The woman and the wasp ~

One of the many bits of wisdom parents perpetrate on their children is this one: “If you leave it alone, it’ll leave you alone.”

This is a blatant lie, especially where stinging insects are concerned.

It is true, of course, that you’re at much greater risk of harm if you provoke a bee or yellow-jacket or some related critter. When my sister was about three years old, she was riding her tricycle down the alley when she tipped it over directly into the path of a bee, thus simultaneously bagging two highly improbable achievements. The bee, of course, promptly stung her, but who could blame it? It was just cruising along minding its own business. A bee doesn’t expect a tricycle to suddenly come toppling into its flight path.

My sister soon got her revenge, though. One early summer evening my dad called me and my mom to the back screen-door of our house. Our tiny lawn was filled with clover, and hence with bees. My sister, who was forced to wear heavy orthopedic shoes when she was young,  had discovered that she could kill the foraging bees by stomping on them. Very possibly Dad suggested the idea; if so, she carried it out effectively and ruthlessly. She was stomping with glee; Dad, delighted and impressed, was snickering with approval; and Mom and I were staring at both of them like they were crazy.

Our family had no more run-ins with stinging insects until several years later, when I was a teenager. In the early 1970s Mom and Dad bought five acres of land with an old two-room house on it. This was just outside Perryville, Mo., the town where my grandparents lived, and it was intended as a weekend retreat. The house had electricity but no running water. There was an outhouse and a cistern, a small yard with an old wire fence, a chicken shed, and an enormous dump. (The ancient farmer who’d owned the property had just chucked all of his trash, from food cans to rat poison, over the backyard fence. For years. But that has nothing to do with this story.)

The cistern, it’s important to mention, didn’t last much longer. Two miles away, blasting for Interstate 55 was taking place. As most dedicated cavers know, Perry County is basically a huge chunk of limestone riddled with caves and sinkholes. One weekend we arrived at the house to find a big, deep pit at the back corner of the house where the cistern had been. Dad didn’t bother to fill it in or cover it. I think he may have put up a token sawhorse between the side door and the cistern hole, in case someone had to get up in the middle of the night to use the outhouse.

Anyway. The house itself came equipped with virtually nothing except wasps. It had a narrow, fairy-tale–like door that gave onto steep steps that led up to a small attic. Up there lived a veritable wasp society, possibly composed of multiple colonies. But this menace could be dealt with by simply never opening that tight-fitting door. The real problem was the porch, where an especially aggressive colony of red wasps had set up housekeeping in one corner. These wasps would come after you if you so much as looked their direction, and often if you didn’t. Unfortunately, whether you were inside or outside the house, you couldn’t get to the car or the rest of the property without passing the porch.

No matter how much I pleaded, Dad wouldn’t get rid of the colony. I gave these wasps as wide a berth as possible. “If I leave them alone, they’ll leave me alone,” I would chant to myself sardonically as they made threatening forays.

One day the wasps apparently had had some sort of bitter family dispute, and they were more pissed off than usual. I was walking cautiously in the yard toward the front of the house, so far away from the porch that I was practically scraping the rusty old fence. Maybe 12 feet away. Maybe 15.

It wasn’t far enough. One of the wasps zeroed in on me at warp speed and landed in my hair, which was extremely thick and long. I started running when I saw the wasp coming, but I didn’t have a chance. When I felt it tangling in my hair I flailed around with my hand to try to get it out. Instead, I accidentally closed my fist over it. In the midst of this mayhem, I had time to be impressed by the stone-like solidity of its body. Then a needle-sharp heat shot through my palm.

Meanwhile I was still tearing around the house. As I rounded the back corner, the cistern hole suddenly loomed directly in front of me. I’d forgotten about it. Like a palsied football player, I leaped sideways with a graceless lurch and almost ricocheted off the chicken shed. Still running, I managed to fling myself through the side door of the house. Somewhere along the way the wasp had escaped to live another day. Thank god only one of them had gone on the warpath. Since, unlike my sister, I’d never been stung by so much as a honeybee, I was unprepared for the amount of pain a wasp sting can cause.

That was some 40 years ago. My wasp phobia has abated somewhat. For a time, in my mid-twenties, I lived alone and therefore had to deal with any wasp problems without help. I lived in the second story of a house—essentially a large, finished attic, which had some little doors leading to unfinished storage spaces. Wasps lived in those spaces, and periodically one would squeeze through into my territory.

A coward to the bone, I didn’t know if I was more afraid of the wasps or of the toxic bug spray I needed to kill them. So I invented a different solution. Whenever I spied a wasp, I grabbed my bottle of 409, set it to “Stream,” and hit the wasp with a jet of liquid from as far away as possible. My aim, focused by adrenaline, was pretty good. The detergent in the 409 would gunk up the wasp’s wings, disabling it just long enough for me to move in with a blunt object for a safe kill. Then it was simply a matter of wiping up the 409. (My apartment was unusually clean in certain sectors.)

Anyone who’s afraid of wasps—or bug spray—is free to use this method. You’re welcome. Use at your own risk, however. Remember, it only works on one wasp at a time. Don’t try to wipe out a nest with 409 or everyone will deem you an idiot, assuming you live to tell the tale. And if for some reason you fail at this method, or if wasps have evolved a detergent defense over the past few decades, don’t sue me.

Also, when it comes to wasps, don’t ever tell your kids that if they leave it alone, it’ll leave them alone. Tell them to leave it alone and get the hell away.

Advertisements

Why write? ~

I’m beginning to wonder what I’m doing writing a blog. It seems I’m writing only for myself and for one other person, who actually reads and occasionally comments on this stuff (thanks, Dan). The blog brought me back to writing again, of a creative type I’d never done. I had no idea I would be so open about my life, but that’s how it’s turned out. For the first three months I felt good every time I published a long piece, especially if I was able to bring humor into the equation. I believed I was doing solid work. I had no particular expectations about gaining followers and no particular ambition in this regard. Everybody writes.

But I don’t seem to be connecting with anybody. Blogging may not be the best activity for a depressed person who’s chafing against isolation. The potential for feeling more alone is too high. So I’m going to rethink this. I have ideas for a couple more posts. If I can pull them off, maybe I’ll keep going. Maybe I’ve just hit a bad patch. But one thing is certain: if this becomes an exercise in bathos or just serves to keep me living in the past, I need to abandon it. If I don’t recognize it myself, I’m counting on someone, somewhere, to let me know that I’m being self-indulgent. I feel I’m getting dangerously close to that.

Doggerel no. 4: Dating sites ~

Over the past four years or so I’ve become an old pro at dating sites. I’ve tried OkCupid, Match.com, OurTime, and eHarmony (the worst!). I recently gave Match another half-hearted try because of a half-price deal. But I’ve become aware that dating sites have a dark underbelly that I can no longer stomach.

It isn’t the danger of encountering sexual predators or other psychopaths. You can protect yourself pretty easily if you heed the recommended precautions. No, the danger is psychological: if you aren’t popular, you must be thick-skinned enough to cope with rejection every single day.

You must be especially thick-skinned if you’re thick-bodied. I garnered considerably more interest on dating sites when I was considerably thinner. Now, after six years of depression and relative immobility, I’m nowhere close to the body type or fitness level desired by 95 percent of the men out there. Over and over I read “Slender; Athletic and toned.” Sometimes a generous guy will include “About average,” whatever that is these days. Let’s just say I fall much closer to the other end of the spectrum.

I’ve passed by many interesting profiles because of this phenomenon. As for my own current profile (which does not specify “Slender” or “Athletic and toned”), it seems to be floating in an unpopulated sector of cyberspace. Occasionally I wonder if it has in fact been rendered somehow invisible to everyone but me.

When you experience rejection every day, you begin to hear the echoes of a hundred No’s in your head. Over time those echoes grow louder, until your self-esteem is shot and you yank your profile from the dating site in disgust. Nothing much to do about this humiliating experience other than write some doggerel.

Zip, Nada, Zilch; or Those Dating Site Blues

“Slender, average, athletic and toned”
Is all that the guys on the dating sites seek.
Even the chubby men, even the grubby men
Don’t want an overweight woman in reach.
What about intellect? What about heart?
I can make sweet conversation an art.
Yet most of the time, a fleshier gal
Is completely rejected as even a pal.

I try to be patient and just let things be,
But all of the silence discourages me.
Is this natural selection at work in my case
To keep my potential from reaching first base?
I’m still on the field, but I’m pretty done in.
Might be time to give up and leave love to the slim.

It takes a village ~

I don’t know about raising children, since I haven’t had any. My family was so insular, I don’t think I had a village growing up, unless you count my teachers and my pediatrician.

But I do know this: It takes a village to sustain a late-middle-aged, debilitated, single homeowner who’s clueless about fixing things. My village comprises a great many support people, by whom I mean people that I pay to help me keep my life in order.

All of us lucky enough to live above the poverty line have some people, of course. We have doctors and dentists. Some of us have shrinks and even more of us have therapists. Most of us have car mechanics and hairdressers or barbers.

Oh, for the simple life. The other day someone knocked on the door. It turned out to be My Realtor, bearing a beautiful large poinsettia. She sold my last house and helped me buy this one. Neither transaction was big enough to warrant the poinsettia, but I’m guessing realtors in this town are having a tough time as university enrollment keeps going down. I’d long ago decided that if I ever sell this house I plan to use her again. So, astonishingly, I have a realtor.

I also have a housekeeper. Probably hundreds of people around here have housekeepers, but most of them work or are over 70. I’m just weak. So when I have to refer to this person in conversation, you’d think I had a chicken bone stuck in my throat. How it comes up in conversation when I find myself in so few conversational situations is a mystery, yet it does. Often I find myself referring to T. as “the woman who cleans my house for a couple of hours every other week,” which is an awfully long ride on the merry-go-round. Yet to call her My Housekeeper sounds so…possessive. So elitist. So needy.

That’s not all. There’s also My Lawn Guy (who doubles as My Gutter-Cleaning Guy), My Tree Guy, My Garage Door Guy, My Handyman, My Electrician, and My Piano Tuner. The last three would have no idea that I consider them in this vein, since it’s been two or three years since I called any of them. But I intend to use them again, so there you go. I recently acquired My Carpet Cleaner (a man, not a machine) and My Snow-Shoveling Duo (a young man and woman much friendlier than the tough-looking guys in scruffy pickups who usually drive in from the country to shovel driveways after a snowfall).

Then there’s My Roofer. He has probably repressed the memory of me and my last house, which developed a series of bizarre leakage and mold problems that required patches, eventual re-roofing, a ridge vent, and a specially designed series of vents around the chimney. (I will write about this house someday when I’m sure I can hang on to my emotional equilibrium. I’ve referred to it elsewhere in this blog as the house that hated me.)

When I was working, I had My Massage Therapist (who was also my friend and a former co-worker). For well over a decade he kept me able to work despite painful tendinitis in my wrists and elbows. Eventually he talked me into acquiring My Rolfer, who also helped a great deal. But My Massage Therapist abandoned me to head the local community college’s massage therapy program, and after I quit work I could no longer afford My Rolfer. For three weeks last year I had My Personal Trainer, until I realized that he was going to kill me. Not on purpose, but still. It turned out that I was already too debilitated for My Personal Trainer’s lowest level of assistance. So far I’ve avoided needing My Caregiver, but I figure that’s next unless I can be my own personal trainer.

I have no need for an accountant, but I like My Lawyer, although I don’t like her law firm’s fees very much. Soon I may gain My Financial Consultant, whom I hope I won’t have to consult very often. Once would be enough, really. I can’t see the fabled one percent through a telescope from where I sit, but because I had to retire early and because my sister is disabled, I need to be fiscally prudent.

I even have people for after I die: My Funeral Home. Last summer I was getting things in order so that my death would cause my sister as little burden as possible. I’ve been terrified of death since I was a little girl, so when I decided to move on this, I did it fast. Within the space of an hour, I realized that I needed a “pre-needs” contract, called the funeral home, found that I could meet with them immediately to set up a contract, did just that, and returned. It may have been the fastest pre-needs transaction in the funeral director’s experience.

It was one of those days when I’m always on the verge of tears, and on such days I usually behave strangely. More strangely than usual, that is. I kept stressing that I needed a contract immediately. The assistant, a skinny, prematurely wrinkled woman with jet-black hair and several layers of makeup (practice?), summoned the funeral director, to whom I again stressed the urgency of the situation. They seemed surprised that someone so young wanted a contract. I knew I just wanted (pardon the language) a bare-bones agreement, no service, no urn. A fast reader, I blazed through the cremation contract, had them make a couple of changes, thrust a check at them, gave them my prewritten obit, and made sure my sister wouldn’t have to do anything.

As the assistant guided me through the labyrinth of rooms to the front door, the tears started in earnest. She asked if I was all right. For some reason I cannot train myself to simply answer this question with “Yes” or “I’m fine.” I seem to have a sort of hyper-honesty genetic mutation that results in some unfortunate, peculiar, or embarrassing answers. “I’m not well,” I said stiffly, and made a break for my car, undoubtedly leaving the woman convinced that I had a terminal illness and that they’d be firing up the furnace any day.

So I’m pretty well covered. I feel bad that I’m so incompetent and that my village is so big. On the other hand, it is pleasingly amiable and few of its members get called upon very often. I comfort myself with the thought that there’s an entire ritzy support tier that I’ll never have to have, nor could I afford. I don’t have a gardener (or a garden), a pool guy (or a pool), or a horse boarder (or a horse). I don’t have a chauffeur, an interior decorator, a party planner, a social secretary, or a chef (I need one). Although my friends may regret it when they see how I’m dressed, I don’t have, god forbid, a personal shopper.

And I don’t have, I’m happy to say, a ghostwriter. For better or worse, where this blog is concerned it’s just me on the loose taking a walk outside my village.

Doggerel ~

I’ve decided to delete my Doggerel page. Since it doesn’t allow posts, no one ever knows if I’ve added anything there. So I’ll just incorporate poems as posts on my Home page. Here are the three poems I had on the Doggerel page. I shouldn’t call it doggerel; it’s really light verse. Both share an emphasis on regular meter and rhyme schemes, but doggerel is clichéd and usually saccharine. Light verse, at its best, is exemplified by Lewis Carroll and Ogden Nash and Dorothy Parker, masters whom I could not begin to approach but whose cleverness I greatly admire.

––––– Aug. 28, 2013
I posted a link on Facebook to an article about pufferfish and the beautiful circular patterns they make in the sand. After a friend admitted having eaten fugu (pufferfish), I wrote this.

On Fugu

I understand the pufferfish
Will make a most delicious dish.
But if your chef is none too swell
And cuts that fish up none too well,
You’ll soon find that your lovely lunch
Will pack a fatal-istic punch.

––––– Aug. 28, 2013
This poem was written for a plant biology professor after his return from a research trip to Romania.

On Romania

Romania’s a lovely place
With Vlad so long deceased.
But Hollywood, with sex in mind,
Won’t let Drac rest in peace.
A vampire here, a vampire there,
And soon you’ve got a coven.
The things they do sure seem to be
Some bloody twisted lovin’.

––––– Aug. 28, 2013
I originally posted this poem to my Facebook page; hence the title and the jargon.

Facebook Fantasia

Some knight on a quest may encounter my wall.
He’ll scale to the top, though it be very tall.
He’ll sure-foot each solid and each wobbly brick,
Take note of each petroglyph, cranny, and nick.
Oh my, he may think, even at my ripe age
I must friend the woman who fosters this page.
We’ll happily share all our ones and our zeros
And pledge to be each other’s sweet cyber-heroes.
I’ll let my fantasies take me this far,
For love at its core is a binary star.