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Eight Legs Bad

Posted Thursday, June 9, 2011, at 9:39 AM

Even this terrifies me.
Phobias are scary.

This is, of course, self-evident if you have one or if you know Greek. But if you don't have one, chances are you are dismissive of those of us who do.

I have a phobia concerning spiders. Not bugs in general--I have nothing but affection for beetles and wouldn't even mind the odd cockroach if it would stay out of my cereal. But spiders I can't tolerate. I don't know for sure when this began or why, though I suspect it has to do with watching, "The Incredible Shrinking Man" as a child. In that film, you will recall, a tiny man is forced to fight a tarantula with a darning needle. I burrowed into the couch cushions so far during that scene that I wasn't seen for the next two days. Nowadays I have been known, when suddenly confronted by a large spider, to exit the room directly through the wall, leaving a hole shaped like the outline of my body.

It makes life difficult. It is extremely damaging to one's manly image to have to stand dripping and shivering in the hallway until one's wife has dealt with the spider in the shower. I'm not afraid of snakes and she is, but I seldom get the chance to be all superior on that front. Snakes seldom get in the way, but spiders turn up all the time. And with a sure-enough phobia, it doesn't have to even be a real spider. I can't look at nature journals in doctors' waiting rooms because of the danger of flipping a page and finding a beautifully photographed arachnid staring up at me. The other people in there with me already don't feel well. They don't need me screaming like a nine-year-old girl and throwing glossy magazines across the room at them.

The thing is; I don't want any trouble with these creatures. I wouldn't get crossways with any spider if he would just stay over there. But spiders seem perversely determined to come over here. They have even shown up in bed with me! What can possess them to do that? Do they enjoy watching me ricochet around the bedroom like a ping-pong ball fired from a shotgun?

And they skitter. Why do they have to skitter? Why can't they just walk like everybody else?

I try to stand up to them. After all, I may be the Shrieking Man, but I'm not the Shrinking Man. I'm bigger than they are. But spiders are predators, and sit at the top of their little stretch of the food chain. They consider themselves to be the lions and grizzly bears of their world, and a lot of them don't scare easily. If you come at most bugs with a rolled-up newspaper, they run for their lives. A spider is just as likely to make "come on" gestures with a couple of its horrible little legs and say, "Oh yeah? You want a piece of me, hotshot? Let's see what you got!"

Nothing, of course. That's what I got. And he knows it.

So try to cut us phobiacs a little slack. These fears are deep and uncontrollable. Don't try to explain that spiders are harmless and/or beneficial. It is not a logical thing; it is a psychological thing. And don't make fun of us. Don't point at our shirts and yell, "Spider!" just to enjoy the spectacle of us dancing around and slapping ourselves like maniacs, no matter how funny that admittedly might be. Phobias are no joke.

Unless they are of something silly like reptiles or heights or water or something. In that case: Sheesh! Man up already, you big sissy.

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