Yellow Jackets


Yup, they’re still here. Will they never die? Admittedly, they aren’t as bad as they were. The ones that get in now are confused, twitchy, and not long for this world. But they still have enough oomph to make it to my bathroom, where they crawl around on the rug, or the covered toilet seat. Brrr. That’s the scariest place they’ve been. Pierce Tattoo did say to call him back if they were still coming in after a week, and it’s been two, but I have a confession to make: I am more afraid of chemicals than of yellow jackets. Yup, just fifteen minutes south of Love Canal and I have a HUGE fear of man-made chemicals: insecticides, herbicides, defoliants…I’d rather swim with sharks. At least I can see the sharks coming. At least I can fight back against the shark, punch him in the eye, growl in my snorkel (that scares them away every time–add that tidbit to your “if I’m ever attacked by a shark” mental file). But chemicals? They are silent, deadly, insidious, and I hate them with the most irrational of fears. They poison the air we breathe, the soil in which we grow our food, the water supply on which we all depend. Did you know that delousing shampoo is one of the worst water polluters of all? One tiny bottle of it can utterly contaminate something like 20,000 gallons of water? (Okay, I’m not giving reliable facts now, just promoting my fear. I’ll try to get actual stats and get back to you.) ANYway, as bugs go, the yellow jackets squash with a really satisfying little “pop” under the shoe. They aren’t messy, squishy diers at all. And I tell myself that my karma won’t be damaged because they were dying anyway, and I’m just putting them out of their misery. But my dear husband is so frustrated he’s ready to pull down the wall and see just what lies behind it. Not me, though. No way, Jose. Too many chemicals have been sprayed back...

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So, we called around, holiday weekend and all. Orkin wanted $269, starting price. Another place wanted $150. Finally we found a local place that would do it for between $95 and $140. And they would come right away. Hallelujah. By 3:15 the cats were getting hungry and giving me disgusted looks at the closed door that separated them from their food, so I snuck in for the food bag–their regular bowl was aswarm with yellow jackets–and gave them a small bowl of food on this side of the buzzing door with the sign that read “Do NOT open!” lest anyone forget what lay–flew–on the other side. Both my cats were born on the same day as I was, and they have many of my stubborn Taurus tendencies; had they been able to work the knob, I have no doubt they would have been in there attempting to eat around the bugs. The exterminator arrived around 3:30. He was a young guy, very polite, and covered with tattoos and piercings. There was a large celtic cross on his left forearm, a ring of flames blazing from his right wrist up to his elbow, and several more that I could see disappearing under his sleeve or peeking out from his neckline. He had a short buzzed haircut and at least three silver hoops in one earlobe (I forgot to look at the other). Suffice it to say, the man obviously has a fondness for things piercing his skin, so it seemed perfectly natural that he would be here to rid me of a hive of stinging creatures. He was fearless. He sprayed in the laundry room (after I removed the clean stuff, shaking off the yellow jackets first) and then shut the door, phase one complete. Phase two involved spraying the nest from outside, squatting low (hoping, no doubt, to be less noticeable), swatting them away from his head, spraying again, studying, spraying, studying, spraying. The whole thing looked very Zen from inside my closed second-story window. Then he applied a powder, statically charged, that would cling to the opening and to the yellow jackets. He said, “They groom themselves like cats, so they will ingest the powder when they try to clean it off.” Who knew? Yellow jackets are like cats. Huh. I still don’t like them. But the exterminator? Him, I like. My new favorite person. Thank you, Mr. Pierce Tattoo. You have saved us from the yellow jacket hordes. And in my case, from myself. Later that evening, I vacuumed up 487 yellow jacket carcasses, some still twitching ominously. What? Of course I counted, are you kidding? And...

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I arrived home to a yellow jacket infestation. I’ve heard about the giant nests appearing this year, to the bafflement of entomologists, but never thought I’d be this close to one. At first, they were just appearing in our basement laundry room–occasional, groggy fellows that we sucked up with the vacuum or dropped in the toilet with a tissue. We wondered how they were getting in, but didn’t stress over it too much. Then one day, Len turned on the light in the basement only to have ten or so swarm the light (they are attracted to light–natural or artificial). Bravely, he turned on the vacuum and sucked them up mid-flight. It became a game, of sorts, and I quickly learned to do the same. With the sleight-of-hand required, and the threat of mortal injury, it was almost like a video game. Three more days elapsed. Then, yesterday, I was trimming the front shrubs (manually, in a Mary-Scissors-Hands fashion since our electric trimmer recently bit the dust), getting closer and closer to the end of the bushes, back aching from the strain of using dull clippers, when I was distracted from my work by a small swarm of flying creatures. I had found the yellow jackets’ entrance to our house. Three holes in the molding between the first and second floors of my split-level home were their entry-exitway, and it was Grand Central Yellow Jacket Station, I must say. Busy, busy fellows, they were. In and out three and four at a time. Fortunately, they were merely menacing me with fly-bys, and not yet attacking. (I have since learned that when one yellow jacket stings you, it emits a pheromone that sends any nearby nest-mates into a similar stinging frenzy and they will attack anything that moves, favoring the head and face. And unlike bees, who can only sting once because they have a barbed stinger that stays in you, yellow jackets have a straight stinger and can happily sting again and again and again.) Needless to say, I stopped trimming. Well, for a few minutes, anyway. I am a single-minded perfectionist who really likes to finish what I start, so I edged back in and got those few annoying stray tendrils that make a bush look like it has a bad haircut. The yellow jackets buzzed me, but didn’t strike. What’s the old saying? The Lord looks after idiots and small children? Fortunately I fall into the former category and so you will not be reading about me in the listing of next year’s Darwin Awards. I called Len, told him about finding the opening and we agreed...

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