By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Ultimately, he's just shocked to be here at all. In January, he was an up-and-coming professor at the most prestigious university in Lithuania. ("I made my Ph.D. in Salzburg," he said, in a tone suggesting that Salzburg is the world's capital of advanced arachnid studies.) And then his wife was offered a post-doc fellowship in biochemistry at UCLA. "I had no choice," he said, clearly wishing he had.
Los Angeles County probably has around 500 spider species, but nobody knows for sure because no one has ever done a survey. The entomology department of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County decided to correct that by asking the general public to bring or send in spiders along with a questionnaire explaining exactly where the spiders were found. "If we collected them ourselves, we'd go to a few dozen places; this way we get spiders from hundreds of places," Vygandas said. He and a few others will spend the next year carefully identifying each spider sample and, hopefully, coming up with a comprehensive list of spider species and a map of their habitats. The survey kicked off at the annual museum insect fair this past weekend and for the next 12 months, anyone in the area is invited to bring a spider to the museum or mail one in. Vygandas prefers the spiders be dead (a tiny bit of tissue dipped in alcohol and dropped in a bottle next to the spider should kill them quickly), but nearly everybody brought their spiders in very much alive -- many with a recreated habitat of some leaves and twigs and even an insect or two for dinner. Vygandas will spend the first few days throwing out leaves and killing spiders. He expects most of the samples will be from the most common spiders, but he hopes to get at least a few of the rare ones. Only two of L.A.'s spiders are known to be poisonous to humans: black widows and South American violin spiders, and Vygandas hopes nobody tries too hard to catch one of them.
There are a lot of children in Los Angeles who are deeply fascinated by spiders and there's no better proof than the fact that nobody mentioned the Spider-Man movie at Vygandas' desk; nobody ä had those Spider-Man gloves that shoot a rubber dart. Instead, the children huddled, shyly, around Vygandas and listened carefully as he explained what kind of spider they caught. He spoke softly and they spoke softly, so it was hard to hear what was being said in a crowded, noisy hall. But it soon became clear that almost everybody was bringing in the same two kinds of spiders. There were a lot of daddy longlegs, and it's pretty hard to make them exciting. But Vygandas had a little routine for the other common spider. He would look at the container and say, "It's a false widow." But he has an accent and he speaks so quietly that there would be a beat where nervous parents and thrilled kids thought he said black widow. One of them would say, "Black widow?" And Vygandas would say, "No, it's a false widow. It looks like a black widow and it's the same family. But this one can't hurt people." When people would then say, "Oh, it's not poisonous," Vygandas would look annoyed and answer sternly, "All spiders are poisonous. The question is, 'Can it bite people?'"
After a few hours, Vygandas seemed to decide that it was good to see so many people having fun with spiders. "In Europe," he said, "I can't imagine people could be so excited about this."
A FAN'S NOTES: Macca Mystery Tour
"I FEEL LIKE THE WIND, THE BREEZE and the sea," oozes Thomas as he waits inside the Highlands in Hollywood to board one of six buses beside 250 mothers, daughters, dads, sons, chicks, dudes, hippies, yippies, yuppies and KLSX's Chris Carter of "Breakfast with the Beatles" fame to see Paul McCartney at the Staples Center. The outing feels like a pilgrimage to Mecca – only this time it's Macca (that's Paul's new moniker, which kind of sounds like a football stadium but is not quite as lame as J-Lo).
"I have people here from Japan," says Miriam Davis, of Los Angeles' ETS Concert Caravan, which arranged the pre-show party and transportation. "I have people here from Switzerland. I have people here from Seattle, New York. And I have one guy who has attended six of these across the nation."
Anita Kennelly won an essay contest to get tickets for the caravan and sold-out show. Her tale of her encounter with the Fab Four hushes the crowd as she describes being a fan in the '60s, then working at Capitol Records and having several encounters with "them." When I ask if she screamed when she won the tickets her reply is an extremely shrill: "Yeah, yeah, yeah!"
Rex never got to see the Beatles except on The Ed Sullivan Show. And Rex's 26-year-old son Ryan, who wasn't even born when the Beatles broke up, has his own group, "The Raccoons," which is heavily influenced by the Fab Four. The Highlands' busboys and caterer girls, who seem barely out of high school, bop and sing along with Beatles tribute band Apple. But the older fans in the room have an almost trancelike look in their eyes, as if they know this could be their last chance to see a live Beatle, which is as close to a real Santa Claus as they'll ever get.