Nebraska Jones & the Temple of Doom

When I was a kid in Nebraska's capital city, we used to have bagworm infestations that came straight out of a Hollywood B movie. Bagworms love juniper bushes. They build themselves creepy hanging homes of chomped off juniper needles and bug spit that look like inverted ancient Cambodian temples in that Indiana Jones movie with Spielberg's new wife. The blond one. Not that she was necessarily a bagworm or even a gold-digger. Anyway, my dad would send we three kids out with buckets to pick the bagworm temples off the bushes. I don't know if he was eco-conscious, or just fiscally opposed to lawn chemicals. When we would get a good harvest, he would throw the buckets of bagworm bag-homes into the hot coals after broiling our Nebraska corn-fed T-bone steaks. The fire would make the bags seem to dance and sway while hissing a demented curse. Then the bagworms would emerge, glowing red hot and still taunting us. Decades later my dad admitted that this was probably too creepy for children to witness.

When I moved with my own tiny boys to Edmond, Oklahoma, I was amazed at the variety of nature's vermin in that place. Armadillos burrowed in my flower beds. Mice from the field across the crick invaded the house and left souvenirs in my shoes in the closet. Huge nutria lived in the crick. Tarantulas wandered casually around the infield during t-ball games. Outfielders stomped on fire ants when they weren't watching trains go by.

Plano, Texas, has plenty of annoying species. I'm not talking politics here, just the fauna, ma'am. Fire ants, killer bees, vicious diurnal black and white mosquitoes, and possums (that burrow under the condo foundation only to die there and have to be extracted at great expense). In the Nineties we had the Year of the Nauseating Brown Cricket Stench. We would drive into the parking lot of the Braums Dairy Store, and climb out of the soccer mom minivan into heaps of live/jumping and dead/stinking crickets. Business operators had to shovel them off the sidewalks near lighted doorways, and it's tough to find a snow shovel in Texas. The crickets attracted the grackles, another annoying species.

Plano is Texas Termite Country, with a big T, little e, r-m-i-t-e. We are still not talking about Dubya, Cheney, Dick Armey, or Governor Goodhair. This is swarm season for termites. Termite swarmings are good, in that they often provoke margarita parties for large groups of afflicted homeowners. The homeowners are desperate to escape their homes in much the same way as the termites. Termites devour tunnels ever upward through your home. When the teen termites start getting on everyone's nerves, the teens spread their wings and glide from the ceiling down toward the floor. If you are lucky, they do this in your open garage, and float away on the breeze. (Termites can't actually fly). If you are unlucky, the teen termites just glide from your ceiling to your floor and start wandering around. Imagine yourself in one of those big corn-poppers at the megamovieplex. Instead of exploding kernels, you are in a small, enclosed space with aimless adolescent insects using up all the cellphone minutes and leaving sweaty socks in the living room.

How, you are surely asking, does the annual termite swarm season affect the average Texas preschool art teacher? Thank you for your kind concern. In years past I taught in a wonderful school that had black and white checkerboard floor tiles. Some spring days during class, the teen termites would begin gliding down from the ceiling onto kids, paintings, teacher, and eventually floor. It is the job of the teacher to remain CALM, even though her skin is crawling, and she is remembering those health class warnings about flashbacks. Her students are off on the greatest hopscotch/sockhop/bug squish/ee-yew-ish mass distraction of all time. The memory is way too Lewis Carroll for comfort, and yet it still can't compete with barbecue bagworms.

Checkmate, and will we still be roasting marshmallows?

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