"Get back, you eight-legged freaks" – actor David Arquette’s ad-lib that inspired the title of the 2002 film Eight Legged Freaks, which was called Arach Attack in production
There was also the 1990 film Arachnophobia with Jeff Daniels. But both of these Hollywood epics somewhat pale in comparison with what transpiredthis week at the ever-newsworthy Watergate complex in Washington.
The management of the Watergate East, the oldest part of the building which houses co-ops (many of whose residents are on the elderly side), periodically sends a newsletter to those who live there. The current issue, according to Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger of the Washington Post’s Reliable Source column, was rather on the alarmist side:
Nearly half of it, according to the reporters,
was devoted to a cautionary tale about public restrooms. In lurid detail, the building’s management described the tragic deaths of "three women in North Florida" — far from the Watergate, but knock on wood anyway — who took ill after visiting the same restaurant … where toxicologists later found "a small spider … the Two-Striped Telamonia (Telamonia Dimidiata)." Also, a Jacksonville lawyer died with "a puncture wound on his right buttock" after getting off a plane from Indonesia — and officials found spiders’ nests in the toilets of four planes!
"So please," Watergate management warned its residents, "before you use a public toilet, lift the seat to check for these creatures. It can save your life!" (Watergate toilets themselves were not implicated — but still!)
A scary tale indeed – poisonous Asian spiders imported into Florida (a state where many noxious species from abroad have made their home) and obviously ready to hitch rides on vehicles moving up I-95, perhaps to wreak havoc on the Washington tourist industry right around the Labor Day weekend. It was definitely one of those situations where one pictures our President ripping off his jacket and shirt to display that big letter "O" so familiar from T-shirts hawked during Inauguration Week, and getting on the hotline to Spiderman (who’d naturally know how to handle a situation like this – indeed, might be able to cajole the creatures with an arachnoid version of beer diplomacy).
However, things weren’t quite as bad as the Watergate East management was reporting. Roberts and Argetsinger continue:
The story is completely bogus. It’s a well-traveled urban legend — the kind of tantalizing falsehood that circulates in e-mails forwarded from your mom — that has long since been debunked. Just Google "telamonia" and you’ll see.
The Watergate was not psyched to discuss this. "This was only for residents," said a woman in the management office who declined to give her name. "We realized that it was an Internet hoax, so we have sent another letter telling them that."
The telamonia is a real-life critter. But "it’s a jumping spider, found mostly in Burma or Himalayan regions," [Rick Vetter, a University of California-Riverside entomologist] said, "and no jumping spiders are known to be dangerous."
And so it is that the lavatories of America are not threatened by murderous critters that somehow got past Samuel L. Jackson (or whoever is now in charge of keeping such things off of planes). It’s true that our own brown recluse spider is a rather dangerous thing – I recently had to crush one that was stubbornly trying to invade my father’s house in Indiana – but it’s not known for its affinity for toilet seats. Spidey can go back to weathering the blasts of J. Jonah Jameson, in that happy land where daily newspapers are still thriving.