by bj max
I glanced out the window at the thermometer on the patio. Twenty-four degrees. Man its cold. I shivered and padded back to the fireplace and scrunched up as close as I dared. It’s New Years Day and we don’t have to do a thing today if we don’t want to. I’m retired now and Sugar Booger is off for the holidays. We can bundle up right here at home where it’s cozy and warm; drink hot cocoa, watch football and never mind the cold weather. We could do that, but we won’t. We’re going motorcycle riding. Why? Because, for some ignoronic’ reason, that’s what motorcyclists do on New Year’s Day. The Polar Bear Ride, you know? I’d like to get my hands on the genius who thought that one up.
We layered on the clothing; beginning with two pairs of heavy cotton socks pulled over the legs of long johns, and finished off with electric vests, leather motorcycle jackets and liners. As we waddled out to the bike, I couldn’t help but think of the little kid in “A Christmas Story” after his Mom dressed him for a day of play in the snow.
I really didn’t expect a very good turnout and was surprised to find seven motorcycles waiting at our designated meeting place. Everybody was standing around shivering and shaking and trying their best to give the impression of being normal people on a normal day. But, as cold as it was, we slowly became acclimated and by the time we got underway the temperature had climbed to a balmy thirty five degrees.
Our destination was the Pig-N-Whistle, a little Bar-B-Q joint that sits alongside the Illinois Central Railroad tracks in a little wide spot in the road known as Kerrville. Fifteen miles into this short thirty mile jaunt, I was suddenly and maliciously attacked by a powerful, sweat popping itch. I hated to bring the whole ride to a halt just so I could scratch, but this was no ordinary itch. This was an itch of apocalyptic proportions so I was relieved when the stop sign that signaled the end of Mudville Road came into view. I slowed to a halt, clicked into neutral then grabbed my helmet with both hands and twisted it back and forth like mad. Ahhhhhh. Seven bikes and a Buick waited patiently behind me and no doubt wondered what the hold up was. Finally, with the itch temporarily relieved, I clunked into low and we were soon under way again.
The Pig-N-Whistle is a biker friendly establishment and has several motorcycle parking slots on either side of the front steps. On arrival, I quickly slipped into one of these slots, dismounted and came outta’ my helmet as fast as I could. That fiery itch had now morphed into a slow burn and my head was on fire. There ain’t no genteel way to scratch an itch. No matter how sly you are, folks always notice and wonder why you don’t take a bath once in awhile. It’s very embarrassing. So I ducked into the restroom, locked the door and scratched my head ‘til it almost bled.
After lunch, the crew scattered like a covey of quail; headed for distant fireplaces I’m sure. Meantime, the burning and itching got worse and all I wanted to do was go home. I considered riding without a helmet thinking maybe the cops would lend a sympathetic ear, but I eventually decided that it was just too dangerous. So I rode forty miles with a helmet full of fire ants. Or at least that’s how it felt. Turned out that comparison wasn’t far off.
Sugar Booger and I arrived home around three o’clock and as soon as I got the bike put away I headed for the shower. The cool water relieved the inferno somewhat, but when I rubbed in a little shampoo it was like slathering napalm on my head and my scalp lit up again. I was miserable and prepared myself for a long, sleepless night.
The next morning, armed with a hand held mirror, I padded into the bathroom, examined my scalp and discovered several angry red wounds. This was beginning to get ugly and I wondered what on earth could have caused these nasty sores. Sugar Booger suspected insects. She logged on to the Internet and Googled up a few million insect bite images and it didn’t take long to find matching wounds. The red splotches were dead ringers for spider bites. She broke the camera out, took a few hi-res photos of my scalp, uploaded them into the computer, zoomed in, and there, as plain as the nose on your face, were the unmistakable fang marks of the Osama Bin Laden of the insect world, Loxosceles Reclusa AKA the brown recluse spider.
I’m sure most of you have seen those grisly pictures of brown recluse bites, the ones with decomposing flesh surrounding craters the size of baseballs. The brown recluse venom is hemolytic, meaning the red blood cells are being destroyed faster than the bone marrow can produce them; hence the putrid and disgusting wounds. I almost up-chucked just thinking about it and my pulse climbed accordingly. But Sugar Booger, resident MD of the Happy Bottom Riding, Yachting and Snipe Huntin’ Club, calmed me down by pointing out that most brown recluse bites cause no loss of tissue and heal themselves within a couple of weeks. Only those poor souls who are allergic to the venom suffer those terrible sores. This information calmed my heart back to a more normal rhythm and I began to wonder how this could have possibly happened to a nice guy like me.
Well, actually it was simply a matter of carelessness on my part. The brown recluse is an introvert and if left alone wouldn’t harm a flea. But if threatened or disturbed he will defend himself. He’s pretty good at it, too. The Brown Recluse prefers dark and cozy places such as closets, cupboards and garages. Boots and helmets also attract this eight legged little monster and since I had developed the bad habit of leaving my helmet on the motorcycle seat for days at a time, the spider took advantage of the situation and moved in. Later, on our Polar Bear Ride, when I moved in with him, the spider, being the loner that he is, decided to throw me out. As I write this it’s been twenty three days now since I was evicted and my head, although healing, is still sore.
But even though I did suffer severe pain and inflammation for a few days, it could have been a lot worse. And, as they say, there is a silver lining behind every cloud. For instance, my friends are more alert now to the dangers of insect bites and wouldn’t dare put their boots on without first checking for spiders. And after, a ride they now fog their helmets with poison gas and hermetically seal them until the next ride. As for me, my exposure to the spiders’ venom induced a geriatric correction of my anagrams allowing me to mentally control the instability of intra-atomic magnetism between most molecular particle layers. As a result of this phenomenon, I can now squirt webs from my wrists, hang upside down from the ceiling, and kick everybody’s ass in my neighborhood.
Look out! Here comes the Spiderman.