In 1980, I was in the sixth grade at Hickam Elementary School in Honolulu. Hawaii, being a tropical island, is home to a lot of insects. This explains the giant electric bug zapper that hung suspended from the ceiling of the cafeteria, I suppose.
But not really.
I mean, how disgusting is that? I recall many a lunch where I would be innocently working my way through a hamburger or a slice of pizza only to be interrupted by a loud, sizzling ZAP from that thing. Another one bites the dust, as Freddie Mercury once sang. As kids, we applauded and cheered whenever that happened, if we paid it any attention at all. It was just the background ambience we were used to, much like the chirping geckos that would crawl across the ceiling at two in the morning, or the ocean waves lapping at the sand in Waikiki. White noise. You tune that stuff out when it’s so commonplace. I half expected the cafeteria lunch lady to ask, would you like flies with that? when I walked by with my tray. Only now does the idea of an electric bug zapper twenty feet above our heads while we were eating strike me as not the most sanitary contraption in the world. It had a big aluminum trap surrounding it, but still. Kinda turns my stomach to think about. I’m sure the county health inspector long ago made the school get rid of it.
What a weird memory. I hadn’t thought about the bug zapper for a good couple of decades. It wasn’t until our garage sale a few weeks ago that I was reminded of it. There was this annoying bee that was dive-bombing me, and I reacted how any respectable man in his early 40s would.
I dashed around madly while flailing my arms. And though I’ll never admit it, I may have screamed like a little girl.
This customer, while scouring through our stuff, was amused by my freestyle dance moves. He mentioned a portable electric bug zapper that he and his family use on their patio. And just like that, the memory came flooding back.
Cafeteria. Mosquitoes. Zzzzt.
It was one of those recollections that made me pause. I wondered if it had, indeed, actually happened. Surely, there were sanitation rules in place – even thirty-two years ago – that would have prevented such a thing from being legal. And yet, I remember it clearly. Then again, rules and regulations weren’t so stringent back then. A couple of years before that we were living in Ohio, and our house was chock full of radon. They sent a crew through to treat that one winter, but we remained there during the whole process (and, besides, you can’t even eradicate radon – Tara (who is an expert in such matters) tells me at best they would have put up some type of vapor barrier). Which is rather scary considering the fact that radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, behind smoking.
I’m beginning to think it’s a miracle I’ve lived as long as I have.
The bugs in my food probably gave me some much-needed protein, at least.
Anyway, bugs are on my mind because we are going camping soon. Camping as in real camping. With tents and sleeping bags as opposed to the glam camping (call it “glamping”) trip I did with the kids and the ex-wife seven or eight years ago. That involved a cabin with a linoleum floor and a bunk bed and a door that locked. Now I’ve got a girlfriend who loves camping and a just-like-new tent that I have never used and, well, you can probably see where this is going. Suddenly we’ve got a two-night trip planned to the Panther Creek Wilderness, with nothing to protect us from ravenous mosquitoes and other creepy, crawly, possibly-biting insects besides a flimsy layer of canvas and a can of Off.
And yet, I’m excited about our trip. I’ve long considered myself an outdoorsy type. Two days in the woods, with myriad options to go hiking and fishing and sharing ghost stories around a crackling campfire sounds like fun. We’re bringing the kids, and when I told them we were actually going to be staying in a tent instead of a building with walls, they were rather surprised. Turns out they’ve never camped in a tent before.
Clearly, I’ve failed as a parent.
But I’ll be making up for that oversight in just a few short weeks, insects be damned! We made a “practice run” last week by using my portable fire pit to make s’mores on the patio. They were good, too. I hadn’t had a s’more in ages.
We may come back eaten alive, but I’m sure we’ll have the time of our lives anyway. I’ll just have to invest in one of those portable bug zappers beforehand. Ooh, maybe they’ll sell a radon-powered one! Then I’ll really be reliving my childhood.
I’ll just be sure to keep it a good distance away from our picnic table.
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