When I was ten or eleven, I had a couple of summer friends, sisters named Wanda and Brenda. Their mother, a stocky woman who wasn’t old enough to wear dentures but did anyway, would holler, “Wan-deeeee, Bren-deeee” so I called them that too. Wandy and Brendy’s house was full of ceramic figurines they called what-nots – I called them”what-not” to have. Ceramic cats, dogs, clowns, toadstools with frogs and pixies perched on the coffee and end tables, mantle, top of the TV. No horizontal surface was left uncovered.
Twenty-five years ago we moved into a house that was built on a concrete slab. We updated and remodeled it and put lovely carpet, tile, and cabinets over tiny cracks in the slab that are like freeway ramps for ants to come into our home.
I know they’re in the walls and under the carpet because we find gazillions of them every time a microscopic crumb hits the floor. You should’ve seen them inching their way over the fuzzy carpet after someone spilled a can of pop in our living room during a party, without us knowing. We woke up to a black pond of ants on the carpet, with streams leading back to where they came in.
I could do the easy, sensible, logical thing and put down ant traps or spray them, but I don’t like to kill ‘em. Bless their tiny hearts, they work so hard.
Here’s what I do instead. I blow on them, and they start running. The smart ants run back to where they came from. I follow them, wait until they all go into the tiny crack they’ve found to get in, caulk it and everybody’s happy.
The stupid ants don’t know where they came from. I despise those ants. You can tell the minute you blow on them that they’re stupid, stupid, stupid. They either don’t run at all, or they fan out like somebody dropped a grenade in the middle of them. With these stupid ones I have to gently nudge a few in the bottom and they’re like, “Hmmm, I wonder if I’m in danger since a big thing just poked me in the bottom. Or maybe I just imagined it. I think I’ll mosey around some more looking for…what the hell was I looking for?” Dumb, dumb, dumb ants.
Nothing scares me more than bees except the sound of a bee.
When I was a kid, I got into a yellow jacket’s nest – the jerks of the bee kingdom that can sting you over and over. Those things are vicious. I’ve had yellow jackets attack me for no reason, just for their own entertainment. “Hey guys, watch me make this lady dance.”
When I hear one of those things I used to take off running. It didn’t matter what I was doing. It was a conditioned response.
For years I pulled my car over and jumped out when a bee flew in the window. I’ve run out of my house and looked back in the windows to see where the thing went. Swatting at them just made them mad. “Hey, you swinging at me? YOU SWINGING AT ME!!!!!! I don’t put up with dat from nobody. You hear me, NOBODY.”
But I discovered a secret that I’m going to share with you now because it’s yellow jacket season and they are incredibly nasty during September. Here’s what you do. Grab a newspaper or some kind of weapon – something spread out. Pine boughs work great. Start swatting toward the bee until you make contact with him. I’m not talking about killing him, because I don’t like to kill stuff, but if you just make contact, he’ll fly away every time.
You see, these guys aren’t so tough when you stand up to them. Their strength lies in triggering your fear with their buzzing sound. Bees use it as a form of intimidation. The sound causes humans to freeze up in terror or run like hell. I know a lot of those car wrecks where the driver “lost control of the car” could be traced to a bee flying through the window. I’ve nearly wrecked a car that way on more than one occasion.
Trust me, you stand up to these guys and they’re going to tuck tail and run. But heaven help you if you start flailing around and don’t make contact, because the bee will circle around and attack you in the back. Make sure your weapon is wide enough so you can’t miss.
Of course if the whole family of bees attacks because you’ve stumbled onto their nest, you’re screwed. There are too many of them to swat at. Just run until your lungs give out and hope by then they’ve gotten bored of stinging you over and over.
Oh I have to recommend a movie I’m watching as I write. It’s called “Get Shorty.” This is a movie I’ve watched several times and never get tired of seeing. John Travolta and Rene Russo. Great movie. And no bees!
I grew up in the south but I don’t miss it. Actually I miss some of the people – a lot – but I don’t miss the summers. Everybody talks about the heat and the humidity, but the bugs are what did me in.
I’ve been afraid of anything buzzing or crawling all my life. If a bee, just minding his own business, flew too close to me I took off screaming into the house.
The boys knew I hated bugs so they made a point of catching every one they could when I was around. They’d hold a big, squirming beetle with all 6 or 20 legs swimming through the air and slowly come right at me. I’d run screaming with that little girl shriek that could break windows. The boys would be right behind me laughing their spiteful heads off with that beetle held out in front of them.
That’s how I got to be so fast. None of them could catch me. Just when they were too tired to run any further they’d fling that beetle through the air and I’d feel it bounce against my back. I screamed like the tall actor in the first Home Alone movie. If you’ve never seen that guy scream, you’ve missed out on one of the funniest moments in movie history.
The boys used to catch June bugs. They were big, green flying beetles about the size of a 747. Somehow they tied a string to the June bug’s back leg (I was never around to see that part), then they’d let it go. It would fly off until it reached the end of the string, and then climb as high as it could and fly in a circle as the boy held onto the other end of the string. They would fly in circles as long as anyone cared to keep holding them. I only ever saw this last part because the minute one of them said, “Let’s catch us a June bug,” I warped into the house and cowered behind a grown up.
I had no curiosity about any of it. I knew I’d end up running a foot or two in front of a June bug that would fly down my shirt if I slowed down or fell. All I saw through the screen door was the boys huddled around working with their hands, and then the bug flying in a circle.
In the absence of a real bug, boys would pretend to catch one and chase me with it. I could have called their bluff, but if I was wrong, and they had a real bug, I’d be at the mercy of the giant spider they’d fling at me.
In the south they also have horseflies that would buzz your head like a kamikaze pilot. They would bump you in the ear or back of the neck to see if you were a fast swatter. If you didn’t swat right away, they knew they could get in there, chomp down on you, and buzz off before you knew you were being attacked. They drew blood and their bites hurt like a son of a gun. Whenever one started dive-bombing my head, I’d grab a limb full of leaves or pine boughs and swish it all around my head. Sometimes when they came in really close I’d slap my own face with a scratchy pine bough and end up with scratches everywhere, but it was better than getting bit.
They have very, very tiny mosquitoes in East Tennessee with lethal venom. When the sneaky little mosquito got done having its way with you, you had a giant red welt the size of a quarter that itched three times worse than poison ivy.
No, I don’t miss the bugs down there. The boys, either.
I’ve done this blog for seven straight days (hold your applause until the end, please) and I find that, on this eighth day, I’ve run out of subject matter. I’m looking around my desk desperately for inspiration, but all I see is a mess. Then I remember my ideas notebook, surely I’ll find something in there. And I do.
It’s a big, black, hairy spider on the page where the book falls open. He starts sprinting toward my hand. I run from the room, heart pounding, and fling open the patio door. Then I dash back, grab the notebook and run with it outside, keeping an eye on the spider who is hiding between the pages but with one knucklely leg sticking out like some Alfred Hitchcock movie where you know the guy’s on the other side of the door and he’s about to jump out and start stabbing and stabbing and stabbing with blood washing down the shower drain and, yeah, that spider’s leg gave me the same creepy feeling. I put the notebook outside just in the nick of time. He didn’t come out but he certainly could have and he will eventually, you can count on that, but there goes my inspiration.
Everybody thinks it’s nuts that I don’t kill bugs. I practice a strict catch and release program in this house, and heaven help my kids if I catch them squishing one. Whenever they see an insect, they come screaming, “Mom, there’s a giant spider in my bathroom.” I drop everything because if you don’t act quickly, the spider will hide somewhere and show up in your bed that night. It never fails.
I take a spatula and glass, put the glass over the spider, whose size has been exaggerated, and ease the spatula up under him. Then I carry the whole thing outside and turn it loose. Most bugs shake their little fists at me when this happens, because they’d much rather stay in the warm cozy house than have to fend for themselves in the cold cruel world. I can sometimes hear them calling me a B-otch. You’d think they be grateful.
I don’t kill insects outside, either. Our flower beds are crawling with slugs and snails. Late at night I go out with the flashlight and look for their shiny reflections, then pluck them off with a rubber glove and put them in a Mason jar and take them down the street to the vacant lot. By the end of summer there is a virtual carpet of slugs down there. I saw a cat get swallowed up in slugs like quicksand. Not really, but it would make a good horror movie. M. Night Shyamalan would have to do it since Hitchcock has gone to that great suspense flick in the sky. The slugs would get into some mysterious half buried jar of glowing chemical from Mars and grow super big and start prowling the streets for victims, catching dogs and cats and raccoons in their giant slimy tracks like flypaper. But finally their unquenchable hunger drives them to lay in wait outside a party where a voluptuous drunk blond with a really low cut red mini dress staggers out and catches one of her 4 inch heels in a slug track and starts trying to pull it out and just when she’s about to break free, a giant slug the size of a porpoise slides out of the shadows and knocks her down, muffling her screams as it covers her in slime and starts to chew off her ear with an eerie crunching noise you can hear above the party sounds in the background. A blockbuster! Now you can applaud.