| It is the dead
Daggers of ice hang from drainage pipes above
sidewalks buried under a half-foot of snow. The
thermometer on the Opera House begins its display
with a minus sign and citizens of Yerevan carry
the seasonal slump of cold air's unseen burden.
And inside my apartment in the middle of the
capital of Armenia is . . . a scorpion.
Living here is frequently pleasantly dull, but
rarely boring. Events like this make it dang lively
for the easily amused.
As if this were the Sahara and not Siberia, he
perched (or whatever these arachnids do) above
my bed like a wall ornament in a cheap desert-themed
beer joint. A scorpion, October's astrological
sign and a sign in January's Winter Wonderland
that something ain't right here.
You should know that I grew up with some pretty
unnatural nature. In Mobile, Alabama I lived with
cockroaches so big my roommate and I made a pact
to never try to kill one unless we had backup.
We figured, what with the size of the things,
that if we only wounded one and it turned angry
on us, the odds might be against a man fighting
alone. At night you could actually hear their
And in South Florida, I shared a canal-side flat
with mosquitoes the size of hairpins and with
lizards that changed colors and whose tails popped
off when I'd shoot them with a stopper gun.
But this was my first encounter of the stingable
kind. He was about this _______________________________________
long and had his tail curled up like one of those
breed of dogs with characteristically immodest
Like much of my life here, the thing was foreign
to me. So, being American, I decided to kill it.
Near my bed was the remains of the liquid remedy
I'd used for the holiday hangover of a night before.
It's called Solpadeine and contains caffeine,
codeine and a few other "eines" that
I figured ought to be sufficiently exterminatorial
for the shrimp of a scorpion.
I raked him off the wall and into the drug remnants
and went to sleep, quite purposefully on the floor.
I can't remember what I dreamed, but I'll bet
it wasn't good.
Next morning Mr. Scorpion was more awake than
me, apparently refreshed by the medication. I
put him in a jewelry box. He's dry now, and I'm
thinking of making a brooch.
You gotta look for a sign in something like this:
A what does the madness mean? kind of moment.
So I did. And I asked around about general scorpion
sightings in the neighborhood.
"It's too warm in your apartment,"
one neighbor told me. There it was: the sign.
After two seasons of long underwear and earmuffs
in bed, I bought a new heater this year, sneaking
it in after dark so that my neighbors wouldn't
think the American is not only spoiled, but a
Finding a lethal crawly thing ("Normally,
a person doesn't die from the sting," a friend
told me. As if any of this were "normal"?)
a foot from where my head was to go was God's
way of reminding that, when in Armenia, do as
the Armenians do: suffer.
Sure, you can make your flat so snuggly warm
that you only need one layer of clothing instead
of three. But if you do, things will crawl from
the walls and inject you with poison. Do not fiddle
with fate and the history of many millennia of
So I've turned down the heat at Hotel California
and am rethinking plans to buy an air conditioner
for the summer. Who knows what form of plague
might come out when the weather's actually nice
. . .