Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hammers and Hardware: Bees

As I continue to head toward my career goal, and do my best to find alternative work in the job market, I will write about my construction/home improvement experiences, in posts that will be titled, “Hammers and Hardware.”

One of the worst things about working outside in the summer –actually, the worst –isn’t the heat, the sunburn, or the fact that if you fall off a ladder, there isn’t a snow bank to break your fall. Its bees.

I’m not talking about the docile European honeybees that couldn’t care less about what you’re doing with your life. I’m talking about yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, and a variety of other related stinging flying insects that look better smashed against a car bumper than flying around freely. They can’t be content with the production of honey. They’d rather circle around you like a shark –except that they’re circling around you on a 32-foot ladder, and not 32 feet under the water.

I have been stung twice on the job while working for my father, and take much satisfaction with the knowledge that there are two less bees in the world because when they stung me, they probably broke in half trying to get their stingers out of my skin. Being stung, as anyone can attest, isn’t the most enjoyable experience in the world.

On the way home from work one warm September afternoon, my father decided to go with the van windows down rather than the air conditioning on. I advised him of the absurdity of the idea, imagining a bee sweeping through the open window and hitting me in the forehead. He laughed and told me to put the windows down.

Halfway home, it happened. But the bee didn’t hit me in the forehead. The bee hit me square in the face, and got stuck between my glasses and my nose. Within the time span of about half a second, I pushed up my glasses, saw the bee –a yellow jacket –fall onto the seat, grabbed a towel, covered the bee up, and punched it into oblivion. And then punched it some more. And then a few more times to make sure it was dead. And it was.

At least, I was told, the bee hadn’t stung me.

I woke up the next morning and half my face was swollen. My lightning reflexes and surge of adrenaline had immunized me to the half-sting the bee must have given me –not enough to make me wince but just enough to disfigure my face.

One year, early in July, we stained a deck beneath which was a mulched-in garden. As we stained, I could swear I heard buzzing. And not just some buzzing, but a lot of buzzing.

My father told me I was probably hearing things, but I informed him my hearing was excellent. As I moved beneath the deck, I scoured with my eyes the beams above me, waiting to find some large nest of bees with their sights set on me. But there was nothing there. I continued along, staining, and then shifted sideways just slightly –and moved around some mulch beneath me. And then suddenly, dozens of bees leapt up from the ground, and I leapt away. Well, more like ran.

In the movies, you see swarms of bees coalescing around a given point. I wish I’d been in a movie. I decided to go stain another part of the deck, and warned my father that there were bees over where I’d just come from. He told me I was seeing things, and that I probably ran into a swarm of flies.

Those were not flies as he soon found out. For a year now, we’d been carrying around hornet spray. Whatever kinds of bees those were, he sprayed them. But I wasn’t convinced that he’d killed them all. So I went to work on the other side of the deck, and was promptly stung in the wrist by the sole survivor of my father’s well-deserved chemical attack.

If I could borrow a page from what has become a critical aspect of the foreign policy popularly known as “The Bush Doctrine”, I would wage preemptive war against all bees –except European honeybees. Such action proved invaluable the summer we decided to begin regularly carrying around bee spray.

We were cleaning out gutters on a ranch house. I cautioned that it might be a good idea to get up on the roof and check the gutters for bee nests rather than simply climbing up and finding out the hard way. My father laughed, so I went up onto the roof ahead of him from the side of the house without gutters, and observed a nest at one end. Before I could warn him, he’d flopped a standing ladder against the gutter, and the tenants of the bee tenement roared up into the sky. I dove onto the roof and sprayed. We both survived the incident unscathed.

By far the most alarming incident that involved bees involved a deck with a built-in bench. The bench required staining underneath. I’d been standing on the bench, sitting on the bench, staining the bench, but had not yet been underneath the bench. I’d seen no bees. But my ability to understand the evil ways of bees led me to believe that there was a bee nest underneath this bench. So I cautiously peered under one side of the bench. No bees. I cautiously peered under the other side of the bench. No bees. So I laid on my back and scooted under the bench- and came face to face with a nest and half-a-dozen yellow jackets. I flew out from under the bench, and sprayed the nest. I watched the bees drop dead, one-by-one.

I stood there, in the summer sunlight, resplendent in my preemptive victory over the bees. It was a stunning and decisive victory, perhaps rivaled only by Stonewall Jackson’s flank attack at Chancellorsville or the initial shock-and-awe invasion of the War in Iraq. The bees would not win that day.

But my victory was short-lived. I turned around to find my father staring at me. With an expletive, he asked, “What are you doing?” I figured he’d see the dead bees, see the problem that I’d narrowly avoided. But before I could explain my triumph, he succinctly growled: “Get back to work.”

I hate bees.


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