I flinched when I read about the cement parking slabs, the stomach-bile walls and the plastic flowers, but I nearly peed my pants when I got to the part about the tarantulas. One tarantula is bad enough, but several? What are you trying to do to me?

    You need to warn a person before suddenly bringing tarantulas into the mix.

    I am going to go lie down. I am not okay with spiders. Or cement slabs in the garden or plastic hydrangeas, for that matter. But especially spiders.

  • John

    I cannot stop laughing over the concept that us gay people get together and drink vodka in order to sully the sanctity of marriage. I think that’s the funniest line you’ve ever written.

    But seriously…stop leaking the gay agenda. It’s bad for publicity.

  • Jac

    I love reading your stuff. I’ve been reading for a couple months, but never bothered to register before.

    Do you really read all the comments? I noticed that especially on the ones about your pregnancy and Leta, you get a TON. I can’t believe you’d have time to do anything else, if you read through all of them – but then, I know when I had a blog with a pretty big leadership (albeit nothing compared to yours, I’m sure) the best part about it was reading what other people thought. Not about my writing, exactly. More about what I made them think.

    I wanted to say thank you for writing about your depression. It makes me a lot less scared to see you, who were really sick at one time, are great now. Managing it perfectly. Have an amazing husband you’re crazy-in-love with, a daughter you adore, a house. You manage to stay at home with Leta and not break things. You manage to keep being a wife to Jon and don’t turn into an irritable, emotional crazy woman. It’s nice to see those kinds of things can happen. Because if it happens to someone else, maybe it can happen to me, too.

  • crzylady

    large versions of one of my least favourite things in the world. Next to your house. Your dog. Your baby. I’m feeling very vomitous. Thank goodness they loved the plasticity so much they never traveled far… how did they miss having those THINGS living in their yard? Maybe he DID know and that’s why he never did anything to the weeds.

  • Torrie

    This one’s for you Heather:

  • AndreaBT


    I think I would have become hysterical. Big hairy spiders crawling around in the yard…shudder.

  • JC

    mmmmmmmmmmm….spider babies. tarantulas aren’t that bad. it’s the brown recluse you gotta watch out for.

  • salmonday

    Was this connected to the forced remodeling of the drain line, or just something that you did seperately once you realized how cool romping big machines on your lawn could be?

    P.S. Have you apologized to Jon yet about the whole crayon thing?

  • monkeyaker

    I recently moved to the northwest and have discovered a family of “banana slugs” under the last step of my deck. They seriously look like giant ripe slimy bananas. Who knows how many times I’ve stomped on those things before discovering they were small shiny mammals.

    At least they won’t bite my face off. You know, like tarantula’s do.

  • Cyberdave

    OMG TARANTULAS!!! RIGHT IN SLC! AND I LIVE THERE TOO (new transplant)! OMG! I would’ve gotten in the car with you and driven off the ends of the earth! AAAGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

  • namedphoenix

    Holy crap. I think that being in California is too close to the tranatulas in your yard. You are going to get those other rocks removed, right? I thought trantulas only existed in like, other places. Apparently, they are supposed to be really smart and inquisitive creatures. I’ve never stayed around one long enough to ask them their thoughts on the world.

    My kindergarden teacher had a tank of tarantulas in the classroom. We were sitting and having reading circle one day when one of the mean boys had deftly removed one and put it on my head. I don’t know how my grandparents got be me to go back to school, ever.

  • Pioneer Woman

    I once threw up chicken noodle soup on the school office phone while calling my mom to tell her I was sick. They had to get a new phone.

    Plastic hydrangeas? That’s so wrong. Don’t tell me things like that.

  • cathbuzz

    I hate to tell you, namedphoenix, but I live in California (even NORTHERN CALIFORNIA) and I see tarantulas in my yard every summer. I even look forward to it. Actually, it’s tarantula season right now. I live just 2.5 hours from SF. It would take a tarantula a couple of weeks to walk there I’m guessing.

  • anna nic

    take them in the cover of night and deposit them in the yard of your least favorite neighbor. immediately.

  • Gora_Kagaz

    eewww…i hate creepy crawlys too. especially spiders. eurgh *shudder*. time to whip out the bug spray–although the shovel works just as well.

  • Erin MJ

    Oh, Heather… you have such a gift for vividly recreating situations with your writing, but in this case forgive me for saying that is not a good thing!!! =-o

    I can’t even _imagine_ the ways in which I would freak out if even ONE tarantula showed up in ALL OF OREGON. When I was a little kid I actually had nightmares about the tarantulas from the pet shops getting out of their cages and coming to my house… *shudder*.

    So, suffice to say, I feel your pain. I really hope, for your sake and ours, that no more of those horrible creatures show up at your house! ;)

  • Claudia

    Thank goodness it’s cold enough up here to avoid furry little buggers like that :P . Just wait, one day, Leta will be playing in the back yard, put one in her hand and bring it over to you, in that completely innocent way children do and say “Mommy, look at my big spider!”

  • Anneleen

    My sympathies for your near-spider experience! Horrible creatures – usefull and all you like – but hideous and frightful. How loud was your scream when Jon told you about them?

  • riseyp

    yeah, pictures would be the frosting on the cake here! though my imagination’s doing a pretty good job thus far ;-)

    isn’t it strange when you know a little about the people who lived in your house before you did? it’s like their ghost is still around in some cases.

    and i did feel quite a pang when i read about you throwing away perfectly good tulip bulbs. imported from holland! did you happen to get any in Amsterdam?