Let me say right up front that I loathe insects—all of them, including the supposedly cute ones like ladybugs and fireflies. When I was in graduate school, trying mightily to stay engaged with Augustan literature, I’d stare at charts of the Great Chain of Being (all of life carefully ordered with lunatic precision from worms to God) and wish that bugs didn’t have to be part of the picture. No one has ever been able to convince me that mosquitoes serve any useful purpose, and—with apologies to fans of Charlotte’s Web—I have to say that, as of today, spiders are at the top of my most-hated list.
Here’s what happened. I took the dogs (we have two: a 5-year-old Labrador named Lissy and a 12-week old mutt from the pound named Jack) for a walk at around 6:30 a.m. It was a glorious morning, misty and fresh smelling, and while the dogs rambled about I thought of Jon Katz’s essay on this site Tuesday about rescued dogs and their owners. The piece annoyed me greatly (no doubt connected to the presence in my life of said mutt, mentioned above), partly because the notion of a man who lives with four dogs pointing fingers at the empty space in the lives of others seems ludicrous to me. But the flow of my disagreement with Mr. Katz was suddenly interrupted when I felt a sting in my side: A spider bite, painful and pulsing redder by the second.
While it’s true that I’m a hypochondriac, it’s also true that I tend to have weird reactions to insect bites. Once, for example, we had rented the PR guru John Scanlon’s house in Sag Harbor, N.Y., for the summer. It’s a big, rambling, former sea captain’s grand old house, filled with antiques and knickknacks. The first weekend, I was poking around looking at stuff on a desk by an open window when I felt what seemed like bird claws land on my neck. I swished my hand back there and swung around the way an injured animal does when it’s trying to shake off a foe. I then ran from the room, declaring to all that a bat or bird or something had attacked me. I created enough of a fuss that my husband, Kevin, and brother-in-law, Ken, reluctantly took up tennis rackets and soldiered into the room to see what was lurking there. They found nothing. I, meanwhile, had developed a red ring emanating outward from the bite in a circle around my neck. The macabre necklace was spreading bead by bead. As we hurried to Southampton Hospital, I pressed hard on the front of my throat, primitively convinced that if the ring was completed, I’d die. (Don’t they say that about shingles—that if the rash goes the whole way round your midriff, you’re a goner? I’m sure I read that somewhere.) Anyway, the diagnosis? Spider bite.
This time around, I’m behaving in a more subdued manner (10 minutes of whining to Kevin and a dab of Benadryl), primarily because there are too many other things going on. For starters, at 9:30 a.m. we met with our architect, Claudia Olsen, to review possible light fixtures for West House, the historic building we’re currently renovating. It’s impossible to think productively about ceiling height, period aesthetics, a tight budget, an impatient contractor, and worry about the clinical implications of spider venom! Next up, 23 phone calls have to be returned, a draft rewrite of our admissions application considered, arrangements made for dinner tomorrow evening with the 27 artists currently in residence here at Yaddo, and the car readied for an hour-and-a-half drive to Bennington College, where I’m expected for a board meeting. It’s really no day to be concerned with the itsy, bitsy spider.