Gurney's Inn
May 30, 2007

Low Tidings

Creepy Crawlers and Night Flyers

Bugs don't bother me much.

That's because, since our house in Sag Harbor was 200 years old, it was home for any number of creepy crawlers. We had a huge contingent of Daddy Long Leg spiders, but papa always said they were good for the house and to leave them alone. We did.

We had wood ticks, which were a constant source of amazement to us. They would brazenly meander across the kitchen floor, and my brother, sister and I would take turns jumping on them. No matter how hard we jumped, the ticks seemed nonplussed. It was as if they were invincible.

(When we got a little older my big brother discovered we could burn them to a slow and painful death with matches. He later expanded on this new and effective method of extermination by lighting the match, blowing it out, and then touching the tip on the tick, thus prolonging the torture for hours. Gosh, those were happy, carefree days!)

In the late summer giant crickets would appear and stay with us into the early winter. That assured a constant cacophony of sound, a rather pleasing and familiar whine that signaled we were indeed in the country. Sometimes, one would be so close we'd realize it was right under the bed. We never looked underneath, but instead pulled the covers up over our heads. They too were on papa's good list and were allowed to survive.

Not so lucky were the wasps, bees, flies of every color, fleas, ants and Japanese beetles. For them, papa had a solution, probably just developed by Dow Chemical that probably has taken years off of our lives because we inhaled it. At the stroke of 11 each night he would go room to room, spraying the air. We would get a whiff upstairs and instinctively knew it was not a good thing to breathe in.

The next morning, dozens of beetles would be piled up in the windowsills of his room. Countless more bees and wasps would be lying around in various stages of near-death. Papa would sweep them out the door and that would be that.

My wife Karen, on the other hand, is terrified of bugs. She is convinced most are poisonous and have a personal vendetta against her. She lives in mortal fear that an insect's reason for living is to end her life.

The other night I was sitting on the back deck when I heard her scream several times.

"What happened?" I asked, concerned.

"There's a huge spider in my hair!"

"Just kill it," I advised calmly. You see, one thing I learned early on, when dealing with insects, is that they fit in the palm of my hand. I am like god in the insect world. I can crush out life at will. I try not to, but if a fly really annoys me, I will kill it and feel no remorse whatsoever.

"No! Get in here!" She had it trapped under a glass. This way, she explained, when she had her seizure I could give the spider to the paramedics who would then find the elixir.

Papa had always told us that most spiders around here are harmless. In all my years here I've been bitten a couple times, but it's certainly not as painful as a sting by a yellow jacket or wasp. Karen had other ideas.

"It's a Ladysmith Black Mombazo," she said confidently. "One sting and its deadly serum will penetrate my nervous system. I'll be paralyzed within eight minutes and will stop breathing six minutes later."

"That's absolutely ridiculous," I said.

"It's true, I read about it. The only known cure is the elixir."

"OK, drink this," I said, switching gears.

"What is it?"

"The elixir."

"It tastes like cognac," she sneered. "I'm getting numb. I feel a tingling in my spine."

"Those are the maggots getting ready to eat your flesh after you are paralyzed," I advised. "It only hurts for the first six minutes."

She took a swat at me, proof positive she had averted catastrophe.

Since we got married, I've had to humor Karen, who's a city girl. Raccoons are a constant worry. For years I had her convinced raccoons are like polar bears and are not found in the more temperate climates of Long Island but instead in Nova Scotia and Antarctica. That lie went out the window after she read in the paper that a raccoon had wreaked havoc in someone's house in East Hampton. Then, she read there was a case of rabies on Long Island.

This has been a source of constant debate between us. She claims rabies cause certain death unless the painful vaccine is administered within a couple days of being bitten. I claim rabies is merely another ailment that comes and goes, and is successfully treated by steady dose of cognac.

She produced an article (where does she find these damn things?) stating categorically that rabies is fatal if left untreated. "What will happen," she asked frightfully, "if a raccoon gets in the house?"

"The dog will have to kill it," I said matter-of-factly.

"What if the raccoon bites the dog and gives him rabies?"

"Then the dog will bite the raccoon and give it rabies."

"But the raccoon already has rabies."

This debate raged on for hours. The bottom line, of course, which she failed to grasp: if a raccoon knocks on the door, don't let him in.

That problem solved, a new one reared its ugly head. For years I've been telling Karen the flying objects that race across the night sky above our swimming pool are red-beaked, yellow-tailed swallows, a common species of local birds fond of night diving. She bought it until one of our big-mouthed friends put his two cents in: No, they are bats, he informed.

Karen nearly fainted. Within minutes, she emerged from the house with a ream of articles: you guessed it: bats carry rabies.

Now, in addition to worrying about all things moving on the ground, convinced a raccoon lurks about, she casts a constant, wary eye to the skies, waiting for the rabies-carrying bat to swoop down on her.

"There's one!" she pointed, hysterically, the other night.

"No hon," I reassured. "That's a helicopter."

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