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Home Making: The smell of monkey balls will keep away your friends, but not spiders

Saturday, September 02, 2000

By Peter McKay

I shouldn't admit this, but our house is full of spiders. They are so common that I do not even notice them anymore. As I shave each morning, I brush webs off the mirror. I automatically wave my hand as I walk through certain doorways in our house to avoid getting webs in my face. I no longer try to kill the spiders. I just wave at them as if they were roommates or relatives. But like most roommates and relatives, I wouldn't mind seeing them disappear.

 
  Residents of Shaler are glad that Osage orange trees, laden with monkey balls, block the noise of a nearby ball field and parking lot. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

So when we met a man at a party who said he knew of the ideal spider-killer, we paid attention. Noticing our spider bites and discreet scratching, he told us that placing a monkey ball in a glass dish in each room would produce an odor that would so annoy spiders that they would have to leave our house.

Monkey balls, for those who have not had the pleasure, are softball-sized "fruit" that have a surface texture much like an alien brain from the movie "Mars Attacks." Some people evidently call them hedge apples despite the fact that they look nothing like apples and grow on trees, not in hedges. They are also quite dangerous to cattle, as cows attempt to swallow them and choke to death. In addition, they're a problem around children, who tend to throw them at other children's heads. All in all, I can find nothing good to say about monkey balls. The very name "monkey balls" makes me uncomfortable for reasons I probably do not have to explain.

This fellow was adamant that monkey balls could be our saviors. He even gave us directions to the nearest monkey ball tree. So on the way home, as we passed the tree, we jumped out of the car and collected a trunkload of these little green brains. Once home, as instructed, we proceeded to place these disgusting objects in dishes around the house in strategic locations. Then we sat back to wait, chuckling as we passed by the unknowing spiders.

A week later, noticing a strange smell and still scratching away at bites, I checked in on our little experiment. The monkey balls had done nothing for the spiders. They did, however, start to rot and attract fruit flies, which turned out to be worse than the spiders. For days I had been absently sniffing around, trying to locate the source of a slightly unpleasant smell, afraid that it was me. Turns out it was the monkey balls.

The man at the party certainly knew what he was talking about when he advised keeping them in a dish. Once monkey balls start to rot into a gooey mess, you will not want to touch them. Having them already in an easy-to-carry receptacle also frees up your other hand to hold your nose as you run to the garbage can.

I saw this week that monkey balls are being advertised on the Internet as a foolproof way to rid your house of cockroaches. Maybe they work, but I'll never know. I suspect that cockroaches actually love the taste of rotting monkey balls.

Turns out that the only rational way to get rid of spiders, according to experts, is by frequent dusting, sweeping, or vacuuming in corners, under furniture, behind pictures and other spider hiding places. Seems the spiders are there only because they are waiting to eat the tiny dust-eating bugs crawling about in dark corners. Our house, which is about as dusty as Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western, is a smorgasbord for these bugs. I'm not much of a cleaner, and neither, it turned out after the wedding, is my wife.

So it looks as if we're faced with choosing between a folk remedy that doesn't seem to work or a solution that puts us to hard work. Perhaps we'll try the monkey balls gain this year. If you see my wife and me on the side of the road this fall, scooping up monkey balls, slow down and wave. We'll be the couple covered in spider bites and holding our noses.


Peter McKay is an attorney and free-lance writer from Ben Avon.

Home Making is an occasional column about homes, projects and the things that make a house a home.



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