Suzann Ledbetter

Bug Tussle  

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"Bug Tussle"
Reprinted from Family Circle

Because bugs seem as fond of the great indoors as people are, a recent multi-legged invasion inspired a jaunt to the supermarket for a supply of toxic chemicals designed to annihilate anything having more legs than the domestic human and/or pet population.

Except a quick perusal of the appropriate aisle revealed that there are about as many different kinds of pesticide products on the market as there are species of insects in the entire universe. Just to complicate the process a tad more, most brands were divided into specific bug categories: crawling, flying, indoor, outdoor, and garden.

How a consumer who's suffering an onslaught of outdoor garden bugs who've flown indoors and begun crawling along the baseboards is supposed to decide which poison to purchase remained a mystery.

The only thing all of them had in common was some form of the word KILL printed on the package front in a typeface larger than most interstate highway directional signs. Conversely, all back-sided, cautionary paragraphs might have been rendered legible if viewed through a 10X magnifying glass. In direct sunlight. At high noon.

However, a few key phrases, such as "harmful if absorbed through skin," "avoid contact with skin, eyes, and clothing," "remove plants, birds, and fish before using," and "ventilate room and do not remain in enclosed areas after use," did pretty much leap off the can at me.

Nor did it take long to notice a definite lack of information regarding how I was supposed to "fill the room with mist" as well as aim several shots at "floors, baseboards, and moist areas," and simultaneously put serious distance between me and the lethal fog hissing forth a mere arm's-length away.

Nearly as I could tell, the quandary left me with two options. I could invest in an OSHA-tested-and-approved astronautical "moon suit" complete with helmet, breathing apparatus, bootees, and gloves to ensure some margin of personal safety while I squirted approximately $4.97-worth of pesticide from pillar to post, leaving my abode uninhabitable for however-the-heck long "several minutes" was supposed to constitute. Or, I could forego the time-honored, all- American "Do-It-Yourself" credo and immediately institute the second most-popular modus operandi, "Get Somebody Else To Do It For You."

Choosing number two seemed the dandier idea until I discovered that asking friends to recommend a professional bug-zapper isn't the same as asking for a doctor, dentist, or babysitter referral. Unless the old "grapevine" tack is taken, i.e., Friend makes it very clear that although she has had absolutely no need for an exterminator ever in her lifetime, but thinks maybe her boss's sister-in-law's neighbor's cousin's boyfriend called the XYZ Company to eradicate a couple of silverfish, the insect-challenged might as well save time by letting their fingers take a stroll through the yellow pages.

Having no guidelines to go by, I picked the pest control service who, judging by the telephone book's display ad, had been in business the longest. This not only implied that the company was dependable and quoted a reasonably- priced kill-fee, but that despite repeated exposure to a variety of toxic chemicals, the company's owner, employees, and presumably a majority of its customers were still alive and kicking.

Precisely at the appointed hour, a pick-up truck with an gargantuan, snarly-faced, orange plastic ant bolted to the roof pulled into the driveway. Although such mobile, three- dimensional signage provided a reasonably good clue to the identity of the vehicle's driver long before the doorbell rang, it also informed the entire neighborhood that what they thought was your typical cedar-sided, suburban rancher was actually a veritable roach motel in disguise. Embarrassing as that expose might have been, I assumed it would decrease the number of requests I received to host Tupperware parties for a month or two, and notorious non- bakers might suddenly volunteer to bring the cookies for all PTA meetings and classroom parties. With a skootch more pre- planning, rather than buying the standard bushel-sized load of treats for Halloween, a single, sixteen-ounce bag of miniature chocolate bars would probably do the trick.

Much more depressing was the last-second realization that the extermination process wouldn't be limited to spraying what I considered no-woman-in-her-right-mind's-land, commonly called the crawlspace, where none but plumbers, furnace repairpersons, and a kazillion generations of spiders have gone before.

Instead, no sooner than my hired hitman's coveralls were sufficiently covered with all the grimy gunk peculiar to subterranean passageways, he traipsed inside and began poking his noxious nozzle into my home's every conceivable nook and cranny including:

  • The black hole under the kitchen sink where junk gets stuffed into until the doors won't close, but is rarely taken out because groping about in the Cabinet Of Doom tends to rekindle childhood memories of monsters lurking beneath the bed. Suffice it to say, occasions such as these serve as humbling reminders that sometimes, reaching adulthood has alot more to do with getting taller than it does with getting braver.

  • Lengthy expanses behind large appliances and furniture pieces which were undoubtedly populated by dust bunnies the size of Magilla Gorilla.

  • The master bathroom's vanity containing an assortment of feminine hygiene products, which I still must adopt a totally bogus attitude of supreme indifference to buy, and would have preferred the complete stranger rooting around in during the extermination process had kept his mitts and his mist off of, thank you very much.

  • The attic, where several tons of broken, mangled, and discarded household items were stored simply because the items are too expensive to simply throw away, or have sentimental value (not enough to display in the living room, but too much to chuck in the Dumpster), or fall into "the kids might need them someday" category (even though the kids won't, don't, and never will), or just might magically repair themselves if left in that hot, stuffy, dark space for a decade or two.

  • The garage, where another several tons of broken, mangled, and discarded household items that won't fit in the attic are stored, along with mostly-empty paint cans, tools, lawn equipment, camping equipment, and sports equipment. Thankfully, there's not enough room for the car, which prevented the possibility of its upholstery absorbing any random pesticide fumes.

  • Closets packed not only with the clothes, shoes, and the myriad accessories for which these cubicles were designed, but are also kind of mini-Walmarts with inventories ranging from alphabet blocks to extra tubes of toothpaste to the Christmas wrap that'll disappear by the ides of November.

  • The utility room, that vast, domestic wasteland of dirty underwear, 439 never-again-to-be-matched socks, perma- press garments waiting to be ironed, sickly houseplants crying for fabric softener-scented humidity, muddy sneakers, and an ironing board forever heaped with clean towels that were supposedly folded and put away last Tuesday.

As Mister Bug-Be-Gone wandered from room to room, I was compelled to stay on his heels offering casual explanations for unusual decor items such a Younger Son's extensive fossil collection, which, to the untrained eye might look as if someone merely dumped a wheelbarrow load of rocks in the middle of his bedroom carpet.

Words failed, however, when the entirely too thorough pest controller removed the drawer beneath the oven only to find Isaac the Newt--who several weeks earlier had escaped his pre-Science Fair lair--poised in a state of instant, and judging by his expression, completely unexpected mummification.

Isaac's subsequent, two-coat shellacking gave Younger Son's school project a new lease on life--so to speak--and this entire extermination episode gave me an entirely different perspective on insects, their place in the natural world, and their insistence upon unnaturally sharing mine. Since both "Do It Yourself" pest control and "Get Somebody Else To Do It For You" have some serious downsides including a literal interpretation of "You won't smell a thing after about ten minutes," I've decided that maybe our foreparents' method of insecticide is the best, after all.

It's odor-free, not to mention free-free, and even provides an unassisted element of do-it-yourselfism. Therefore, in the future, whenever a multi-legged intruder makes its presence known, I'll defend my domain the old- fashioned way: sneak softly, and carry a big shoe.

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