Heater, Mother of Lance

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.

  • Jennifer

    2006/06/07 at 12:07 pm

    Alright, first, if the taxidermist really has petrified tree stumps in his yard then he should thank his lucky stars. And if he doesn’t want them, please ask him to send them to my husband who would treasure them to the ends of the earth.

    Now let me take a moment to say eww, Eww, EWWWW!!!! Spiders make my skin crawl.

    Your neighbor may have a plastic flower garden, but one of my neighbors has an entire plastic flower, bush and animal managerie prominently placed so that it bisects a large swath of yard between his house and the next neighbor over. It’s hideous and yet doesn’t quite rival the yard at the end of my block that, until recently, was a quaint combination of dust and waist high weeds.

  • Mack'sMom

    2006/06/07 at 12:06 pm

    Yes when you see tulips in February in Minnesota there’s something wrong there. There’s a house in Shakopee (MN) that has plastic tulips along side a busy road…all year long. How does that look appealing? I should go buy some damn flowers and leave them at their footstep…

  • Jessica

    2006/06/07 at 12:05 pm

    Tarantulas are completely harmless though. I hope they weren’t harmed. They’re so cute and fuzzy.

    On a different note, did you know that crabs are just spiders of the sea? Now you’ll be thinking about that next time your chowing down on one.

  • JT

    2006/06/07 at 12:06 pm

    YIKES! I don’t know which is more terrifying — the plastic flowers or the tarantulas. Okay, yes I do. Run away! Run away!

    Do they sell Tarantula spray, like bug spray? I can’t even deal with your basic little house spider. The big hairy muthas would kill me.

  • JessicaRabbit

    2006/06/07 at 12:02 pm

    Ok, freaking out on the spiders. Those other rocks have SO got to go, before you have a trantula army lined up outside the houses trying to eat your pets and come inside for the winter and nap in your nice warm shoes.


  • Candice

    2006/06/07 at 12:03 pm

    Ugh. Last summer, my bug guy found a a little covenant community (They had to keep their webs under two inches and they had a pool) of Brown Recluse spiders in my attic. He sprayed them, told me they would be a non-issue within a few days, and collected his money. Wellllll, those little buggers were smart. They were not dumb enough to stay in the infected area. No no, they would not be destroyed. They packed up of their belongings and moved downstairs. To my living space. I started finding them everywhere. Like, Ev.ry.where. It was so scary. The bug guy came out right away tried to kill them again. They did actually die that time, thank the Lord God Almighty.

    *Shudders Violently*

  • Z

    2006/06/07 at 12:01 pm

    Oh my. I have goosebumps and kinda taste vomit in my mouth. My husband and I both freak out around creepy-crawlies and your story is the stuff of our nightmares.

  • ryansmom

    2006/06/07 at 12:01 pm

    When my husband and I were moving from SF to Alabama last summer (he is in the military) We stayed in a town called Battle Mountain, Nevada. The entire town was blanketed with mormom crickets. I shit you not! Now tarantulas I can handle, but mormon crickets? Those fuckers can jump!

  • William

    2006/06/07 at 12:02 pm

    IS the name of your taxidermist neighbor Gomez Addams? With the whole taxidermist thing, plastic flowers and tarantula’s it must be.

  • MelanieinOrygun

    2006/06/07 at 11:58 am

    I won’t even try to transcribe the noises I made while reading this… just know that shrieking, moaning, and whimpering were involved.
    I… HATE… spiders. And big ones? With intellect? Aw, Hayull naw.

  • TigerLambGirl

    2006/06/07 at 12:00 pm

    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.

  • Jacey

    2006/06/07 at 11:56 am

    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.

  • Mack'sMom

    2006/06/07 at 11:50 am

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

  • 6degrees

    2006/06/07 at 11:54 am

    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.

  • JennJenn

    2006/06/07 at 11:49 am

    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.


  • Michykeen

    2006/06/07 at 11:48 am

    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.

  • Pupsicle

    2006/06/07 at 11:48 am

    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.

  • Jonniker

    2006/06/07 at 11:45 am

    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.

  • di

    2006/06/07 at 11:46 am


    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.

  • Wicked H

    2006/06/07 at 11:47 am

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

  • Snickrsnack Katie

    2006/06/07 at 11:42 am

    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? 🙂

  • ChickNurse

    2006/06/07 at 11:41 am

    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.

  • AnitaBonita

    2006/06/07 at 11:40 am

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

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

  • katehopeeden

    2006/06/07 at 11:40 am

    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.

  • Carolynne

    2006/06/07 at 11:40 am

    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.

  • liisemignon

    2006/06/07 at 11:40 am

    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.


  • Christinathemom

    2006/06/07 at 11:40 am

    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!

  • kim from germany

    2006/06/07 at 11:38 am

    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! need.to.breathe.

  • Beachgal

    2006/06/07 at 11:37 am

    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.

  • Steph And The City

    2006/06/07 at 11:34 am

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

  • Tiggerlane

    2006/06/07 at 11:35 am

    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.

  • Visible Wear

    2006/06/07 at 11:35 am

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

  • atpanda

    2006/06/07 at 11:36 am

    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.

  • Vaguely Urban

    2006/06/07 at 11:31 am

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

  • Mack'sMom

    2006/06/07 at 11:31 am

    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!

  • Cauri

    2006/06/07 at 11:32 am

    I just got very itchy.

  • April

    2006/06/07 at 11:33 am

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

  • JustLinda

    2006/06/07 at 11:33 am

    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???)

  • lawyerish

    2006/06/07 at 11:26 am

    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.

  • rivetergirl

    2006/06/07 at 11:28 am

    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!

  • thejoyof

    2006/06/07 at 11:29 am

    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.

  • Amie Smith

    2006/06/07 at 11:25 am

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

  • Whatever

    2006/06/07 at 11:26 am

    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.

  • GeekDaddy

    2006/06/07 at 11:24 am

    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!

  • MississippiAnna

    2006/06/07 at 11:24 am

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

    So I say to myself.

    Sometimes it works.

  • Naomi

    2006/06/07 at 11:25 am

    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.

  • christa

    2006/06/07 at 11:22 am

    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.

  • susan @ yow

    2006/06/07 at 11:22 am

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

  • Nicol

    2006/06/07 at 11:23 am

    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!

  • Lily

    2006/06/07 at 11:23 am

    “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!

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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