Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Hogs

Harleys and swine. It's been that kind of a weekend.

Milwaukee is inundated with rumbling motorcycles in honor of the 105th Harley Davidson Celebration. I've never seen so many bikes in my life, and I've driven the highways near Sturgis during its peak. Every sidewalk downtown is row after row of shiny chrome two-wheelers, looking like one little push and the dominoes would fall for hours. Billy's brother Mike and Mike's wife Diane have a "chopper" of their own and visited from Minnesota. The four of us partied down on Brady Street Friday night, which is a happening little area of nightlife on any summer weekend, but had become a parade of motorcycles featuring some world-class people-watching. You can actually walk out of bars with a beer in your hand and thousands of people on and off motorcycles packed the street. Squealing and a cloud of smoke announced each burn-out as another biker would trade a couple hundred bucks of good rear wheel rubber for the cheers from the crowd. It was a surreal experience.

Yesterday the steel hogs were replaced for me by the bacon kind. I joined a little family outing to the Walworth County Fair near Lake Geneva where my dad and his wife live. We toured building after building of barnyard animals. I think the people-watching experience even surpassed that of the Harley weekend here in Milwaukee. The penned beasts seemed much more civilized. What a slice of Americana.

Big man, pig man, ha ha charade you are.
You well heeled big wheel, ha ha charade you are.
And when your hand is on your heart,
You're nearly a good laugh,
Almost a joker,
With your head down in the pig bin,
Saying "Keep on digging."
Pig stain on your fat chin.
What do you hope to find.
When you're down in the pig mine.
You're nearly a laugh,
You're nearly a laugh
But you're really a cry.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Return

After an initial three consecutive days of rambling, I took a few days off. I lost my Internet access for a day or two and spent the weekend painting the living room and bedroom. I even decorated. I may be nesting.

Bill and Bruce made it back from their Daytona adventure yesterday morning. I tagged along with Bill when he dropped Bruce back off home, about a half hour north of Milwaukee in Cedarburg. It's a beautiful and quaint little town popular with tourists, and Bill and I enjoyed lunch and a coffee. They shared tales from the trip, including being hassled by clueless FL fish & wildlife officers who wanted to bust them for not having a reptile selling permit to sell tarantulas.

I hope to make it down to Daytona next year. Right now I'll look forward to the Chicago [Tinley Park] NARBC show in October and, probably, the December show in Hamm, Germany. Still, reptile shows aren't as enjoyable for me as they once were. Herpetoculture has changed a great deal. There is such an emphasis on mutants. All sorts of selective [in]breeding goes on to produce animals that look nothing like the beautiful creatures favored by natural selection. Everything is a "morph". Some - the "spider" ball python springs to mind - have serious problems, but are still bred for their pattern or color. This phenomenon isn't exactly novel. All sorts of domesticated animals have been manipulated by humans to produce freaks. I'll stick with "wild morphs". At least arachnoculture doesn't have albinos and piebalds and triple het for reverse creamsicle polka-dot.

Until next time... listen to more Pink Floyd, MJ

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Reptile Show

As I type this the gates are open at the biggest and longest-running reptile show in the country. Probably, the world. The National Reptile Breeder's Expo [NRBE] has been produced by Wayne Hill since 1990.

Of course, I am in the land of beer, cheese and whitetail deer, not in the cesspool that is Daytona Beach. Don't get me wrong. I like many parts of Florida, just not the part where the show takes place. Of course, it started in Orlando, itself not exactly the crowning glory of the retirement state. I remember that first year well and I went on to exhibit there the first three years—1990-92—before going into an extended hiatus only to reemerge in 2005. I did those first shows with my old snake breeding buddy Scott Michaels, who still is operating his "Serpent City" in the Chicago suburbs. We had a great time and it certainly was the heyday of herpetoculture. Scott and I also traveled together to many of the IHS [International Herpetological Symposium] meetings, which took place in different host cities each year. Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix, Seattle, St. Louis, etc. were all part of our run. But it was the NRBE that showcased what the reptile hobby had become.

I recall Scott and I renting a white convertible Mustang to cruise about Orlando and make a trip down to the Everglades. The sporty little car seemed like such a perfect choice and certainly was a heck of a lot better than what either of us drove back home. But, as soon as we left the airport with it, we realized that we needed the top up and the air conditioning blaring to keep our boxes of baby snakes in comfort.

That first year I had a bunch of baby boas to sell and I don't remember what I spent the proceeds on. I do recall Scott buying an incredibly expensive trio of Baja Ratsnakes, then called
Elaphe rosalie. I also recall a canoe trip Scott and I went on along with his friend Corey. I believe it wasn't too far outside of Orlando, but my memory fails. What I remember most is diving for big turtles like cooters and seeing three foot long alligator gar everywhere, as well as the occasional real alligator.

In the 80's and early 90s I was breeding a lot of snakes and the early NRBE was Disneyland for me. Or is it Disneyworld in Florida? I can never keep the two straight. But after those first three years I stopped attending the big show. Eventually it outgrew its Orlando home and was moved to Daytona Beach. My trips to Florida were timed at other parts of the year, especially when it was cold up north. Instead of a show full of people, I made private little sorties to places like Glades Herp [when Bill Love was still there], Tom Crutchfield's Herpetofauna and Gulf Coast Reptiles [right after Chris and Eric left Crutchfield's employ].

By 2005, I was focused more on my arachnid and lizard interests than snakes. I no longer had venomous snakes due to the state I lived in [Tennessee] and I had burned out on boids and colubrids. I sold the last of my "hot" snakes to Hank Molt and he was running the Daytona Venomous Expo in conjunction with the NRBE. He would have a separate show upstairs and, since table space was sold out in the main show, I decided to drag my wife down to Daytona if Hank had space for my "Michael Jacobi's Spider Shoppe" in his venomous expo. He did and the beater van was filled and chugged south. Unfortunately, the show within a show wasn't that successful. Only a small percentage of the NRBE attendees ventured into the upstairs venomous show, which was 18 and over only and eliminated the family element. There was a steady trickle of gawkers, but most of the people seemed to be vendors at the main show and hardly interested in buying a tarantula from me. Most of what I remember is how much my ex-wife Stephanie and I hated the motel we stayed in, its slimy Karaoake bar-restaurant, and the littered beaches and sidewalks. Then there was the Chinese Buffet visited by a large group of tarantulaphiles. A horrible dining experience in itself, made even worse by my wife's purse being stolen along with a bunch of our sales proceeds. We got the purse back empty after a few phone calls with the staff feigning an inability to speak English, followed by my forcing my way into the now closed restaurant where amazingly their English had improved. Somehow the owner ended up giving us the lost money.

And that little Chinese buffet memory is now my lasting impression of my recent NRBE experience. Bill and Bruce are at the show right now, hopefully selling a bunch of spiders, and when I spoke with Bill on the phone yesterday he said that Bruce had just brought up the story of the Chinese buffet. I hope they eat better this time.

Bring the boys back home, MJ

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Dreaded Followup Album

Sophomore jinx? Could Jimi Hendrix ever top "Are You Experienced", which is quite possibly the greatest debut album in history? Anyway, here I am composing the second blog and I have already spent myself with the whole bumper sticker saga.

I'm in Milwaukee. Wisconsin. Not too far from my hometown Chicago, but still it has to be a bit odd that I landed here. There wasn't really a plan. I've now lived in 4 states in 12 months. Geographic states, that is. There have been oodles of emotional states.

About a year ago I was still in Nashville. I was transplanted there by my former wife's career and enjoyed a six-year run in Music City. I really did love it there. But all good things implode, and post-divorce I ended up needing a change. Next thing I knew my life was condensed down to what fit in a minivan and I was driving across the US to live north of Seattle and work for Alex at Zoological Supply. It was a return to Washington state as when my ex and I first got together she was finishing grad school at WSU in the eastern part of the state. I lived in Pullman, WA, among the rolling wheat fields right along the Idaho border for 14 months in 2000/2001. But now I was on the other side of an incredibly topographically diverse state. I was living on the coast, enjoying the breathtaking views of the Puget Sound, vast stands of evergreen and glacier-draped mountains. Then the gloom set in. Mindset and weather. The dreary grey mist of the Pacific Northwest "winter" did me in. Seattle's a great city, but not if you love sunlight. Six months of bleak drizzle and stifling overcast ensued. I wanted to be anywhere else — definitely not in the big, expensive, lonely unfurnished apartment I had stupidly rented.

A plan was hatched that allowed me to continue to conduct sales and operate the website for from a remote location, and before long my possessions were again distilled to single vehicle capacity, this time in the Grand Cherokee I bought when the minivan died. After a short 9 month stay in Seattle, I was again relocating, this time headed back to family—and I thought a promising romantic relationship—in the Chicago suburbs.

I think I'll spare you the details of the two post-divorce relationships that contributed to my Bedouin nomadism. Let's just leave it with the fact that there was one at the beginning of my Seattle run that burned hot and fast like a chemical peel, and another at the end that contributed to my departure before its own fizzle. They're a huge part of the story, but let's move on shall we?

Regardless of romantic woes, the path led me back to my hometown and some much needed time with family and a few friends. I stayed with my mom and stepfather for a couple of months and I am still regrouping. I needed my own space, especially after being so unsettled since leaving Nashville. Actually, after my wife and I split I lived in my dingy little "Spider Shoppe", taking showers in my landlord's warehouse, so the unsettled feeling actually goes back further. I needed to unpack my boxes, many of which were still sealed from Nashville, and find a new home for me as well as my dog Taylor and parrot Jesse.

When I returned to Chicagoland I quickly visited my friend Bill Korinek of Theraphosid Breeding Project in Milwaukee. Billy and Bruce Effenheim operate TBP together and are extremely successful tarantula breeders. It was good hanging out with them again and, as luck would have it, Bill had recently purchased a duplex and the lower apartment was available for rent. Over beer and wine and good food we discussed the possibility of me moving in. What is more homey than a house already full of thousands of tarantulas, chameleons, leaf-tailed geckos, roaches and monkey frogs? I couldn't resist. I knew more beer and wine and good food would follow too! So the worlds of Theraphosid Breeding Project, Exotic Fauna Enterprises and a part of collided into a sort of exotic animal frat house on the south side of Milwaukee.

And that's how I ended up in Milwaukee. I'm less than 2 hours from family, but have my own little home, something I have been without since my marriage ended. Taylor has a little backyard to enjoy and we take long walks in the park right across the street.

Until next time...

Swing low sweet chariot, MJ

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The First Act

Kiss my big hairy spider! Really, please do.

I suppose we should begin with the name. It's really just something that came to me one day. A little irreverent, yes, but nothing more than a pseudo-clever statement of attitude all the while drawing attention to a passion. The idea was to 'catch the eye' as the slogan's genesis was my envisioning a bumper sticker suitable for the beater van I was driving at the time. Big, old white cargo van with a vile polluting V8. Cheesy as hell. What better canvas for a bunch of obnoxious bumper stickers? So I had them printed.

Of course, I was, and am, an exotic animal man. Purveyor of creepy crawlies. Having a bunch of glossy black and white stickers displaying the bold "kiss my big hairy spider" sentiment created was not much of a stretch. I immediately saw the marketing aspect. I could sell them and make nothing. Actually, they just seemed like a cool thing to stick in the box when shipping out orders of tarantulas and scorpions and scaly things. The thought that they might be viewed by some geezer at a random suburban intersection certainly had its appeal.

My first batch was distributed. I wondered where they rested. Then the first ArachnoCon occurred. I'm sure I'll expound on ArachnoCon plenty in future blogs, but for now let's leave it as the coolest gathering of arachnid enthusiasts in the US of A - an event that happened twice so far, in July of 2006 and 2007. As I walked through the parking lot of the host San Antonio hotel that first year, I saw a couple of vehicles bearing my silly sticker. The word was being spread. So, for ArachnoCon 2007 I had a second batch of stickers printed, this time with an artsy font and "" and "ArachnoCon 2007" in fine print. They were included in each welcome bag along with a possibly cooler official AC sticker and other swag. Maybe you have them.

So, the blog. Did one once a while back and abandoned it. I do that. But I've been meaning to get back to it. I've been playing with creepy crawlies for about 35 years and have loads of stories and lessons to share. That's why I create websites and publish a magazine. I even made an instructional DVD. [Special note: I'll write much more on the 7 issues of Arachnoculture magazine, the interminable hiatus and its future in coming blogs, and even more about this buggery DVD project that if I can't fix soon I will just release as a freakin' free QuickTime movie]. For those who may not know me, surf on over to There's a bio page there. I also handle the sales and website for [new site to debut soon]. And there's my two web resources: The Tarantula Bibliography [database of tarantula species with bibliographic references] and The World Of Atheris [dedicated to the African bush vipers and kin]. You can visit me on Facebook too.

What I'm going to do with these posts is cover a wide range of topics. I will ramble. I warn you now. Focus will be on arachnids and reptiles, especially tarantulas, geckos, chameleons and snakes with many nature-oriented subjects thrown in and regular off-topic tangents followed with blind ambition and reckless abandon. You can keep your religion and politics, but I may digress about other human interests.

I hope to educate and occasionally entertain. To facilitate the former I hope some of you will email me questions at exoticfauna[at]gmail[dot]com. Subject it "Blog Question" or something like that. I want to answer one or two with each post eventually, and will give preference to those that ask a specific question about keeping and breeding exotic fauna. So, welcome, please return, thanks for reading.

Drive fast and take chances,

Michael Jacobi