Front page

Are you afraid of the dark?

(Click to invert colors, weenie.) (Requires JavaScript.)

All email will be assumed to be for publication unless otherwise requested.

What's in the banner?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Foto Friday: Saguarooooooo!

A menace to the West!

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Tucson, AZ, April 1994

From looking at its web site, I'd say the ASDM has grown quite a bit since I was there last. What I remember about it is that it had 1) a beautiful 3D model of a galaxy embeded in glass, and 2) a caving exhibit with a fake cave. The latter had a narrow passage you could (barely) walk through. For some reason I thought this was the coolest thing: all the fun of caving without any of the nasty slimy dripping parts, and no bats. It was sort of like a geological funhouse. We need more stuff like that.

Having nothing else to say, I might as well tell you the spiders-in-cactus urban legend that was told to me as a true story in the early Nineties, as happening to "a friend of my aunt". It varies quite a bit from the usual version, having been customized for local consumption (you'll see). In fact, the plain vanilla story is the little paragraph at the bottom of the quoted bit at the snopes link. The first, large quoted bit was an Australian version new to me, packed with glorious Aussie overkill.

Anyway, here goes:

Once upon a time a family went on vacation to Arizona, where they dug up a barrel cactus[1] from the desert and brought it back home (to St. Louis) with them. One day the woman is home alone, and she notices that her cactus is...breathing. Puzzled, she calls up Shaw's Gardens[2] and they tell her to get everybody, including pets, out of the house immediately, and they'll be right over.[3]

Within a few minutes a van pulls up, and two men rush inside with a big lucite box,[4] and come out carrying the cactus inside it. They hadn't reached their van when -- KERBLOOIE! -- the cactus exploded, spewing thousands of baby tarantulas all over the inside of the box. Wow! What a narrow escape[5]!

[1]When I first told Niles this story, he interrupted at this point to inform me that this was illegal. I was annoyed at the interruption, and told him it wasn't relevant. But perhaps it is; perhaps this detail adds a measure of "just deserts"[6] to the legend. It's this sort of thing that gives legends legs[7].

[2]Known to some as the Missouri Botanical Garden, a serious research and educational outfit, as well as a garden where the unwashed can stroll among the pretty planties. It was started by a fellow named Henry Shaw in 1859, and is still often known as Shaw's Gardens locally.

[3]It's kind of charming the way this story assumes that Mobot (as their URL has it) is a sort of plant version of Animal Control. Also, unlike the Australian story (where the guy has to call around to get answers), the people answering the phone know the problem immediately. This suggests that this incident happens often enough to be well-known to the plant community, but not often enough so that they feel obliged to, you know, warn anybody or anything like that.

[4]Why a lucite box? So you can see the explosion. What's the point of being trapped in an urban legend if you can't see the good bits?

[5]Unfortunately for the delightful frisson this tale is supposed to give you, tarantulas really aren't all that poisonous (although I suppose there's always the chance of an allergic reaction). I still wouldn't want thousands of tiny ones crawling on me, though.

[6]Har! I make pun!

[7]Eight or more.[8]

[8]Will these footnotes never end??[9]

[9]Probably not before noting that any resemblance between spider-filled barrel cactuses and singer Amy Winehouse's hair is purely coincidental, although really creepy.

Labels: ,