As a good many of you know, I’ve been doing a fair amount of traveling lately. In fact, between my gambling jaunts to Atlantic City, this summer’s trip to Mexico, and some other weekend getaways, I feel like I spend nearly as much time in hotels as my own home.
It’s a bit draining, but there are worse problems to have. I’m a bit of a bon vivant, so I’ve been staying in somewhat more plush hotels, anyway.
Truth be told, I’m fussy about certain things, so while I don’t enjoy living out of a bag or sleeping in random beds, there are aspects I enjoy.
Hotel bathrooms, for example.
If you haven’t stayed at a nice hotel lately, I highly advise you to do so immediately; the bathrooms are insane: tiled masterpieces with basin sinks and showers so large they could accommodate…well myself and several other people (not that I’d know anything about that).
And it is those showers that started this mess.
After a weekend in AC, I decided I wanted my bathroom at home to feel a bit more like a Spa. I wasn’t about to re-tile the entire thing, so I made what small changes I could. New towels. Some candles. A jar of scented oil to sit atop the sink. Very feng, very shui.
People would come from far and wide to just bask in the supreme calm my bathroom now elicits.
(Trust me, you want to pee here.)
I also made an investment in what I considered to be the crown jewel of my
pseudo-spa: a new shower head.
Not just any shower head. This was a giant monstrosity of chrome and steel with a diameter so large I had to roll it in on its side to fit through the door.
Simultaneously physically imposing and aesthetically pleasing, my new shower head had a ridiculous number of variable settings, ranging from “Elephant Wash” to “Summer Sunshower” to “Hurricane Katrina.”
It also comes with a hand massage, which one reviewer on Amazon.com described as “better than any vibrator I’ve ever had, and the only reason I’m still married.” Evidently, this is the John Romaniello of showerheads.
As soon as I installed it, I “enjoyed” a grueling workout from Final Phase Fat Loss–after which I was as sweaty as a person can possibly be. Hey, if you’re gonna get a giant shower head, may as well make sure it’s worth the cash, no?
Getting home, I stripped down to my bright green Diesel briefs, and lit some of the new aromatherapy candles. I was going to have the best shower ever. Hotel showers would have nothing on Casa de Roman.
There I am, in my new spa, enjoying the sensation of getting pelted by a hundred thousand miniscule water bullets. My showers normally take a while because of my beauty regime, so I’ll skip the part where I tell you about the special shampoo and conditioner I use, and get right to the good part: blissfully exfoliating my recently man-scaped torso and contemplating my next blog post.
(To be fair, I know exfoliating is a bit girly, but I was using my Axe “shower tool” so it was less girly. As loofah’s go, it’s as manly as they get. Okay, whatever, I care about my skin—can you stop interrupting and let me tell my tale of high adventure here?)
Where was I? Ah, yes, exfoliating.
Scrubbing furiously, I was pondering what to blog about, a bit distracted, when I catch a brief flurry of movement out of the corner of my eye; I glanced up briefly…
…and time stopped.
Unbeknownst to me, during my shower, while I was naked and exposed, vulnerable and distracted, an enemy had crept into my midst. I looked upon him, and did know Fear.
There—not inches in front of my face—suspended from a thread of the purest silk, was a spider. Black with red legs, his bulbous body plump from his latest kill, he glared back at me, his multi-faceted preceptors glowing like coals.
Before we go further, I need to mention something. I’m a pretty brave guy. I like extreme sports, have no problem with heights, or jumping out of airplanes, or off of boats, or even out of airplains onto boats. But, like anyone I have some phobias. And anyone who knows me will tell you, in all the known Universe, I fear three things, and three things only:
and the worst…
3) Clown Spiders
And so I did what any man in my position would do: I screamed like a little girl.
Jumping backwards away from the physical embodiment of my childhood fears, I smashed my lower back into the shower knobs and faucet. Without looking away from the spider, I clumsily sidled out of the shower, trying to regain my breath and my focus. I touched my now tender erector spinae, and felt a hot wetness. I was bleeding. I looked at the spider, and I swear to you he was smiling. He spun on his web, swaying to and fro in the shower’s steam.
And then HE SPOKE.
“First blood is mine,” said the spider to the Roman.
At this point, I needed to take a moment to gather my thoughts and my courage. I am deathly afraid of spiders, and they truly make me feel like I’m going to die. That’s how strong my fear is. And to be fair, this was a bit of a surprise.
There I was, in all my naki-tude, trembling in fear of a talking spider who was now trying very obviously to pick a fight.
And then I thought that he was an arrogant little bastard. He had invaded the sanctity of my home! Of my shower—shattering the carefully manicured, Zen-like calm of my newly redecorated bathroom. He had looked upon my flesh, and taken me by surprise. This was worse than the time I was roofied and nearly date raped my Sophomore year of college.
This was an invasion of one of my most private moments. What if he’d seen me…well, doing some stuff in the shower other than washing? You know, like using the hand massager or whatever. (Don’t you dare judge me, it’s my shower and I’ll do what I want.) The nerve! And what a coward—to come upon me when I was most vulnerable.
Swiftly, the ice cold grip of fear began to loosen its paralyzing grip on my extremities, as the inferno of anger spread outward from my heart.
The spider had been right. First blood was his. “Well,” I said, “last counts for more.”
I groped around on the ground looking for a weapon—and lo!—my hand brushed rubber. My trusty flip-flop!
I stood and took a swipe at the brash insect, seeking to end this unpleasant interaction (and his arrogance) as quickly as possible. And then something happened that I will never forget.
The spider dodged my attack. I blinked. Frowning in consternation, I thought I must have just misjudged the distance and missed. I took careful aim and attacked again.
This was understandably confusing, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that spiders do not normally have the dexirity to move so gamely while hanging from a web.
Of greater concern was this: for those of you who don’t know, when I was playing Dungeons & Dragons in middle school, my character was a level 8 Paladin with 9 ranks of melee under his belt, and I’m preeeeetty sure those skills carry over to real life. Besides, I was attacking with a +2 Flip Flop of Disruption. My paralyzing fear of insects aside, no mere spider could dodge two consecutive attacks.
It was then that I knew: this was no ordinary arachnid. For the first time, I took a closer looker at the Beast. I realized then what must be going on. This spider was not real.
I viewed the bug for what it was: this was a robot.
Yes, that must be it. As I looked at him, he grew larger and larger in my eyes. His legs grew by inches, then feet; his body grew rapidly, making sick popping noise as it jerked and twitched like a werewolf in bad horror movie
Oh, great. Just great. Just what I needed.
Not just a robot spide, but now a GIANT robot spider, clearly built by a mad scientist in an 80s cartoon, intended to spy on unsuspecting dudes and capture pictures of them exfoliating to blackmail them, hanging out in MY bathroom, and growing.
Armed with this knowledge, I reengaged the enemy.
Blood dripping down my back, I gripped tight my makeshift weapon, and waded in.
As soon as I stepped back into the shower, the world was transformed.
My enemy stood there, waiting for me. His body glistened wetly, red legs gleaming like bloody swords, mechanical hinges (robot spider, remember?) bent at angles Nature would never allow.
The shower water rained down upon us like…like…well, uh, like rain.
It ran down my body in rivulets, collecting the blood from my wound and gathering it into lazy swirling patterns in the water at our feet.
Approaching the beast guardedly, I held my flip-flop outward, using its mighty toe to create distance between us. Attempting to capitalize on his confusion, I lunged at the spider with a strength borne of terror and rage. He foresaw my attack, the clockwork arachnid scurried quickly out of the way, and my strike caught only air.
Three times now the beast had evaded me! This was impossible. My assumption was that whatever robot crystal matrix was running his CPU must be powered by the same radiation that turned Peter Parker into Spider-Man or Bruce Banner into the Hulk. (Evidently, it’s not just super-heroes that reap the benefits of a good toxic spill.)
Finding my center, I realized brute force would do me no good. This would require a different approach; a more sophisticated approach.
I would call on my fencing skills to slay this monster.
Shifting my weight to my back foot, I jabbed quickly, probing my enemy’s defenses; each was picked off cleanly by a leg here, a pincher there. We circled each other warily, the distance between us expanding and contracting ever more rapidly, as if in tune with the increasing speed of my heart.
Crouching lowly, I sprung forward, attacking with my flip-flop cum foil.
The spider reacted with Bonetti’s Defense. I shifted stances, transitioning to attack with Capa Ferro; without pause, I was immediately answered with Thibault. I retreated quickly, and darted forward into a flurry of Agrippa—down again and again and again. From style to style we went, our bodies contorting and adjusting as we ranged through all the forms of the ancient Masters.
(Okay, I stole most of that from the Princess Bride, but it happened in a very similar manner. There was a bit less skill and a bit more swagger, but you get the idea.)
In the back of my mind, I began to wonder just how mechanical this spider was—perhaps a cyborg sent back through time to slay me before I became Mankind’s savior in the war against the Machines? The spiders reactions were too seamless, his timing too perfect. Not even 80’s cartoon technology could produce this level of skill.
Redoubling my efforts, I pressed my attack marvelously. All of the training in all of the various disciplines I have studied (video games, RPGs, kung-fu movies, and reading comics) somehow coalesced into a battle ready methodology fit for the Matrix.
My hands were a blur, my footwork a poem.
Never before had I engaged in anything as harmoniously structured as this deadly dance. I became more confident, and managed to slip a few strikes passed his defenses—they rebounded harmlessly off of his monstrous carapace.
He attacked and I parried gamely, swatting off the legs as they came in from all angles, my Vorpal sword singing snicker-snack! as I swung to and fro, keeping the monster at bay. We surged forward and came together in a thunderous crash. Once and twice and thrice we collided, vying for position.
As our blades (flip-flops, swords, legs… whatever, focus on the story) locked together, we bore down on one another, each seeking to gain advantage. In this position, faces pressed dangerously close together. With such perilous proximity, it was impossible not to look into the beasts eyes.
My soul shivered.
I realized in that instant that I had made a mistake. This was no robot, no amalgamation of steel and flesh. No skill of man could produce this creature.
This was a demon bug.
This was all the fears of all children, made corporeal and dropped into my shower; not a spider, but a simulacrum of a spider, a bloated disguise for evil. This was an agent of the underworld, an ambassador of evil, spat out from the Sunnydale Hellmouth to bring about the End of All Things.
Not on my watch. I had to stop this. I had to save the world.
(Now, look. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think, given the chance to think about it, that Heaven would have specifically chosen me as the Protector of the Earth—but sometimes life hands you some lemons, and you have to use the lemons to battle the undead. Sometimes you ask for an arch-Angel, or a Hogwarts student, or Captain America. Sometimes you get that.
And then there are times when you want a Jedi Knight with a blazing light saber, and you wind up with a naked dude holding a rubber sandal. Destiny, as they say, rarely calls upon us at times of convenience.)
And so, if a naked guy with a flip-flop was all that straddled the gap between Existence and Oblivion, then so be it.
I don’t know who or what decided to send a harbinger of the Apocalypse to me in the form of this incubus-arachnid, but clearly they had no clue who they were dealing with. My name is John fuckin Roman, and arachnophobia be damned, these are not the fuckin Droids you’re looking for.
The END does not Begin in my shower. (Especially not when I got those nice candles that REALLY match the towels just so perfectly.)
I came fully into my own there–I knew the stakes, knew the fragile thread upon which my doom now hung. The question was: would I then, so-knowing, have the strength of spirit to see this battle through?
The smell of brimstone was strong; my breath came ragged now, ripped savagely from my lungs as they sought desperately to pull oxygen from the fetid air. To paraphrase Herman Melville, if my chest had been a canon, it would have shot my heart out on the shower floor. Arms aching from the strain, muscles bunching and snapping with each thrust, we continued.
The ground quaked mightily from the force of the blows, the house broke apart around us.
No longer confined to a bathroom, our combat ranged across the globe. Freed now of that ceramic-tiled arena, we traveled through fields and tramped through streams, the pace of our battle never lessening. It felt like we had been at it for days and then days upon days.
But I knew better. We had, in fact, been at it forever.
Mountains were born under our feet, erupting from the deserts left in the wake of dying oceans. Cities crumbled around us, Kingdoms rose and fell. With each thrust of our weapons, new ages began and were ended.
We were no longer two warriors engaged in single combat: we were all warriors, in all times.
Our dance was the dance of ages, of eons. This battle was ancient and everlasting, a battle so old its origins were lost in the murky depths of pre-Time.
This was THE battle.
The war between Good and Evil, Light and Dark, played out a thousand times—no, thousand times a thousand! Once again, each side had chosen a Champion, and the battle was joined.
Our souls left our bodies and we projected to the Astral Plane. We fought among the heavens, and the stars themselves hid from the fury. I was tireless, but exhausted; Immortal, and a hairs breadth from death. I was one with my enemy, knew his mind as I knew my own; knew the he feared me as I feared him.
Finally, a mutual blow was struck—with the speed and temerity of a swooping falcon, I attacked with an overhand chop; the spider twisted its bulk laterally, lashing out with his forelegs. Our blows both landed, and we fell.
And we fell.
Thrown from our perch above the sun, we fell endlessly; through the sky and the clouds, through fire and water, through shadow and flame. Like Gandalf with the Balrog, we fell and fought and fell. Finally, we came to rest on a mountaintop that overlooked the landscape of Pandemonium, the Capital City of Hell itself.
Feeling the spiders venom coursing through my body, I made a desperate run straight at the beast; his strikes fell upon me, scratching my skin as though I had run through a thicket of brambles. Taking up my flip-flop in both hands as though I was Thor weilding Mjolnir, I smote the spider like I had rolled a 20 and did double damage. He blinked his eyes stupidly once, and then fell into pieces, the sorcery binding his form together evaporating with his defeat.
I stood there, eyes closed, wholly consumed with fatigue, knowing nothing other than the burning of the spider’s venom flowing through me. I waited for death, too exhausted to savor victory.
And then I felt it: a drip. Small at first, but growing steadily.
Drip, drip, drip.
Now a deluge, my body being bathed in light and water, healing my wounds, rejuvenating me. Like a Pheonix Down in Final Fantasy or red potion in Zelda, slowly but surely I felt my health meter filling up again.
I opened my eyes and realized I was in my shower—all the damage from this epic battle had been undone. Whatever test there had been, I had passed—barely. The Gods had seen fit to repair the damage we had done as we replayed the Last Battle in my bathroom.
And I stood now in my tub, the mammouth showerhead set to “Soothing Rain.” The scent of an “Ocean Mist” candle filled my nostrils.
Having faced my worst fear—and death—I was now free to enjoy my shower.
Then I ran out of hot water.
Eh, I’ll shower later. Time to watch some cartoons.