I grew up in College Park, a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. College Park was quite different back then. It was a quiet, lazy town with a small town feel. Sergeant Wingo was the local gendarme. He diligently protected the citizens and occasionally had a counseling session with an unruly teenager, not that I was one of those.
Pup Phillips owned an old time drug store with a real soda fountain. He mixed medications from shelves of exotic powers and liquids. Pup sold us sulfur, saltpeter and powered charcoal from which we constructed fireworks and fuel for our rockets. Pups was a local hangout where folks gathered to share stories and sodas. My best high school buddy, Dusty Roads and I liked to hang out there and catch up on the latest gossip. One afternoon I heard a conversation about a big hairy spider at the Fruit Stand.
The Fruit Stand was just that. It was on the corner of Main Street and Mercer Avenue; they sold fruit along with other stuff. My friends who were in the know would frequently use the bathroom at the Fruit Stand since the nude picture of Marylyn Monroe hung on the wall there. It was quite an attraction for a fourteen-year-old boy. When I heard about the spider, I hopped on my bike and took off to see this strange creature. There was quite a commotion when I arrived so I shoved my way through a crowd and sure enough, sitting on the counter was a big hairy spider. When I say big, it was much bigger than my hand. Someone said it was a tarantula that had come in with some bananas from Central America. Unfortunately, it was quite dead. The brothers that owned the Fruit Stand knew me quite well due to my frequent use of their bathroom and so when I asked if I might have the spider they said sure.
The tarantula became my prized possession. I ran thin copper wire diagonally threw its legs and bent the ends into tiny hooks, then I sealed it in plastic spay. It looked very real and I could manipulate the legs so that they appeared to move.
I loved to shock people by hooking my spider to the back of my shirt and strolling down Main Street. People’s reactions ranged from acting as if it didn’t exist to screams of terror. Of course, it was a great attraction for girls who thought of me as some kind of exotic explorer.
One night I was at Shoney’s with Dusty Roads, Hukey Lambert, Georgie Bost, Liza Anderson, Robin Luke, and Tina McGahee. We were all on sugar highs from chocolate milkshakes. I had my prized tarantula with me and it struck me that it might be funny to frighten the cook staff with it. I think it was my idea, but it might have been Dusty’s. Anyway, with a lot of encouragement, I ordered a hamburger and when it came, I pulled enough bread out of the top of the bun to conceal the tarantula. Then I sent it back to the kitchen with the complaint that there was something in it.
We knew immediately when someone took the top off the bun. There was screaming that sounded like someone had died. Suddenly the kitchen door flew open and the entire cook staff came flying out with screams of terror. The manager went to investigate and when he came out of the kitchen, he came straight to our table, handed me the tarantula and said, “This must be yours”. I had a reputation by then because true to my love of biology I kept snakes, spiders and anything that crept, crawled, slithered, flew or jumped. In addition, the story of the dead dog boil had gotten around. The manager said to me, “Do not leave, I’m calling the police.” Suddenly my life flashed before my eyes. I knew if the police didn’t lock me up my Daddy would kill me or worse.
It wasn’t long until Sergeant Wingo pulled into the parking lot with lights flashing and siren screaming. He marched in the door and came straight to our table. “Come with me,” he said in his most authoritative voice, “And bring that thing with you”. We went outside and he made me sit in the backseat of his squad car while he went back in and talked to the manager. When he came back to the car, he called home. Thank goodness, that Daddy was on a sales trip, so Mother got the news. I knew Sergeant Wingo was going to put me in jail. Daddy had told me that if I was ever arrested I could rot in jail, that he would not come and get me out. However, I knew Mother would, after all, she was Mother.
I sat there in a panic as I awaited my fate. When Sergeant Wingo finished talking to Mother, he turned to face me and started to laugh. That’s the funniest damn stunt I ever saw he said.” “But,” he went on, “Still you have to be punished for creating a public disturbance. The manager and I have talked and I am going to ban you from Shoney’s for three months. You can only come here with your parents, oh and that includes the parking lot, now hand that bug over.” He let me out of his car, told me to get home, and took my spider. For weeks after that, there were rumors of a huge black spider showing up in the strangest of places.
When I got home, Mother and I had a serious conversation. Actually, it wasn’t a conversation—Mother talked, I listened. Being Mother and having a Mother’s heart of compassion for her firstborn son, as wayward as he might be, she decided that Daddy really didn’t need to know the story. I think she feared for my life.
So, I served my time, I lost my spider, but my reputation as one cool dude grew, and I escaped a fate worse than death.
Copyrighted © 2010 by Jack deJarnette