I didn't know where they came from. One moment I was mowing the lawn at a friend's house while he and his wife were on vacation, and the next I was surrounded by wasps.
The first sting was in my armpit. I thought a chunk of mulch had whipped out from under the mower, since I had just nudged up by the fence and flower bed. Another piece hit me in the ankle – OW! What was that? OW! Something just hit my arm! It took another sting in the armpit to put it together. Bees!
The last time this happened to me, I was rappelling off a rocky spire in Glenwood Canyon and stepped on a yellow jacket hive in the ground. It's funny to me how there is always a befuddled moment where I stand there, wondering what is happening. Apparently it takes three stings to catch on, right about the time the fourth sting is coming on.
I let go of the choke on the lawn mower and started waving my arms, retreating to the house. I didn't know what I was dealing with yet. For all I knew, I'd stepped on another yellow jacket hive in the thick grass.
"Soleille! Get in the house! Get in the house!" I yelled at the dog. She ran away from me, toward the lawn mower and the nests. She was more frightened of the crazy guy waving his arms and jumping around.
Slamming the door behind us, I sat on the floor with my back against the wall in the bathroom, sipping a glass of water while my heart slowed down. I was in a T-shirt and shorts – not the most ideal outfit for dealing with hostile nests. The most appealing option was to leave the nests alone. At that point I didn't even know where they were, or how many. That was step one: reconnaissance.
I cracked the door and peeked out like a snail from under its shell. I was terrified. I'd had a significant allergic reaction when the yellow jackets got me. My reaction didn't seem so bad this time, but I feared what might happen if I got any more stings. From the door I saw there was still a cloud of wasps hovering in the yard. I closed the door and waited some more. I searched the house for a can of Raid or anything I could use to kill the angry little bastards. Nothing. I rolled my eyes, softly cursing my friends for being such anti-chemical hippies.
Eventually I tiptoed out into the yard and saw that there were several nests between the slats of the fence, and the biggest nest was in the gate. Damn! I had to deal with them somehow. I couldn't leave them in good conscience. I imagined Danny and Wendy getting home late at night only to be lit up by a swarm of wasps as they entered their property. Besides, the lawn was half mowed, the mower was abandoned deep in enemy territory, and it was a community mower used by other neighbors on the block; I had to return it to its rightful spot one way or another.
Knowing what had to be done, I rummaged the tool shed. A soldier needs to understand his weapon capability before a strategy can be devised. My vast amount of bare skin was most concerning to me. Whatever I did would have to be fast and efficient.
I found a rug draped over a ladder next to the house. Armor! I thought. I could drape that around me for extra protection. Then I noticed a pressure nozzle on the garden hose. Weapon! All I needed now was something to bludgeon the enemy once I knocked it senseless with the water. That's when I saw the long, sharp metal spatula sitting on the grill.
I smirked at myself as I assembled my exact strategy. I felt like Macauly Culkin in the movie "Home Alone" where he's drawing his battle plan, preparing for the burglars to invade. I heard a military drum roll in the back of my mind as I positioned the hose so that it wouldn't snag on something in the midst of combat. I even rigged the front door so that I wouldn't have to turn the doorknob to get inside if I had to retreat.
Wrapped in the rug, hose and spatula in hand, heart beating in anticipation, I inched forward. A door opened behind me and an old Spanish-speaking lady stepped onto her porch to see what was going on. The building is a town home, so her residence was connected and she was very close to the action.
"You might want to go inside," I said. "I'm trying to deal with a wasp nest."
"No inglés," she said.
I made some gestures, pointing at the fence, but in the back of my mind, I knew how ridiculous I looked with the rug and hose around me. I might as well have had a colander on my head and been preaching about the flying spaghetti monster. The lady wasn't about to miss the show. She stayed where she was, looking on intently. Not only that, she pulled out her phone and started talking to someone. I imagined her telling a friend, "You should see this crazy gringo next door!"
Now with an audience, I picked up where I left off. I heard a chuckle and turned back once more to see the lady's little granddaughter was watching as well. Great. Well, here goes nothing. At least someone can call an ambulance is this goes wrong, I thought.
I got as close as I dared, perhaps three feet away from the big nest. I took some deep breaths, envisioning the chaos I was about to unleash. First the big nest, then work your way down the fence as fast as possible, smashing all the insects you can as fast as you can, I told myself. Many of the wasps were clustered on the nests in big balls of black and yellow. I took another deep breath and squeezed the trigger.
The plan worked better than I'd dared to hope for. SMACK! SMACK! KICK! I dropped the rug in my blitzkrieg. I was Bruce Lee. Anything that stirred was dead. I was a gyrating ball of shoes, hose and spatula. Schwing! The metal blade reverberated with every slice and strike. I was going to make it!
Victory was at hand, but the wasps kept coming, though in smaller numbers. I kept them pinned down with the water and then smashed them any way that was fastest. As the dust settled, I thought the battle was over several times, and even put down my weapons to look around. Then I would see three wasps regrouping on a fence post next to me – I bent down and picked up a rock, smashing them just as they looked up to see their imminent doom. Katcha!
The lady came over with her granddaughter and a young grandson who spoke English.
"Were you fighting a snake," he asked.
"No, wasp nests. See?" I picked up a piece of the nest and placed it on a fence post. "There's still larvae in it – watch." I smashed it with the spatula. White and yellow guts spat out. The old lady jumped back with her kids: "Ew!"
I got stung again on the knee, right at the moment. I couldn't help but marvel at nature's knack for karmic retribution.