There are no insects outdoors in the wintertime. No leaping snow spiders, no white ants, no mosquitoes capable of drilling through a parka like a wildcat oilman certain there's got to be some Texas Tea around these parts. We forget about the bugs until summer comes, and the annual contest begins: The bugs seek to ruin our time outdoors, and we respond by trying to kill them in vast quantities. It sounds grim, but they started it. We're not sneaking up on mosquitoes and blasting an air horn in their ears.
Here are some bugs you will come to know and loathe, just as a reminder.
ISFs, or Infinitesimally Small Flies. I'm not talking about the mass of gnats you sometimes see in a sunbeam, but no-see-ums. They're also known as a "biting midge," which sounds a lot like a really sarcastic aunt you might have.
The bites can be quite painful, because nature likes to amuse itself at our expense. But the ISFs that plague me don't bite. They are very vague flies. They just hang around, letting their presence be known: "I could be biting you, but I'm not. So I guess we're friends?"
We are not. When you have a half-dozen flies circle your head every six seconds, you do what? Right: Wave your hands. Because that always works so well. You look like someone conducting an orchestra in his sleep — a French Impressionist piece, not anything Wagnerian — or a wine snob dismissing a waiter who suggested a substandard cabernet.
This is the mildest Bug Response, one or two on a scale that goes up to 50.
Bees. We seem to have an understanding with bees. They're useful, and as long as you don't bother them, you're fine. Wasps are different. They're the mean guy in the prison yard looking for someone to shiv. If a bee comes near, you can wave it off, but the wasp takes that as an insult and immediately vows a Sicilian vendetta.
Bee rank on the Bug Response: zero, if they do nothing, and 1,000 if they nail you.
Mosquitoes. You might be surprised that this isn't higher on the list, because they're our eternal foes. And you might think there is nothing that can be said about them that hasn't been said before. You would be wrong.
I have a new theory about mosquitoes: In some evil lab, scientists extracted skeeter DNA, tweaked it, injected it into humans, then put telephones in front of the subjects. The people who had skeeter DNA instantly picked up the phone, dialed a stranger and said, "I'm calling from Card Services. There's not a problem with your card, but. …"
"It works!" the scientists cried.
"We have created humans as annoying as mosquitoes! But can we do more?" They doubled the amount of skeeter DNA, and got a human willing to call old ladies and tell them that the IRS was on their way to arrest them for not paying taxes.
Finally! They had created the remorseless bloodsucker without conscience that the telemarketing industry had sought for decades. The good news is that when you slap a mosquito and turn it into bug mush, you can imagine you've just slapped the person who called your grandpa and told him his Windows computer was full of viruses and he had to pay $49.99 or it would delete all his grandkids' pictures.
Irritation rank on the scale of 1 to 50: 49.
The June bug. These revolting idiots are the dumb drunks of the insect world, flying down your shirt, banging into your face, all the while buzzing with a clatter that sets off some deep embedded panic signal in your brain. If a ladybug alights on your knee, you smile, admire its beauty and flick it off into oblivion. If a June bug sets down on your knee, and you have a gun in your hand, you will blow off your leg.
The other night I was typing away outside in the backyard, computer on my lap, legs up on the table, and a June bug banged into my neck. I almost threw the computer away like someone hurling a boomerang, because instinct screamed "get away" but financial preservation said "save the computer," and the end result of the conflicting instructions was to grab the laptop but bolt up and flail all available limbs.
Birch the Dog will snap at them — hey, flying snacks — but if he snares one, it's not a fun experience. It's like eating a joy buzzer. I've had one go down my shirt, and I think I invented a new dance on the spot; I ripped off my shirt so fast it was like fast-forwarding through a Chippendales routine.
There are other insects, of course, but these are the top candidates for summer grief. Remember, bats eat lots of bugs, and they don't go down your shirt. If we can figure out a way to make them attack telemarketers, maybe we can start answering the phone again.