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A biting commentary

July 29, 2011
By BOB SEIDENSTEIN , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

In India, there's a religion called Jainism. Its essential tenet is reverence for all life, and to that end, they're pacifists and vegetarians. Some of them are so strict they refuse to pluck a fruit from its stem, but instead wait till it falls.

Their high priests are immediately recognizable because they wear cloth masks over their mouths, lest they accidentally swallow and thus kill a fly.

Since I'm a vegetarian and pretty much a pacifist, I might be able to be a Jain. But I could never be one of their high priests. It's because of the mask. Even though it has accessorizing potential, I really don't care about sparing the lives of most flies.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not an insectophobe. In fact, I like a lot of insects - dragonflies, praying mantises and beetles are among my favorites, not the least because they eat other insects.

But I even like a bunch of flies. I don't know their classification, but those small bright-green ones are lovely to look at, and fireflies add unrivalled beauty to a soft summer night.

However, when it comes to the fiendish flies, fergit it! There are ones that spread specific diseases like malaria, dengue fever, encephalitis and the like. Another bunch, labeled "filth flies," spread all sorts of diseases due to The First Essential Truth of Flydom, which is, To a fly, a sizzling Delmonico steak is no less appetizing than a pile of poop.

But the flies that earn and deserve my ire are the ones we ADKers know and loathe all too well - blackflies, mosquitoes, and no-see-ums. When those bad boys (or in the case of mosquitoes, those bad girls) do their thing, they either drive us indoors or drive us nuts.

I don't waste any of my anti-dipteral hatred on horse or deer flies since there's not much you can do about them till after they take a Whopper-size chunk out of your epidermis. Then your only option is an after-the-fact reprisal - if you're fast enough.


The dope on bugs

But with blackflies, mosquitoes and no-see-ums there's always Promise in a Bottle, which is supposed to prevent their onslaught. It's called "insect repellant" and how well it works is debatable. The only thing I can say for certain is almost any one we now have works better than all the ones we had in my tender (and tender-fleshed) youth.

First, back in The Golden Age of Fly Bites, as opposed to today, there were almost no insect repellants. In fact, I remember only three.

The first was a commercial product called 6-12. It was a clear, oily liquid with a biting chemical smell that made your eyes water before you opened the bottle. As far as I could tell, it attracted flies at least as well as it repelled them.

The next was a favorite among old time locals, a homemade concoction with a citronella and pine tar base. It also contained other ingredients which, along with the proportions, were never revealed lest the magic potion become known to an arch-rival. I liked its smell and I thought it worked better than 6-12, but still it didn't cause any flies in My Home Town to drop of starvation.

The third was neither homemade nor, strictly speaking, commercial. It was sold only by the Army/Navy Store and was World War II surplus. The stuff was incredible. Like 6-12, it was a clear, oily liquid. Unlike 6-12 it was as caustic as lye. I've no idea of its active ingredient, since nothing was listed on the label - for all I know it was Uranium 235 left over at Alamagordo. I only know it could've stripped furniture.

Its effects were instantaneous and amazing. You'd spread it on and the next thing, and only thing, you knew all the pores in your body were on fire, and they stayed that way till you showered off. Back then, I thought it worked as a repellant. Now I think it was as ineffective as the others, but because it fried all your nerve endings, you never felt the bug bites.

Today, thanks to the miracles of modern science we have an almost infinite variety of bug dopes. They run the gamut from the highly-toxic to the completely harmless: On a family camping trip a few years ago, my niece had an insect repellant made from lemons. It was organic, politically-correct, and so harmless you could actually swallow the stuff and it wouldn't hurt you. I accidentally got some of it my mouth and not only did it not sting or burn, but it was downright tasty. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes found it such as well.

In my Golden Years, I've discovered the perfect insect repellants. They're called doors and screens. When the flies come out, I go in.

I wanted to end this screed on a poetic note, perhaps with a work of Shakespeare or Bobby Burns or even Emily Dickinson. Unfortunately, nothing among their writings met my lofty standards, so I was forced to write my own. And here, for your reading pleasure, it is:


Bugged to the Max

Adirondack flies -

Mostquitoes and black,

Bite you in the front

And bite you in the back.

They bite you inside out

And upside down

And maybe even bite you

When you're six feet underground.

They bite first thing in morning

And all through the night,

Turning your peaches and cream complexion

Into a terrible sight.

They're a blight and a nightmare

That test mettle and nerve

And make us all wonder

What purpose they serve.

The serve one useful function

In our vast universe, sir:

Which is they make us all realize

Tropical dwellers have it worser.



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