“If you’re really thinking about doing this – whether in the fall, this year, next year, or whenever – there’s someone you should talk to first.” This was my unsolicited advice to the band’s management, as well as to certain band members after hearing about something in the works that was, for TOOL, uncharted territory. His name is Rance Q. Spartley – an entomology professor and, more importantly, not just your garden-variety qualified arachnologist, but an international expert on some of the world’s spookiest critters. In fact, he was the keynote speaker at a recent seminar entitled “Zombie Caterpillars Controlled By Voodoo Wasps.” Believe me, this guy definitely knows his stuff: Bombardier Beetles, Cave Glowworms, and every Leaf-Hopper in between….
But if you need more credentials, check this out: the good professor had published a solution to a threat to Louisiana’s honeybee industry involving varroa mites years before other entomologists began experimenting with natural selection involving Siberian colonies. He discovered a new species of Orchard Mantis that isn’t a carnivore and, on the lighter side; he was the first to realize that mosquitoes prefer blondes! With that said, he’s no stranger to controversy, especially with his latest prediction that by the year 2016 all June Bugs in the U.S. would be conceived in JULY, thus making the common name for this genus in the scarab family a misnomer. Other things that have irked his colleagues in the past was his claim that he had once seen two identical spider webs (believed to be an impossibility) and that Indian Moths like to inhale cigarette smoke after mating. “Let me know if you’d like me to set up a meeting with him at the loft, and then you guys can decide if you want to take your chances with this thing?”
When the day of the meeting finally arrived, before the band’s manager inquired about certain things of importance, I asked the bespectacled entomologist if it was really true that there were more insects in one square mile of rural land than there are of human beings on the entire planet? After unwrapping a Charleston Chew, he replied that he really couldn’t say for sure because every time he started counting something came along, such as a phone call or whatnot that caused him to lose his place. “The damn things don’t sit still, do they?” I added. “No, they don’t, and I have to have my supper at some point.” I also wanted to know how far south the Hobo spider was at this time? Nodding his head as if this was a good question, he informed me that although the venomous spiders were definitely riding the rails from the Pacific northwest, there still weren’t any significant populations anywhere near southern California. “T. agrestis, that is, not T. domestica”, making an important distinction. To this I joked, “I’m always trying to imagine the eight-legged things in box cars, playing tiny harmonicas” – “They don’t play the harmonica”, he abruptly cut me off, evidently quite serious, and then was quick to point out, “Nor do they eat cold beans from tin cans. That’s just another fallacy about Tegenaria agrestis.” “Okay, it’s just good to know that I don’t have to build a moat or light a ring of fire around my bed… yet.”
Although I can’t divulge what the meeting with the band was going to be about, other than to say that a mosquito is more likely to bite you if you eat bananas, afterwards the bug man did something that was pretty damn funny (and then something that was quite impressive). While looking at Danny’s large drum kit, the professor suddenly flinched, claiming that one of the drumsticks had just moved by itself! When Danny leaned down to see what he was talking about, he, too, jumped back. Whoa! Indeed the stick had moved! Upon closer inspection, what was supposed to be a signature Vic firth drumstick turned out to be a giant Borneo Walking Stick – an insect from Indonesia that Spartley had evidently placed there using some sleight-of-hand method when no one was looking. So, the maverick entomologist was also a bit of a showman! I wondered how many horseflies in plastic ice cubes he’d placed in faculty punch bowls? After much laughter all around, he warned us that the “stick’s” bite was “medically significant – wait, that too would be fallacious” he corrected himself as he carefully coaxed the bizarre looking creature back into his briefcase.
It was finally time to get down to business. After answering a few of the concerns that the band had about this (tight-lipped) possible undertaking, the bug man did something that amazed everyone in the room. Noticing that a couple of band members were constantly scratching themselves, and seeing some inflammation of the skin, he asked them how long they’d had the rash on their arms? Both replied that it had been about a week now, and that sometimes it got so bad that they couldn’t rehearse. Taking a closer look at the skin irritation, it didn’t take the renowned entomologist too long to figure out the probable cause. The bites, he said, were from “what you call arthropods, and I call mites. They’re not local either, from the looks of things”, he further added. “You think that’s bad, have either of you ever been stung on the tongue by a Tanzanian wasp while eating an egg salad and deviled ham sandwich? “Oh, man, that sounds horrible”, a band member responded. “Yeah, the wasp’s sting was pretty horrible, too!, the entomologist joked while picking up one of Danny’s drumsticks (a real one) and crashing a cymbal.
After walking around a bit and examining the room, Spartley was soon able to identify where the mites had come from. “I’ll bet you a clutch of 50 European ear-wig eggs that’s the source of the problem” he said while pointing to a reddish dust-like substance beneath the rattan and cane frame of a gamelan percussion instrument (metallophone) that Danny had purchased in Bali, Indonesia. He then informed the guys that the ‘dust’, itself, was actually mites. After stomping on the pile with his small penny loafers, he recommended that they get some anti-histamine and/or cortisone to treat the intense itching. “The best would be Telfast tablets taken with a Yahoo chocolate soda.” (Was he kidding?). The bug man then suggested that they fumigate the loft with a good miticide, adding that they shouldn’t have to tent it. As sure as grasshoppers have ears on their legs, the good professor was already paying dividends! Before leaving, he told the band’s management that if they came to terms and decided to go forward with this latest endeavor, and should further require his services, not to hesitate to “vibrate your antennal hairs.” (i.e. call him).
Offering us a stick of Fruit Stripe gum, he said that they shouldn’t wait too long, however, since he was about to go visit an albino tarantula the size of your average Chihuahua that guarded green diamonds in a particular cave in southern Mexico, and, therefore, might not be coming back… Needless to say, if this thing goes down, I’ll let you know (including, of course, any further advice from bug authority, Rance Q. Spartley).