21 July 2016

Summer Bites

Movie poster shows a woman in the ocean swimming to the right. Below her is a large shark, and only its head and open mouth with teeth can be seen. Within the image is the film's title and above it in a surrounding black background is the phrase "The most terrifying motion picture from the terrifying No. 1 best seller." The bottom of the image details the starring actors and lists credits and the MPAA rating.I believe that I have cracked the reason why summer brings out the apocalypse movies, not to mention movies and TV shows about killer sharks, vampires, zombies, serial killers, Animals Gone Wild, and (I'm still waiting) Batboy. It's a distraction from the fact that summer isn't all that it's cracked up to be.  What with mosquitoes (West Nile, anyone?  Zika?), ticks (Lyme, tularemia, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever), killer heat (more on that later), and trying to figure out what SPF actually works and what pesticide won't kill you as well as the bugs, we need something where humans eventually WIN.

Especially in the country.  I live in South Dakota.  We've got a lot of sloughs, lakes, and wetlands, not to mention feedlots, and up here we're well aware that "country fresh" isn't the dancing-wildflowers-in-a-can it's cracked up to be in air freshener/fabric softener ads or romantic movies.  The truth is, some days a good deep lungful of fresh country air will make your eyes water worse than a whiff of Junior's old sneakers.  And those summer cook-outs involve a lot of slapping yourself silly in between passing the potato salad.  It's one of the many reasons that beer was invented.

But this year is lusher, greener, wetter, and more infested than ever.  And hot.  It is very hot.  As you read this, it's 98 degrees outside, and the endless square miles of corn have increased our humidity to the point where we are outdoing Mississippi.  It's stiflingly hot.  Thank God for air-conditioning.
Willis Carrier 1915.jpg
Willis Carrier,
Our Hero
NOTE:  Let us all now give thanks and praise to Willis Carrier, who in 1902 invented the first air-conditioning system.  May his memory be eternally green.  And cool.  
But to get back to infestations.  We've seen them before, especially the Great Frog Infestation back in the 90s.  Personally, I didn't mind the frogs. They were small, they moved quickly, and they tried to stay hidden.  They only bothered me when I was mowing the lawn.  For one thing, they froze as I came near, hoping (as most of us do) that if they ignored the problem (me and the lawnmower), it would go away.  I got to the point where I'd carry a small broom and prod them into moving with it while I mowed. "What did you do Saturday?"  "Swept frogs." Sometimes when they still wouldn't budge, I'd just pick them up and move them, while they expressed their gratitude all over my hands. Frogs are not toilet trained.

Pseudacris maculata.jpg
Boreal Choral Frog
Photographer - Tnarg 12345 on Wikipedia
Still, I could deal with the frogs.  If nothing else, they weren't trying to feed on me.  They probably thought I was trying to feed on them, not knowing that I refuse to eat frogs' legs or anything else that someone tells me "tastes just like chicken."  (If that's true, what's the point?)  But the mosquitoes and ticks are trying to feed on me and every other mammal in the state.  (Do you think they ever tell each other that we "taste just like cow?")  Anyway, serious inquiries have been made - mostly by me - into how many mosquitoes it would take to drain a person dry, and in my objective conclusion it's only half of what we've got.

Healthywealthy.jpgThe mosquitoes alone would be bad enough, but they're getting serious competition from the gnats.  There aren't as many of them - at least, I hope there aren't - but their bites leave golf to softball sized swellings on ears, eyes, necks, etc.  It's getting unnerving to go out in public.  Half the people I see look like they've been in a fist fight, the other half are calomine-pink, and we're all in the same blithe mood the nation was in the night Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast.  The air reeks of Deet, Skin-So-Soft, Off, and every other insect repellent known to man and we still can't stand outside more than two minutes without acting like Larry, Curly, and Moe.

So what do we do about this enemy invasion?  Some people are moving down South, where they think all they'll have to deal with is cockroaches and kudzu.  (There are also fire ants and even more mosquitoes.)  Kudzu, for those of you who haven't heard of it, is a Japanese plant that some idiot imported for ground cover on poor soil.  It can't be killed by drought, floods, fire, pestilence, or famine, and it grows a foot a day.  There's a theory that it was left by UFO's on one of their human-tagging trips, but I think it's just a vicious predator.  The one good thing about it is that it can't stand severe frost, and so South Dakota is free...  until we get warmer...
Kudzu growing on trees in Georgia
Photographer - Scott Ehardt, Wikipedia

Anyway, back to solutions:

(1) Buy a bee-keeper's hat or a surplus space suit.  You'll sweat to death, but you will be bug free.

(2)  Don't go outside.  Summer is highly overrated.  It's hot, it's buggy, and people keep expecting you to do things, most of which involve a lot of work, which involves a lot of sweating, while overheated and in full sun.  What we really love about summer is our nostalgia for the days when we were kids and didn't have to do anything except go swimming and eat watermelon.  (What we forget is how much time we spent whining about how there wasn't anything to DO.)  So turn on the AC, the blender, grab a stack of mysteries - I know some very good authors, many of whom are on this site, so check them out! - and stay indoors.  All the fun, a lot less danger.

Photographed by
Latorilla at Wikipedia
(3) Raise bats.  They're quiet, unobtrusive, much maligned creatures, and they eat mosquitoes.  True, they look spooky, they only come out at night, and there are all those vampire movies...

But even if one of them does happen to transform into an orthodontically-challenged count with a bad accent and receding hairline, a little garlic and a wooden stake will take care of the problem.

The odds are good: one count vs. the swarm.
One against many.
Think about it.


  1. Love your column, Eve. Anything that has a picture of the Three Stooges is good in my book. But boy, you have convinced me never to move to South Dakota. :)

  2. My son Dash (4) and I just saw on TV how to make a bat house, and I'll admit I was tempted to do it! Mosquitoes are a nuisance, Zika or not. Enjoyed the post overall—but especially the bats! (...obviously....)

  3. Eve, that's why we moved from East River in South Dakota to West River (the other side of the Missouri River dividing line). In the Black Hills, it was drier, cooler ant a lot fewer bugs. All we had to deal with was forest fires and rattlesnakes.

    Funny post.

  4. Art, I am looking into a making a bat house.
    Paul, don't be such a scairdy-cat - come on up. Remember, 30 below keeps the riff-raff out!
    R.T., I love the Black Hills so much...

  5. Great column, Eve!! By the way, it takes a lot to outdo Mississippi in the humidity department. And we're extremely familiar with kudzu down here. The joke is, you don't want to walk too slowly past kudzu. (I'm not even sure it's a joke.)

  6. I have literally watched kudzu growing in my days in Georgia. Of course, it could have been the alcohol...

  7. The closer to the Arctic Circle, the worse the mosquitoes (and black flies). Floridians like to complain about mozzies, especially with south Florida throwing up its hands about Zika, saying they don’t want to use British scientific treatments being used successfully elsewhere because “You know, science, it hasn’t really been proven.” So yes, politicians are worse than Zika.

    The nastiest thing about kudzu is that it suffocates whatever it covers… and it covers everything.

    Paul may know the answer to this: An old girlfriend who knew lots of things about old movies said when Bela Lugosi did Dracula, he hadn’t yet mastered English, so he imitated the English words spoken to him, resulting in that infamous “Good evening.” Paul, true or not? Or somewhere in between?

  8. As for Bela, when he first arrived in America he knew virtually no English (he came through New Orleans, not New York, so maybe he knew a little French). For his first Broadway appearances in the early 20s he had to learn his lines phonetically, and the critics praised him for his unique delivery! By the Broadway production of Dracula in 1927 he was more-or-less conversant in English and by time of the film, he was as good at speaking English as he ever would be. So I think things like "Good Eeeee-veh-ning" and "Mister Rhhhhhhhenfield" were simply stylistic.

    But throughout his career he was known to admit to directors that he could not think in English (which is why putting him up against ad-lib comedians on live TV wasn't a good idea), so he would take his lines, translate them into Hungarian, work out the delivery and requisite emotions, and then re-translate the lines back into English. That's why his expressions and gestures in films are sometimes slightly out of sync with what he's saying.

    Incidentally, Peter Lorre was also Hungarian, and when he emigrated to England in the early 30s he spoke no English either. When he interviewed with Alfred Hitchcock for "The Man Who Knew Too Much," he went in having been told by someone who knew Hitchcock from his early days making films in Germany that he loved to talk, and always expected a reaction. So Lorre sat there, not understanding a word Hitchcock was saying, but every time Hitchcock stopped talking, Lorre would laugh uproariously. Hitchcock hired him on the spot.

    author of Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror
    (Thanks to Paul Marks)


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