Psst! This is an episode of That’s What She Said! You can listen in below, or keep reading for a transcript-ish version of events.
Maybe it wasn’t clear before.
Maybe you suspected you’d been duped, but you needed confirmation.
Maybe you desperately, desperately hoped that having moved across the country with your partner, two pets, and every last one of your possessions on the first day of 2020 was ultimately NOT a bad idea.
And then you hear it: the phrase that will change everything.
“The basement smells like spiders.”
Note for arachnophobes: there are no images or vivid descriptions of spiders in the words that follow. I’m trying to tell a story, not WRECK YOUR LIFE.
UM, NEIGHBOR CHRIS, FIRST OFF: HOW IS THAT EVEN A SMELL?
I DID NOT KNOW THAT WAS POSSIBLE: FOR THERE TO BE SO MANY SPIDERS…THAT THE BASEMENT…SMELLS LIKE…THEM?
(I TYPE IN CAPS FROM NOW ON OBVIOUSLY IT’S THE ONLY WAY POSSIBLE TO DISPLAY MY UTTER REVULSION AND TERROR.)
What does one…do…with a statement like ‘The basement smells like spiders’…?
First, I presumed it to be true, ’cause neighbor Chris had lived in Portland all his life and therefore knew a thing or two about spiders.
Oregon makes spider attacks so normal that even as an arachnophobe you stop flipping out when, say, a few spiders fall on your head as you’re working in the yard. Or when dead spiders fall on you as you’re trying to relax on the porch. Or when you see teeny tiiiiiny spiders crawling on your laptop keyboard and then they just VANISH.
SPIDERS VANISHED INTO MY KEYBOARD AND I DID NOT STOP LIVING IN OREGON BECAUSE I WANTED TO BE STRONG, GODDAMMIT.
The basement…smells…like spiders.
I can no longer pretend that the basement is not full of spiders…because clearly, it is, and they’re just waiting to hatch and eat me in my sleep.
OBVIOUSLY I can never go into the basement again.
As the days go on, Bear decides to be helpful. He approaches neighbor Chris in a friendly way: ‘Hey, would you mind if I cleaned the basement so it DOESN’T smell like spiders?” Neighbor Chris does a friendly rebuke, like ‘No man, that’s okay.’ Bear attempts over and over to make headway, here: how about now? What if I promise not to touch your stuff? What if I only clean the shared areas?
Again and again, Chris expresses versions of nope, no, and no thank you. The spiders continue to Occupy The Basement in an arachnid campaign that would make Bernie Sanders weep with the brilliance of its simplicity.
Of COURSE my suggestion is dismissed: what if I walk in, douse the whole basement with gasoline, AND BURN THIS HOUSE DOWN?
This refusal to eradicate the spiders raised EVEN BIGGER questions about living in Oregon. Who is willing to live with a spider infestation? Who refuses free help with cleaning from a tidy Italian man who has nothing better to do during a pandemic? Who is not only willing to live, BUT COMMITTED TO, LIVING IN A DEN OF SPIDERS DEAR GOD THE HUMANITY. ::wrings hands::
Other things happened in Portland that let me know it wasn’t for me. Once, Bear and I were driving to The Goonies House and accidentally merged into a Proud Boys truck parade at a stoplight. In case that wasn’t clear: WE ACCIDENTALLY TOOK PART IN A PARADE CELEBRATING DOMESTIC TERRORISM WHEN WE WERE JUST TRYING TO SEE THE HOUSE WHERE THE GOONIES WAS FILMED.
In addition, police violence and federal-government-sanctioned violence were at an all-time high. Activists were being snatched up by unmarked vans, disappearing for hours and being held by ‘officials’ without any stated cause. Bear was less than 20 feet from Portland’s mayor on the night he got pepper sprayed repeatedly by his own police force.
And the DRONES. Police drones. Data-scraping drones. Military drones. I didn’t know how many drones could be present in the air at any one point. And silly me, I didn’t even know police drones were a thing! We got used to drones the size of my VW Beetle hovering overhead regularly.
One day, my friend Dawn called to say that an apartment had opened in her triplex and did we want to come home now?
We were committed to a new start in Portland.
That meant we were also committed to having spiders in our basement. And escalating police violence on the daily. With a side of domestic terrorism. While drones that could hold their own in any dystopian novel patrolled the air. During a pandemic. Which did not yet have a vaccine.
At the precise moment that Bear and I chose to discuss returning to Philly, one of those enormous drones hovered over the house and shook it down to the foundation. The entire place hummed like an industrial strength vibrator factory set to Test Mode as the police drone hovered overhead.
It was scary as fuck.
It was also PRECISELY the confirmation we needed to get out of the city as soon as possible.
Wherever you are, and whatever you’re committed to?
It’s okay to change.
You get new data.
You learn that you’ll be surviving your first pandemic.
You know a place in reality, not just through visits.
You have more information.
You watch spiders crawl into your keyboard and never crawl back out.
It’s okay to admit that your current situation isn’t working.
It’s okay to adjust the sails (or, in my case, move away from the drones).
It’s okay to respond to life as it happens, even if your plans were PERFECT and the budget doesn’t allow for any deviation from the plan.
Shaming yourself for not knowing what you couldn’t have known won’t help anyone.
You take it all in.
And you adjust to life’s insanities as the days unfold.
For the record: I never went into the basement again.
(Image: Portland Bubs was apparently pretty ragged and barely holding on, or at least he looks like it in this photo.)
P.S. Sometimes ‘not this’ is clear enough.