Pre-Halloween hijinks with spiders and anthrax

I got two strange surprises this week.

First, as I was coming down the stairs from our bedroom Tuesday morning, I felt what I would have sworn was spider web attaching itself to my face and hair. It’s a feeling I know only too well these days now that Joro spiders, an invasive species from East Asia, are slinging webs the size of trampolines from every dogwood tree and azalea bush. There are so many around our yard, it’s as if the Joros were doing our Halloween decorating for us.

It didn’t occur to me that one of these enterprising arachnids had in fact set up shop inside our house until the next day when I heard my wife, Marty, exclaim, “Oh my God, we’ve been invaded!”

Sure enough, there was a Joro dangling from the ceiling fan at the top of the stairs. Before we could capture it, it escaped onto the top of a built-in book case. It’s hiding still, biding its time.

I am reminded of one of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons that I especially love: Two spiders have spun a large web at the foot of a playground chute-the-chute. Eying a plump child at the top, one spider says, “If we pull this off, we’ll eat like kings.”

This is one time when my wife and I would just as well not be treated like royalty.

The other surprise — weirder still, though less anxiety inducing — came courtesy of the United States Copyright Office. A few weeks earlier, I had mailed in a copy of my new CD, Better Late, and a check for copyright registration. I couldn’t wait to open the letter I got in return. I had never copyrighted music before. What a kick!

But the letter wasn’t confirmation. It was about anthrax. Yes, anthrax.

The letter from the copyright office’s “Triage Unit” said that my package — CD, registration forms, check — had been “irradiated.”

“The United States Postal Service began this precaution following the discovery of anthrax contamination through the mail,” the letter continued. “The irradiation level is strong enough to damage some materials beyond our ability to process them.

“This is the case for the deposit copy (of the CD) that you sent the United States Copyright Office. In order for us to begin the process, we request you (boldface, theirs) send one additional copy of the work you wish to register and an additional filing fee of $60 is needed for registration.”

My first thought? Scam!

But a little research persuaded me otherwise. First, I checked my bank online and found that my check had not been cashed.

Then, I saw an Environmental Protection Agency webpage that confirmed that the Postal Service, with help from the FBI, began to irradiate letters and parcels sent to some government agencies in October 2001 after “the infectious disease anthrax was found in mail sent to several news agencies and the offices of two United States Senators.”

It goes on to explain: “During the irradiation process, mail must pass through a high energy beam of ionizing radiation in order to kill harmful bacteria. The beam penetrates deep into the mail to destroy viruses and bacteria — like anthrax. Mail irradiation can also be used on thicker postal materials like letter trays and packages.

“The ionizing radiation used in the mail irradiation process can cause chemical changes in paper. The mail might come out brittle and discolored, looking and smelling like it has been baked in an oven. Irradiation also might turn plastics brown and warp CD cases or other plastic storage containers.”

So, in other words, USPS and the FBI fried my CD.

I’m OK with that. Now I just need to find out if they can come down here to Georgia and irradiate my resident spider.

Note: Better Late can be heard/purchased in digital form at

For non-radioactive physical copies, contact the writer at




Mississippi native, Georgia resident, writer, photographer, composer, grandfather, oddball, skeptic, Seventh Day Adventurer. Email Noel at

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Noel Holston

Noel Holston

Mississippi native, Georgia resident, writer, photographer, composer, grandfather, oddball, skeptic, Seventh Day Adventurer. Email Noel at

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