Saturday, April 10, 2010

Scorpions Under My Tent - Rome, Italy

I probably looked like a lunatic. I was furiously molesting the bottom of my tent with the end of a 3 foot stick. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and the sun was still high, turning every rock on the ground into a skillet. I hunched over, trying to get a good view of the cracks and nooks that formed under the base of my tent, stick in hand, prodding away.

“Hey man. What are you doing?” He spoke with a Portuguese accent, but I couldn’t place which side of the Pacific it came from.

“Oh, hey!” Startled, I looked up, doing my best Wild Eyed Crazy Person. The end of my stick was still lodged under the foundation of my tent.

“Julian,” he said, sliding a large, beaten rucksack off of his shoulder and extending a hand, “you alright?”

“Patrick,” I said, shaking his hand, “There’s a huge fucking scorpion under my tent.”

“Fuck.” Emphasis on the ‘u’, to express dismay.

“Yeah.” I looked back down at my stick and wiggled it. “I’m trying to get him to come out.”

“I think I’m supposed to be staying in that tent, too. Where’d you get that stick?” His tone was of resolve.

There were 40 of the tents lined up under a shady cluster of trees at the top of a hill in the camp. There was a clearing a few feet away with a picnic table where you could look out over the suburbs of Rome. Each tent was meant to serve as a semi-permanent structure, like the ones you see in documentaries about refugees. Each slept two people. Or 6 if you’re from Somalia.

“There’s another one under that tree over there,” I pointed. The trees that crested the long line of tents were supposed to create some semblance of relief from the sun. Unfortunately, no amount of shade could keep the tents from becoming uninhabitable with heat from about 8 in the morning until the same time at night.

“How far under there is he?” it’s best to assign male distinctions to an enemy for whom you wish death.

“I’m not sure. I can’t see him anymore.”

“If he comes out, we should smash him with a rock.”

“Yeah.” I stared down at the gap in the blocks I was prodding.

“Can scorpions jump?” Julian asked cautiously.

I looked up from my stick. “No… What? Can they?”

“I think that’s what they heard. Because they don’t make webs or something, so they have to tackle their pray and… fuckin’, you know, stab it.” He gesticulated the point by flinging one hand at the other and making a hard, jabbing motion into his palm.

“Fuck.” Again, on the ‘u’.

“Yeah.” He leaned down and examined the rocks, wiggling a loose one with his own stick.

“Did you know they had scorpions in Italy?” I asked, clearing some dirt away from the base of another rock.

“Yeah. I saw a couple of them while I was walking; just outside Bologna.”

“There decent hiking up there?”

“Dunno. I walked here from Portugal.”

I looked up from my stick. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. It’s fucking far.” He kept poking. “From Porto.”

I still wasn’t looking at my stick. I was dumbstruck. “You walked across all of Spain, France and most of Italy?”

“I hitchhiked from Zaragoza to Andorra [Eastern Spain to the French border], but the guy tried to steal my pack, so I don’t do that anymore.”

“That’s awesome, dude.” Some of the bark was coming off of my stick, so I picked at it.

“You fly here?” Like he was asking what flavor sissy cake I preferred.

“…Yeah,” embarrassed. “So you’re Portuguese?”

“Yep. And you’re American?” He smiled up at me.

“Accent give me away?”

“Yeah. And you want to hit the scorpion with a rock. A Canadian would want to catch it and release it into the wild or something.”

I laughed and we both enjoyed our moment of masculine scorn for another people. That quickly subsided however, when I remembered that I had just seen a scorpion next to my sleeping bag that needed killing. The heat was probably making me complacent. I wiped my brow, furrowed it fiercely, and got back to work.

“I think I see him over here,” Julian said with equal parts excitement and anticipation. “Whoa shit, I see a claw.”

I grabbed a rock in my free and ran over. “Can you make him come out?”

“No. Look.” He knelt and pointed into the rocks. “He’s hiding under that big one.”

“We should use our sticks together and try to grab the claw like chopsticks.”

Julian looked at me like I was retarded.

“Seriously. Hold this rock.” I gave him the rock. “And give me your stick.” I took his stick.

“This is an awful idea.”

I ignored him and concentrated on my sticks. Two of the ends were fairly pointy, so I lowered myself and steadied them on my knee. I lined them up as best I could, holding each one between the thumb and index finger of either hand, and inched them toward our adversary. His brown claws wobbled back and forth as my sticks got closer. I couldn’t quite make out his body or tail. I saw Julian holding the rock at the ready in my peripheral vision. The scorpion shifted to the left underneath the rock; its claws still protruding into the open. I shifted my body weight so I could steady the sticks for the last few inches.

“You guys alright?” A girl walking by asked in a Spanish accent, startling me.
I rolled my eyes and Julian shushed her angrily.

“There’s a scorpion under our tent,” I explained, letting my tone express my annoyance at her intrusion.

She took a few steps backwards and was quiet.

I looked back down at my sticks, and began sliding them further forward.

It wasn’t necessary to move them the last inch or so forward, since as soon as they got close enough, the scorpion shot out of his hole and seized the end of the stick with his pincer.

“Fuck!” I spasmed, all but dropping the sticks. Luckily, in my moment of panic, I had dropped the end of my second stick down on the edge of the scorpion’s claw, trapping it in place. “I THINK I GOT IT!” Speaking louder than I intended to.

I pulled out the sticks quickly, pulling the scorpion along with them. As soon as it was out in the open, Julian hurled the rock down as hard as he could, completely missing the insect.


I fumbled the sticks, releasing the scorpion’s claw, dropping it to the ground. Someone shrieked. Maybe me.

Julian leapt past me toward the scorpion, furiously stomping at the ground. Dirt and dust lifted up around him, rocks tumbled from their places and profanities flew. When everything finally settled, Julian and I were staring down at an exceptionally dead scorpion.

“Cool,” Julian said, almost out of breath. The girl gave us a funny look and walked off.

“Nice work, man.”

“Thanks. You too …with the, uh, sticks.”


We stared for a few moments at the dead scorpion in silence before I spoke again:
“You want to get a beer?”

“Yes,” Julian nodded solemnly.

We turned away from the tent and started walking off toward the camp’s bar.

“You must be tired from walking all the way from fucking Portugal.”



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