Thursday, January 15, 2015

Oh those Peculiar Pets!

Den of the Beastly Bear

Hi folks, hope the new year is treating you all well!

The other night Mama Bear and I were watching the Tonight show with Jimmy Fallon, when the ubiquitous "animal guy" came on...
I don't know about the rest of you, but as a cub I LIVED for those spots! Whether it was on Merv Griffon, Mike Douglas, Johnny Carson...I ate it up. Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom was standard Sunday night fare at my house as well.(If you're over forty you know what I'm talking about...if under, ask your Parents or Grandparents. Lol)

We are, and always have been an "animal" household. We've had, in no particular order dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens, a duck, a turtle, an alligator, a Garter snake, a crayfish, a parrot, parakeets, a cockatiel, and any number of tropical and non-tropical fish. Not all at once mind you...but over the course of years.

And yet, I was not satisfied...
While it was true that the more unusual (and non-fluffy) of those pets were mine, I longed for something more "exotic". Some shirttail relations of my parents had raccoons, which they fed KFC every night. But they got mean as they got older so the parents vetoed that idea as well.

In spite of the popularity of 60's TV show "Gentle Ben", starring Ron Howard's little brother... I was also told in no uncertain terms that I would NOT be having a bear as a pet either!
At various times, and depending on my mood...I had detailed plans, drawings, and flow charts describing how the perfect pet for me was a mountain lion cub, a wolf pup, a bobcat, or in deference to
my Grandfathers Audubon society leanings...a hawk, a raven, a falcon, or especially an eagle!!!

Finally, I knew my prayers could be answered when we found a pet store locally called "Peculiar Pets"!!!

Nirvana for a kid like me! Ferrets (before they were common), Albino skunks (De-scented), Monkeys, lizards, snakes, Rodentia ad nauseum, birds of every color and variety...and from the Amazon rain forest the Kinkajou!

This too was vetoed due to their nocturnal nature, their diet of only fresh fruit, and $200 price tag. Which, in the mid 70's would buy you a "beater" car!

Finally, I locked in on something I thought I could sell my Mother on...after all if you got Mom's approval it was a done deal!
From my earliest years, I had been a "bug hunter"...turning over rocks and boards and logs in search of new creepy crawlers. Wonder of wonders, Peculiar pets had an Insect and Arachnid area.
Madagascar hissing cockroaches...boring.
Black emperor scorpions? My past experience with crayfish caused me to shy away from pets with claws...
Though watching one spear a fly out of the air with its tail was something to behold.

Then I saw them, Tarantulas! They came in several colors and sizes, the most popular (cheapest) being the Mexican Red-legged.
Now I had done a little homework. Checked a book or two out of the school library, so I knew they looked far more frightening than they were. And while their fangs were certainly intimidating, their bite was no more dangerous than a bee sting.

I had the $10 in my pocket earned from mowing the neighbors lawn over the course of several to talk Mom into it!

My Mother, God bless her, was no chicken...she may not have liked "spiders and snakes" as Jim Stafford used to sing. But she encouraged me to be fearless when it came to animals.

So I dragged her over to show her the variety. She marveled at the colors and markings and admitted that in their own way they were, quite beautiful. This is where I got to show off my knowledge a little, tell her how little they really ate... A cricket or two twice a week would sustain them just fine, and a big brown grasshopper would be a rare treat when I could catch one. How it was a misconception that they were poisonous. How we already had a 5-gallon aquarium not in use, with a screen lid that would make a perfect tarantula habitat.
I was laying it on pretty thick...and the proprietor took notice.

An informed shopper...he smelled a sale in the air!

"So, I see you're looking at the Red-legs eh? Beautiful aren't they?"

"They certainly are...I just worry it may be too much for him" 
My mother replied nodding in my direction.

"Nonsense," the salesman tutted "he already knows more about them than most of the folks I sell them to. Would you like to hold one?" This last he directed to me.

Well, I couldn't say yes fast enough. But he looked to Mom for confirmation that it was "OK" before lifting one out and placing it in my outstretched palms.

"I get all mine from a breeder, so they have been handled since they were young and are well used to it." the man explained. "Anyone used to the handling of small animals like hamsters and such won't have any problems with them. Just respect them like any other of God's creatures and you'll never get bit."

The spider, for his part...sat perfectly still for a moment. Turned 90° to his left then a 180° right, surveying his new surroundings before starting a slow walk across my palm. I slowly put one hand in front of the other and he contentedly crawled onto that one, a process I kept repeating as my accomplice worked on my Mom.

"You see the hairs on his abdomen? How they lay down nice and smooth? That shows he's content and unafraid. Now if those hairs stand straight up like he's trying to make himself look bigger...well, then it's time to put him away because he's getting upset!" 

Mom nodded listening carefully, oh man I was going home with a tarantula!!! See if she wasn't really listening, there was no way I was getting one...But the fact she was paying attention boded well. 

"If you don't, the first thing he'll do is brush those hairs off his abdomen at you...that can cause a nasty but temporary rash. If that doesn't convince you to leave him be he will rear back and lift his front two legs and display his fangs. If you try to touch him then, he will strike." He explained.

"Is that really true?" Mom asked, "That their bite is no worse than a bee sting?"

At this point, the guy motioned for me to let him hold it and I reluctantly returned him.

"Yes and no," the man said, "their venom is no more poisonous than a bee sting unless you're allergic. But their fangs..."
At which point he produced a pencil and used it to pull forward gently on a fang to show us. "Can reach up to an inch long and can make quite a hole if they get ya good, but like I said if you respect them you'll never get bit."

This caused a little uncertainty in my Mom, and she asked.
"Have YOU ever been bit???"

"I have," He said, "But that was a wild caught spider...not one raised by hand. I won't kid ya, it hurt...but no lasting damage."

The spider had stopped walking after the indignity of having his fangs displayed. The salesman was gently stroking his carapace and abdomen.

"So, shall I ring him up?" He asked hopefully.

"P-L-E-A-S-E Mom? I promise I'll take care of him..." I pleaded.

"Well, you're going to have to. Because I'm not sticking my hand in there..."

"YES!!!" I screamed inside, finally I'd have a way cool pet!

Then it happened.

The salesman had the tarantula in his hand about waist level, facing my Mother and I. I was closer, but off to the side. He was facing my Mom and she was not getting too close, perhaps 5 ft. away.

It happened fast, but from my perspective time slowed to a crawl...

The spider leapt...there is no other term, leaving the salesman's hands...up and out!!! I saw the legs flare as if putting on air brakes as he came in for a perfect 8-point landing...right on my Mothers left breast!!!

She gasped and her whole body went perfectly still...well rigid really! Her eyes were the size of saucers. I saw in them the struggle to keep from sweeping it off onto the ground and stomping it into a hairy paste.

"Um....I guess I should have mentioned they can also jump about 6ft. horizontally and 4 ft. vertically." The salesman chuckled...
"Here let me get him from you..." 
In the time it took him to speak those words, my Mother had started to hyperventilate. Making little mewling sounds. As gently as possible so as not to disturb the spider, who seemed quite happy from his new vantage point.

Now the salesman was in a quandary. He was a bit perplexed how exactly to get the spider without appearing to be intentionally "copping a feel". He made several aborted attempts before my Mother said through clenched teeth:
"I don't care what you touch just as long as you get this damn thing off of me!!!"

Eventually, he laid the back of one hand on top of Mom's breast and nudged the aft end of the spider with the other. Who obligingly crawled into his hand.

As he put the spider back in his cage. And I think he knew...
I, on the other hand, was still hopeful. 

"We're still getting him, right???"

Without a word my Mother grabbed me by the upper arm with surprising strength, you know the one. The "Follow me NOW" grip and walked me "briskly" out of the store. My toes barely touching tile.

The drive home was pretty silent, I knew better than to whine or beg. She wasn't mad, she was scared...mad you can talk to. With that leap, that spider nixed any chances of me ever having a pet tarantula as long as I lived at home.

Years later, as a married man...king of my castle and all. I broached the subject with Mama Bear. She politely informed me that in THIS instance...the King's opinion didn't matter for squat!
I'm sure she envisioned something like this....

Once again, my dreams of owning a tarantula were dashed...

Hope 2015 sees all YOUR dreams fulfilled!

Be Well Folks!

Beastly Bear


  1. Love it! learned a lot about Tarantulas. I have to side with your mom, you had the spider until that leaping thing. Loved the store owners quandary in the removal process.

    You don't post often enough.

    1. Thank you Joeh! I'm going to try to do better with my posting regularity.
      I truly appreciate readers like you though, so don't give up on me.

  2. OMG, there would have been NO WAY. If I had been your mom, I would have literally shit myself if one of those things landed on me. Screamed and carried on and probably wet myself. HA HA HA...a tarantula??? OMG!! A nice dog, a cat, maybe...but oh hell no!!! HA HA HA I am surprised your mom was ever the same again! ♥

    1. Like I said Kathy, Mom was a matter what a drug home she never got too excited. I really think she was gonna let me have it...
      if only it hadn't jumped!!! We still returned to the store on a regular basis, but Mom scrupulously avoided the Arachnid area from that point on...

  3. *running away screaming* No freakin way would I ever have considered that if you were my kid! Your mom gets serious props for even taking you in there but OMG I would have suffered all loss of bladder and bowel control if that thing jumped on me. I can't even deal with small spiders w/o screeching.

    1. Mom was unafraid JoJo! As long as they were behind glass. This became a "go to" spot when my sisters and I cried boredom in the summer. Mom even handled an 8' Boa constricter once there...
      I do have to give it to her for not loosing her mind when the spider jumped. I would have found it cool had it landed on me, I'd have taken it as proof he liked me! :-)

  4. From Joshua Robbins - HILARIOUS STORY!!!!! And I never knew tarantulas could actually jump that far on someones BOOB!!!!! Note to self get a tarantula book at library.

    1. Josh, glad you enjoyed the story!!! I'm pleased that even a young man like yourself can find humor in my stories. I'm pretty sure you'll never convince your Mom to let you have one...but you can always try, then I can come see yours! Lol
      Thanks again for reading!

  5. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! I LOVE IT!!! Omg.. What a great story Joe! You really need to put these gems into a book! - Still laughing.. God, I wish I could have seen that.. Hilarious!

    1. Thank you Karen. So good to see you...and VERY glad I could brighten your day!

  6. Just a lit'l FYI moment on this post that I loved re-visiting btw. My dad bought an airboat because he loved that one on 'Gentle Ben.' :) He went down to Florida to get it and then got petitioned off every lake he put it on. People said it sounded like an airplane. Lol..