Sunday, January 3, 2010


I had slept in the other morning, by about 5 hours. It was more like a hibernation, since I was conserving my food rations (My dishes were dirty.) The heat for the water was, of course, not working in the morning, so I didn't step outside until 2 in the afternoon.
I dressed for January in Taiwan. Two jackets and gloves. The day was not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was much warmer than I expected, and traffic was nearly nil. My plan to drink coffee and write in a warm cafe was abandoned. I picked up a snack and a bottle of ice coffee and started driving, putting the gloves in the trunk and rolling up my sleeves.
My neighborhood is interesting in that it is no more than 10 minutes from the mountains, but is inside the city and with none of the qualities of a suburb. I pass the huge technology compounds on the way up, and then there's nothing but valleys and green.
I was surprised to learn that oranges grow in the winter here. I should have bought some. Coming around any given corner while going through the mountains, one will stumble an orange grove, sometimes with trees so overburdened with fruit, its branches are flirting with the ground. After my scooter broke down and I pissed on the side of the road, a family on bicycles passed me and gave me one. Unsurprisingly, it was as dense as stone and cold inside. I ate it as I watched the smaller birds playing in the high grass just before I went to go home.
I had spotted the family before the scooter broke. They were going uphill and not really enjoying it. I passed them at one of the higher points on the road, and parked to enjoy the view. They had stopped for a break at the place I was planning to sit and write, and they looked happy there. Rather than bother them, I got back on the scooter, which at this point would not start. The bottle of ice coffee made me want to piss.
Perhaps, I told myself, perhaps it just needs to cool. The roads are steep and I was driving for a long time. Besides, I could probably walk half a kilometer and see the river and write, away from happy families that don't wish to bothered with foreign assholes.
The roads on the mountains are circumscribed in that there are only three things that surround them: trees, walls, and cliffs. One doesn't consider these things unless there is a full bladder situation. Somehow, I found a short wall, jumpable, enclosed and hidden from the road by bamboo. After relieving myself on the trees, I realized that I was standing very close to a concrete walkway, leading in the direction of the lake.
I stopped to pick some of the purple, yellow, orange, red bursts of flowers that grew on this walkway. The place was tightly surrounded, so the citrus smell they gave off was enticing and warranted closer examination. I have also yet to reconcile the fact that I was smelling bright flowers in January, while the bees were loving them.
The break in the trees was what made me stop. I could see the lake. The path in front of me veered to the left, and its endpoint obstructed by trees, I romanticized an abandoned shack overlooking the water. I stepped forward, or maybe only shifted my weight and heard the rustling in the bushes to my right side. Animal? Bird? I stepped back to see what I had disturbed.
If I had startled something, I never saw it, but my attention was immediately focused on the spiderweb spanning the width of the path in front of me. Did I touch it just enough to move the branches, but not enough to get it all over me? It certainly looked less than pristine. I checked my clothes for unbidden guests.
Spiders are not my favorite member of the animal kingdom. In fact, they are one of the biggest fears I have. (Above them is flying and commitment. Below them is everything else, residing on a relatively equal plane.) It was enough to make me stop moving and very assiduously look around me. I heard bee wings. Were they coming from a previous unseen section? (No. Toying with the fauna on the forest floor.) I was still chary to step through the web, and knew I would feel better knowing what my arachnid foe looked like. My eyes scrutinized every strand before me, hoping to see my enemy.
When relating stories about insects, it becomes so effortless to exaggerate. The shock of discovering something grotesque multiples its mass in the mind's eye, for one. And for two, nobody really cares about insect stories unless they're gigantic insect stories. (The centipede corpse I unwittingly fished from a drain, mid-shower, has grown an inch for every year the story is told.) To me, I was Frodo in this equation, facing certain doom from the Spider Queen Shelob. As close to reality as I can describe it, the body was two of my fingers, with a wingspan of less than my outstretched (feminine) hand, and yellow joints on the legs. (Yellow joints! What biological purpose could an adaptation like this serve, save for the terror of fresh human prey? It was here that I had my first doubts about evolution and decided that it must be the dark lord guiding the growth of living beings.)
The remarkable thing about this day was not the weight of my eight-legged agitator, but that we so nearly ended embracing on another. One step forward and we would become a ten-legged unholy union, one in which this yellow-jointed fiend would love to see me dead in. (No doubt!) Vowing to, for once, not tempt fate, and allowing for the possibility that my romantic, empty shack overlooking the Taiwanese lake was home to monstrosities such as this, I turned heel and departed my secret walkway. I told myself that this would make a charming children's story, told in rhyming couplets, and ending in a spider-human friendship. I pictured the spider having an adorable accent and big cute eyes, but only because I could think of no other revenge to take upon him.
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