FROM JUNE 7, 2010
Most mornings I wake up on the sofa. With news on the television. I enjoy falling asleep there. With the television on. Maybe I should watch TV in the bedroom. But it’s just not the same.
I used to live in an old one-story farmhouse built in the late ‘20s and situated on 72 acres of rolling hills, woods and open space just south of Hillsborough, NC. What a great house. It had a screen porch that stretched across the front of the house. Just a few feet from the porch were apple and peach trees. None of the fruit was ever human-edible. But the deer loved the tiny little hard as bolder peaches. Many evenings, I would see entire deer families, on their haunches, reaching up to get one more peach to eat. An unbelievable place to live.
Inside, the floors were slanted. Most mornings after waking up, because of the floor, I’d stumble into the refrigerator on the way to the bathroom. But slanted floors weren’t always a bad thing. If I happened to drop a quarter in that house, I always knew I would find it in the kitchen.
The shower was in the laundry room. You shower off, dry yourself, and into the washer goes the towel.
And I had no electricity in the bathroom. Actually, it was a toilet room. A tiny room with a dysfunctional tub. Just beyond the laundry room. Except for the heavy-duty appliance outlets, I had no power in the laundry room either. But hanging those metallic clamp lamps in those two rooms kind of gave that part of the house its character and charm. And the heavy-duty orange extension cords all over the house running to the laundry and toilet rooms added delightful accents throughout the house.
The kitchen had a gas stove. The thermostat never worked. Maybe the slant in the kitchen floor threw it off or something. One night, in preparation for the arrival of my son from college, I baked a pound cake in that oven. He loves pound cake. I placed an oven thermometer in there. And I sat. In front of that oven for 3 hours. Watching that cake. Watching that thermometer. Cranking the oven to high. Reducing the heat to low. I became a human thermostat. I must have fallen asleep or something. Or at least lost interest. That cake was toast. On the bottom. I couldn’t even get it out of the pan. When my son arrived home, I gave him a spoon and told him to go get a spoonful of pound cake. He declined. But you know it didn’t taste too bad. And I didn’t have to dirty a cake knife.
So, in that house one night, way into the middle of the night hours, I woke up on the sofa. Not to the sound of Bill O’Reilly or Anderson Cooper. But to some sort of strange sound coming from my bedroom. It was a fluttering or buzzing sound. A rustling kind of thing. The windows were open. It was a summer night. And mice were not an unusual sight in this house. Slanted floors don’t bother those guys at all. I stayed awake for a few minutes.
Turned down the volume on Chris Matthews or whoever. And I listened. I could have gotten up and checked things out, but I did mention that I have a bit of a lazy streak in me, right? I heard no more. Chalked it up to living the country life and went back to sleep.
The next morning, after pulling myself off the sofa, I noticed a dead bee on the floor. It was huge. But it was dead, so I really didn’t think much of it.
The exterior walls of that house had more gaps than the Joe Sestak Obama-Clinton story. Certainly more than a Rose Mary Woods’ audiotape. Bugs inside those walls were nothing to worry about.
So I stumbled into the refrigerator and took care of things that morning. The usual. Then, after making coffee and sweeping up the coffee grounds that fell on the floor after the coffee can rolled off the kitchen counter, I walked to my bedroom. I notice a few more of those dead bees on the floor of my bedroom. This troubled me. A bit. I looked to the open window, expecting to see a Sestak gap in the screen. There was no gap. There were however, about a dozen of the largest dead bees I’ve ever seen. Wedged somehow in-between the screen and the upper portion of the glass window. But they were all dead.
This troubled me more than just a bit. And on many levels. Did these guys want to get to me so badly that they didn’t even care if they squeezed themselves to death in the process? Were they that determined to do me in? Was I facing an attack from Kamikaze bees? The ones that did make it through the window – the ones dead on the floor? What killed them? Was my slanted-floor, rat-infested home toxic? If it could kill those insects, what the hell was in store for me? This was very distressing.
So, I did what every full-blooded American lazy boy would do. I closed that bedroom window. There. Problem solved.
Well. That night, after dark, I was at my computer. My in-home workstation was directly next to the most amazing bank of old windows. I loved those windows. I really loved being able to work there. Alone. In my peaceful country home. With the perfect view of the most serene and pleasant setting imaginable. As was often the case, that night I looked away from my work, and just sort of gazed with amazement out of those windows. I didn’t see it at first. My eyes were trying to focus on the light show of the fireflies. But suddenly my serenity was broken. By the sight of one of those bees. Alive this time. And outside the widow. Just hovering there in front of me. Watching me. Bee eye to man eye. It was as if he was warning me that he knew who I was and where I lived. And that he was watching my every move.
My body kind of quivered and shivered. I shut down the computer. And called it a night. Back to the sofa and Peter Jennings or whoever. But I still felt pretty safe. I had, after all, closed the bedroom window. I was definitely relaxed enough to nod off – as usual. But somewhere between nod and off, from the corner of my eye, I saw something huge flying around near me, or toward me or something. Something was happening.
Then. Again. I saw one of those guys. Alive and in the house. This one hovered and stared just like the one outside my kitchen window. But there was no glass separation this time. And this one was as big as one of those undeveloped and hard peaches the deer loved so much. Frightening. Even for a lazy guy like me.
But I did my manly duty. I went to war with the sucker. I had no insecticide, but I had a newspaper and a basketball shoe. It took me a while, but I brought the enemy down. And I closed another window.
I was able to calm myself enough to fall asleep again. Victory sometimes puts a real man at ease. I rested.
Accomplishment aided me. The next morning I awoke refreshed. And, frankly, happy to be alive.
I sat up from the sofa. Turned my body and placed my legs on the floor. Preparing myself again for another fall into the refrigerator. And there it was. Another one. Followed by yet another one. Several of those giant bees. I jumped up, mostly to protect myself. I had to do something. The gold and black terrorists had broken down my defenses. There were a couple of dead ones on the floor here and there. Again, the whole toxic idea reemerged. But I had no time to waste. There were other live ones in the open windows, buzzing around, as if they were trying to find a way to let all their scurrilous little friends into my fort.
I put my shoes on. You know, one does some pretty odd things during initial stages of crises. My action had everything to do with all the dead ones I had found on the floor in the days before this infiltration. Pedi-survival, I called it. I then armed myself with the trusted rolled up newspaper. And I did surveillance.
I saw a couple of live ones in the second bedroom. A couple of dead ones, too. What was killing these guys? Man! I then surveiled my bedroom. There were dozens of them there. Dead. On the floor. There were even more dead ones wedged again in-between the screen and the glass in the closed window of my bedroom. Obviously, my room was their main point of attack. So I closed that bedroom door. And I newspapered the others in the house.
Not at all trusting the peace accord the closed bedroom door had initiated, I set my sights on border control. That’s right. Duct tape. I duct taped that door more than an un-sponsored NASCAR crew tapes their car after a crash in turn three. If an insect in my room could survive the apparent toxicity in there, it would surely not make it into the rest of the house. That night, it seemed to have worked. But to assure a good night’s rest, I duct taped myself into the living room. No bee could enter. Of course, none could leave either.
That one detail troubled me, too. A little bit. But I did a great tape job. I felt, for the most part, safe and secure. Safe and secure enough, at least, to fall asleep to Ted Koppel or whoever. And. I had the trusty newspaper, a shoe and a new can of wasp spray beside my night-watch post – the sofa.
At some point during the night, I heard the greatest racket right above me. The noise woke me dazed and confused and dazed some more. Could it be? Could the scurrilous little suckers have broken through border control? Was this the major attack? Would I survive it? I reached for my shoe. The newspaper. I accidentally knocked the can of Raid off the coffee table and it rolled toward the kitchen, away from the sofa headquarters. I was doomed, I thought.
Then I heard the racket again. I looked around. But I saw no bees.
This was my life. For several weeks. Bees. Duct tape. Sleep. Squirrels. No sleep. Panic. But I survived. Until the landlord finally sent the Calvalry. The exterminators.
There were four of them. I showed them the war front. My bedroom. I removed the duct tape from the door. Slowly. I expected thousands of them to push through the untaped door like a F5 tornado. The exterminators even stood back a bit. And these were brave exterminators. One of them even had a missing finger from a snake extermination gone awry.
Tape removed, I slowly opened my bedroom door. There were hundreds of dead hornets covering every square inch of my bedroom floor. That gave me the greatest case of heebie-jeebies I have ever had. There is no better way to describe it. I looked to the exterminators for reassurance. When the lead guy took but one step into my room, the sound of dead hornets cracking beneath his right boot, he froze, looked at me and quivered and shivered.
“Dude,” I said. “You’re the EXTERMINATOR!”
It seems that some logging that had taken place up the gravel road from my house had forced some hornets and their queen to find new digs. They chose a space between the attic floor and my bedroom ceiling. The guy with one finger missing nuked the nest with massive quantities of just ordinary aerosol hornet spray. He was unable to remove the nest. He assured me that he took care of the problem. “But,” he said, “If they come back, just give me a call.”
I appreciated what that man did for me. But the next call I made was to an apartment complex a half-mile from the center of downtown Chapel Hill. I still fall asleep on the sofa while the television news is on. And I am still, from time to time, awakened by some strange noises. But usually these days, it’s just a young neighbor throwing a beer can at his roommate. A much sweeter sound at that time of night than squirrels and hornets.
And. I don’t even own a roll of duct tape anymore.