This is the second update from my high school friend Scott in Iraq. Click on the category “Notes from Iraq” to see all his letters. Here is his description of life in Iraq, as only Scott can tell it. Amazing that he can have a sense of humor in such God-awful conditions… I pray every night he comes home soon!
By the way, I’ve done you all the great favor of NOT posting a picture of Stumpy for this entry and in spite of Scott’s suggestion below to “google” camel spiders on the internet, I highly recommend against it. When I first got this note, I had no idea what a camel spider was. I figured it was safe to assume it was a spider of some sort, maybe with a hump on it like a camel. I imagined it was probably a pretty big one of it could carry off his toothbrush but I didn’t think it was the SIZE of a camel! I had never seen one thank God because I would have no doubt had a heart attack right there on the spot. I clicked on the first result listed by google and screamed. A tiny little ¼ inch spider can send me screaming into convulsions (think: Elaine on Seinfeld dancing) and all of a sudden I am looking at a picture of the biggest, ugliest, creepiest, nastiest, scariest mother f*cking spider I have ever seen. I still shudder when I think of it. It was the size of a small horse. I immediately closed the window and proceeded to have nightmares for the next month.
From: scott marconda
Subject: stumpy’s toothbrush
Date: Thur, 07 October 2004
For those of you who read my last email, you may remember Stumpy the pet spider. For those who don’t, Stumpy is a camel spider that lives under my 15x20 foot “can” I’ve dubbed “The Hovel.” Stumpy is missing a leg. Get it? Why not remove him? He was there first, so I figure it’s as much his Hovel as mine and nothing makes a Hovel a home quite like a pet. Plus my theory is he keeps the riff raff away.
I usually depart for the “Pit” (work), which is the 1st Marine Division’s Command Operation’s Center or COC, around 0700. I usually don’t get home to the Hovel until after 2300 if nothing is going on, and later if something is. There are no lights in the compound for tactical reasons. So I only see Stumpy from the ambient light of the morning. These once a day, isolated viewings have a sort of “time lapse photography” effect. But for them, you wouldn’t know Stumpy was alive, as he’s not a real active guy – he is missing a leg after all.
For those not familiar with camel spiders, just Google them on the internet. They are big (both in dimensions and weight – I’d say Stumpy weighs in at about 5 oz – give or take a leg). They are ugly. They bite (but are non poisonous). They can also reach speeds of up to 10mph. I had forgotten this last part.
The Hovel is raised above ground about 2 feet. So you have one metal step into the doorway. Stumpy lives under the step. Before going to sleep, most of us here don shorts, t-shirt and shower shoes (like sandals), head to the “head” (restroom) and wash, rinse, brush your teeth and back to bed.
The Hovel is Spartan. (see pictures in last letter: From Paradise to You.) It has a bed as its sole piece of organic furniture and a chair I added. No sink. Want to do anything with water – you need to go to the head. On this particular night, I changed and grabbed by gear to head to the head. As I stepped on the step, I managed to drop my toothbrush. It happens.
I haven’t looked it up, but I figure camel spiders are nocturnal. I also figure that my stepping on the step raised Stumpy’s “spidey sense”. I further figure that meals may be lean and hard coming for a spider missing a leg. I once tried feeding him a piece of beef jerkey by throwing it on the ground, but he didn’t go for it and the ants got it. But that was just before work in the morning and if my “nocturnal” assumption is correct, it also explains why he didn’t go for it.
So let’s review. It’s night and Stumpy is nocturnal. I just stepped on his “roof” for the second time in about 2 minutes (first time when coming in) so he’s a little jumpy to begin with. Then I drop my toothbrush. When I go to reach for it the bastard jumps me. I wasn’t ready for this and I’m here to tell ya it scared the hell out of me. I must confess I shouted “Jesus Christ!” and jumped.
There are about 20 other hovels around my hovel. They are also inhabited by Marines. So you have about 20 other Marines living together under fire in a combat zone and some bastard yells “Jesus Christ!” at midnight – you can guess what happened.
So now you have 20 Marines, most with their weapons out, standing in various tactical positions, in their shorts, aiming at a spider missing a leg with a toothbrush in its mouth.
Everyone exercised appropriate Fire Discipline and held their fire while it was gradually determined that some stupid son of a bitch got startled by a camel spider. Unsurprising to me, but perhaps odd to some of you, several fellows wanted to capture the spider for themselves. Marines like weird stuff and where most others would shoot or otherwise remove the offending arachnid, we see a potential mascot.
Rank has its privileges, and I formally asserted that “Stumpy” is “mine”, citing the time honored Marine mantra for when one wants to keep something he’s found, to wit: “I saw him first.”
Weapons were holstered.
Some returned to their beds. But a few retrieved MREs (meals ready to eat), candy, and one guy even tried a piece of gum – all in a vain attempt to coax Stumpy into trading in my toothbrush for some real chow. Caution was the order of the day. I mean, he’s big, he’s fast, he’s hungry and now he’s pissed! Discretion being the better part of valor, and thinking himself outnumbered and outgunned, he retreated to well under the Hovel, toothbrush in tow and wasn’t coming out for anybody.
Recognizing futility, each of us went his separate way, and I retrieved my spare toothbrush and – carefully – went off to the head.
War is Hell.