Mike Buzzelli

Column Mike Buzzelli

Mike Buzzelli is a stand up comedian and published author. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant, Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine, and an active board member of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, the Carnegie Arts Initiative and the Carnegie Screenwriters. His book, "Below Average Genius" is a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column here in the Observer-Reporter.

Man versus spider

July 4, 2014

Once again, it was time to mow the grass. I opened the toolshed to find a large spider, about the size of my fist, hanging on the door. It was the biggest spider I’ve ever seen, outside of a glass case in a museum or zoo. My options were limited to swearing or screaming at it. I took the more masculine approach and swore at it.

I was determined to kill the spider, but before I attacked, I took a picture of the terrifying creature. If he was poisonous, I wanted people to see the face of my killer. I grabbed a broom from the shed and tried to kill it. After I swatted at it with the bristles of the broom, it fled to parts unknown. I should have just left him alone; because, once again, not knowing where the spider went was worse than knowing where he was. Now, I angered him.

A friend of mine saw the picture of the spider and told me it was a brown recluse, a frighteningly powerful purveyor of poison. I couldn’t rest until I determined the spider species.

I consulted spider expert Jonathan Pruitt, assistant professor of behavioral ecology at the University of Pittsburgh. I met up with my spider specialist over a game of bingo. Where else would you expect to find an expert on arachnids? I wasn’t going to go visit the biologist in Costa Rica, where he studied aggressive spider species. Heck, I wasn’t even going to go see him at the university. Parking in Oakland is atrocious.

Pruitt whipped out his iPhone and showed me pictures of Western Pennsylvania spiders. It was a lot like identifying a suspect in a police lineup.

I said, “That one sort of looks like him, but the legs were longer.”

He showed me another picture. This one was dark and had stout legs. My guy was tall, light brown with slender legs. All of the pictures were horrifying.

He scrolled to another picture and bingo! No. It wasn’t my spider; someone actually called out, “Bingo!” Though, we were told to hold onto our cards in case it was a mistake. It wasn’t. Someone won a DVD.

Meanwhile, I was looking at Tegenaria domestica, or the barn funnel spider. I think I noticed the perp. I wasn’t completely sure. I looked at a lot of spiders. The only thing I was sure about was that a disturbing amount of scary spiders call Western Pennsylvania home.

I was pretty sure Tegenaria domestica was my guy. He wasn’t poisonous and liked to hang out in manmade structures like toolsheds. Also, he might have been a she. It sounds sexist, but I never think of spiders as female. Deep down inside me, in my ancient Greek and Roman roots, my warrior’s code prohibits me from killing a female of any species. Though, the last thing I wanted was little baby barn funnel spiders running around.

Whenever someone starts talking to me about the miracle of birth, I remind them rats and spiders also have babies. No one sees a black widow giving birth to a colony of spiders and says, “Isn’t that just precious?”

My bingo-playing biologist would.



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