Ticked off

Can anyone remember a spring/summer like the one we’ve been having? I can’t.

If I had to make it into a formula, it’d be this: Ten parts overcast, seven parts rain, five parts unseasonably cool temps, one part hotter than the hubs of hell.

May was a soggy drag, but I endured it, looking forward to our glorious, sun-soaked summer, which may or may not happen. There’ve been teasers — the days it has been sunny and hot. And those suckers really took their toll.

I love hot weather. As a kid, I hated it, but that’s because I never saw any. If it hit 80 during the summer, it did it only a few times, and even then the nights were cool, if not cold. But stationed in Pensacola, Florida, in the middle of summer, courtesy of This Man’s Navy, I had to adjust, especially since they didn’t give warm weather wimp discharges.

And adjust I did. Mostly, in all my free time I ran and played handball, figuring if I could do that during the day, I could sleep at night … in my non-air-conditioned barracks. It was a great theory, and as opposed to almost every other theory I ever had, it worked.

After I adjusted to the heat, I started to thrive in it. And my love of hot weather – even hot, humid weather — has persisted. But I need time to adjust to it. If it’s cool for a period of time and then suddenly turns hot, I’m useless. And that’s what’s happened this summer. It’ll be 60 degrees for two weeks in a row; then suddenly it was 85. And when it was, I wilted. Rather than feel like an Adirondack Native, I felt like I was one of the Lost ’49ers, as they bumbled, stumbled and croaked through Death Valley.

But while the heat’s sapped my energy, what came with it has damn near driven me nuts. I’m referring to the mosquitoes.

Why this summer is different from other summers

Sure, we always have mosquitoes in the summer … and black flies and no-see-ums too. I know that, and I expect it. But this year the mosquitoes are less an Adirondack fixture than an Old Testament plague. They seem to have increased, perhaps due to the weird weather, at least 100 fold.

Every morning, right after I get up, I take my dogs out for a brief head call. It takes all of five minutes, since while my mutts are poorly trained, they do know breakfast follows. Even though the cast of characters has changed, the ritual itself has been going on for decades, unchanged. This year, however, there’s been one huge change: Almost as soon as I go out, mosquitoes swarm me by the group, division, squadron or whatever it is. By the time I’m again inside, my legs are covered with welts. And where there aren’t welts, there are mosquitoes themselves, merrily draining a quart or two of my A+.

But as much as I loathe the mosquitoes, they’re just an inconvenience. Yeah, sure, they’re a pain in the prat, sometimes literally, but that’s about it. Soon enough the welts and itching go away, and that’s it. Certainly, they’re no threat. But I’ll tell you what is a threat – and a threat with a capital T: ticks.

Not a rolling stone

Ticks, of and by themselves, are bad. But if burrowing under your skin and drinking your blood isn’t bad enough, removing them can be even worse: If you’re not careful, you can easily remove half a tick, the rest (its better half?) remaining firmly embedded in your dermis. But that’s just the opening act, since the closing act can be you contracting Lyme disease from them. A tick bite alone scares the snot out of me; the idea of getting Lyme disease puts me in a full-blown case of The Screaming Abdabs.

When it comes to ticks, I know about them; I’ve read about them; I’ve heard horror stories them. But I’ve never seen one.

Yeah, I’ve seen their pictures. But so what?

Years ago I was in New York City and wandered upon a Vogue magazine fashion shoot. Of course, I stopped and looked, and what I found fascinating was the models. Not that they were fascinating, themselves. Uh-uh. What fascinated me was they didn’t look gorgeous, glamorous, or spectacular in any way. Sure, they were pretty. But they weren’t any prettier than lots of women I knew. In fact, their most striking feature was they looked emaciated.

And what’s that have to do with ticks? Just this: If those models didn’t look in person like they did in the magazine, why would a tick look in insect like he did in the pages of magazines? So if I had a tick on me, I don’t know if I’d realize it was a tick.

And so on Monday morn, after I’d taken out the dogs and then fed them and was sitting in my chair, scratching my mosquito bites, when I looked down at my ankle I damn near stroked out. There, was a tick! It was small, round, and black, and had fuzzy little legs coming out of it — just like the magazine ticks.

Even worse, when I tapped it, it didn’t move. Then I scratched it…and it still didn’t move. It was clearly embedded under my skin!

I tried to get a close look at it, but to do it I’d have had been the Indian Rubber Man. I mean, how close can you get your eyes to your ankle? Really.

I started breathing deeply and slowly and when my pulse returned to a mere 185 and my blood pressure to 348/195, I called the Amazon Queen and told her what was going on.

“OK,” she said, merrily munching her morning bagel, “c’mon over and I’ll have a look at it.”

Just before I tore out of the house, I had enough presence of mind to grab my jeweler’s loupe. One look through that and she could see not only clearly the tick but its gender, scars and tattoos as well.

As soon as I got in the house, I handed her the loupe and collapsed on the couch.

The AQ grabbed my foot (and none too gently at that), bent over and peered through the loupe, and then started laughing. And when I say laughing, I don’t mean politely or civilly. No, these were full-fledged guffaws.

“Think it’s funny, just because it’s my ankle?” I said.

“No,” she said, between gasps, “this is why I think it’s funny.”

Then she licked her index finger, rubbed my ankle, and the tick disappeared.

“Where’d the tick go?” I asked.

“Nowhere,” she said.

“How could it go nowhere?” I said.

“‘Cause it wasn’t a tick,” she said.

“Not a tick?” I said. “Then what is it?’

“Moss,” she said.

“Moss?” I said. Then, because I didn’t know what else to say, I said, “What kind of moss?”

“Dried,” she said. “That’s why it looked like it had legs and you couldn’t scratch it off.”

“Moss,” I repeated, stupidly. “Dried moss.”

Silence followed as the absurdity of It All sank in. Then both of us burst out laughing.

But just for the record, she kept laughing long after I still found it funny.