If you’re really afraid of spiders, don’t visit me. I’ll meet you somewhere downtown if you’re offering a book contract, and I’ll buy you a beer, but my apartment is full of spiders. These spiders mostly have tiny bodies and long legs, and they don’t bother me much, even when they grow large. Only a couple of times have I seen spiders with large bodies, including the very unfortunate occasion of a fat beast with short legs running across my bed like something out of Lord of the Rings. Apparently I’m not bothered by spider legs—it’s spider bodies that creep me out. No matter what kind of spider I find, though, I no longer kill them, but catch them in a plastic container I bought for that purpose (I wrote “spiders” on top of it) and take them outside. I began this catch-and-release policy under the influence of a Quaker friend.
My friend works at Penn State, where you soon learn that FOOTBALL IS IMPORTANT, in case you missed that really subtle message living in this town. She was explaining to me that since the economy of our town is based on football, I should have a more sympathetic attitude. I don’t know. I can learn to tolerate spiders, but I don’t know about football. Living where I do, that makes me like an atheist keeping real quiet at a tent revival.
She also told me recently about the origin of a school cheer that is extremely common here, which goes “We are Penn State!” If you’re not from here, you’re probably thinking Seriously? Because even if you love the school, you surely have to admit that it’s not exactly clever. Or interesting. Or imaginative. But what this strangely dull cheer does have going for it is a noble origin. According to tradition, it came from the defiant statement of a Penn State official to racists at a southern university in the 50s, who wanted to exclude black players from a bowl game. On hearing this obnoxious request, the more civilized PSU official replied something along the lines of “We don’t do that. We are Penn State.”
Most school cheers are less noble and more interesting. At the University of Georgia, which several members of my family have attended, the mascot for the school is a bulldog. Go figure. Anyway, it’s a bulldog. There is an actual dog, with a series of dogs who have replaced one another over the years like Lassie. Because the school, like many schools, is often known by its initials, in this case UGA, the name of the mascot dog is Uga. With a bit of spelling parody on a southern accent (actually creating a more distinctive word), T shirts and posters proclaim the “Dawgs”. Getting back to the school cheer—notice how I did that? I’m like a laser—you can hear people in the stands and drunks in bars screaming, “Let the big dawg eat!” School spirit.
I don’t recall any particular catchy cheer from my high school. I think it was just something like “Yay, South Hall!” Or maybe we had something better than that, and I’ve just tried to block that period of my life out of memory. Not long after high school, I went into the Air Force, hoping to become a Russian linguist and instead became a hospital lab tech. So much for my clever plan. But while I was there, an older sergeant told me a high school cheer that was so entertaining I’ve never forgotten it. I tell this story the way I heard it. The cheer was from some school in Norfolk, Virginia, and it went “We don’t drink, we don’t smoke, Norfolk, Norfolk!” At first it sounds like, um, OK, clean cut kids, until you learn that the local pronunciation for the town’s name sounds like “nor fuck”. Ohhhh. Well then. Now we have a sentence listing three activities these upstanding youngsters do not engage in.
Oh, hey, I have a good idea for a school mascot. The Spiders. Huh? Huh? What do you think? As a school cheer, we could use something like “Tie ‘em up tighter!” Or maybe something more pithy. How about “Let’s get sticky!”