SUMMER OF WASPS
Chapter 3: You’ll Catch More Flies with a Fly Killing Machine
“Arlene?” I asked, “Cashier Arlene?” We had gotten to work a little early and had enough time to walk down to Sancho’s Market for some lunch before it was time to open the pool. We kept to the middle of the street, shuffling past the rows of cramped little houses, each bordered in chain link fence.
“Yeah, Cashier Arlene,” said Frankie. “You should, you know, ask her out or something.” Frankie thought most girls who crossed our paths deserved to be asked out, if not by him, then at least me.
“Well, she’s, you know, pretty and all, but I don’t know.”
“C’mon man, didn’t you see those shorts she was wearing?”
“Well, yeah, but—”
“James … James…” he said, sounding like a sultry Bond Girl. “It’s like she can’t help just saying your name or something – she’s hot, man. I could talk to Gina. Set you up.”
“You know?” I wanted to change the subject, “I think we should buy a second flyswatter, so we’ll be able to kill twice as many flies by Friday.”
“Man, we’ll never win that way. We need a better plan.”
“Like finding a dead dog.” He motioned up ahead to a pack of mutts crossing the street a few blocks away from us.
“Those dogs aren’t dead,” I pointed out.
“Yeah but, it seems like there’s always a dead dog lying around here somewhere. Maybe later we could drive around and look for one.”
“And then what? We still have to kill the flies.”
“You ever seen a dead dog that’s been lying on the side of the road for a few days?” he asked.
“There’s so many flies on a dead dog; it’s just black with them. You can’t even see it anymore. And if it’s busted open, then there’s even more on the inside.”
“Okay, then what? We still have to catch the flies.”
“Well we could get a big—”
“No, I know! We could gas it with a can of bug spray, and then just sweep up the dead flies!”
“Now you’re thinking!”
And I was. By the time we reached Sancho’s Market, I was seeing flies everywhere: on some overflowing trash cans next to a house we passed, still more humming around the group of men sitting in front of the market sipping from their wrinkled brown bags, and even a few crawling along the underside of the glass deli counter inside the store.
We watched in silence as the girl filled and wrapped our carne asada burritos, and I’m positive we were wondering the same thing: How many flies can one of those things attract? Pulling myself from the fly-filled trance, I turned to face Frankie and I saw it … like a fluorescent blue halo glowing benignly above the matted, bed-head curls of his brown hair.
Actually, it really was a florescent halo glowing above him. A humming electric blue fly-killer mounted like a caged light-saber on the wall above the butcher’s table. I could only point, and at the moment Frankie turned, a white spark of energy signaled the death of yet another fly. Its weightless corpse drifting invisibly downward to join the countless dead gathered in the bin bellow.
“How often do you clean that thing out?” Frankie asked the girl behind the counter. She followed the direction of his excited gaze to the light behind her.
“The bug zapper?” she asked, curling one side of her nose.
“Yeah, the bug zapper.”
The other side of her nose curled, her jaw dropped a little, opening her mouth, and one eyebrow went up. The look on her face could only mean one thing: never.
“Can we do it?” Frankie asked. “Clean it out for you?”
“It’s for a bet,” I said. “It’s a long story.”
“Sounds like a stupid bet.”
“Please,” said Frankie.
She returned from a back room a minute later followed by a large sweaty man in a dirty grey polo shirt. He walked around to the front of the counter and stopped chewing on whatever was in his mouth long enough to look us both over. His gaze rested on our wrinkled red and white uniform shorts for only a moment before continuing down to the cheap plastic sandals under our dusty feet. With no apparent change to his disinterested expression, he turned and walked back the way he’d come. Over his shoulder he said gruffly, “Don’t make a mess,” before disappearing into the back room.
The corpse bin of the bug zapper was easy enough to remove and, just as we’d imagined, near overflowing with dead flies. The girl, Myra, who it turned out, went to our school, rinsed out an empty one-gallon plastic mayonnaise jar and we filled it almost to the top. Along with the flies we discovered an assortment of other dead bugs, as well as a considerable amount of fine grey dust. Frankie sneezed, scattering a few flies into the air and tossing up more dust. “We’re going to have to clean these off,” he said.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “after work.”
After work came sooner than we expected.
An hour and a half later we had to tell the last five kids still swimming in the pool that we were sorry, but they had to leave because there weren’t enough swimmers to stay open, and if we didn’t close we’d lose our jobs. We had nine paid swimmers in all, just three short of the required twelve. “Three people, three dollars,” I said out loud as I put my signature on the day’s report and handed the clipboard back to Marion. “That’s about what I paid for my lunch today.”
“Should’ve saved your money,” she said, pulling out the three-ring binder that held our bi-weekly time sheets. She flopped it open to her time sheet, wrote in the time, and then without turning the page, spun the book about and shoved it across the counter to me. I turned the page over without looking at what she’d written and, checking my watch, wrote in the exact time, to the minute. Frankie was still outside on the deck, but I knew she wouldn’t leave until he’d also signed out, so I turned to his time sheet and wrote in the same time.
“You know what?” she said, and her voice was like paper tearing. “This job isn’t just play money for me. I have grown children. I have bills to pay.”
“I’m sorry Marion,” I said, taken aback, “but it’s not my fault.”
“It isn’t?” She picked up her purse and the cash bag and walked out from behind the counter.
“What can I do about it?”
“Well you’re the pool manager aren’t you?” she demanded, as she thrust the cash bag into my hands. “Maybe you should think of something.”
Later of course, I would think of an appropriate response, but right then I didn’t care. We had some flies to clean.
We began by pouring about a handful of the dead flies into the blue skimmer net Frankie had removed from its pole, and then carefully picked out the other insects mixed among them. The moths and cockroaches were easy enough to get by grasping a wing, leg, or antennae with our fingertips, but the wasps and bumblebees we removed with a pair of tweezers from the pool’s first-aid kit on account of their stingers. Then we ran water gently over them from the hose, removing the grey film of dirt. The more dust we removed though, the more obvious it was that these flies did not exactly look the same as the ones currently buzzing around our faces.
“They’re bigger,” Frankie noted, “and… green.”
He was right; their fat black bodies had a kind of metallic blue-green sheen to them, like the two-tone paint on a low-rider car. “Maybe they’re maggot flies,” I offered.
“Man, all flies are maggot flies.”
“You think they’ll notice?”
“Probably,” he said turning one over in the palm of his hand, “but… we can’t help it if that’s just the kind of flies we have out here. Right?”
Yeah, what would they know? A dead fly is a dead fly, we reassured ourselves. An hour later, sifted and clean, our flies now filled the mayonnaise jar about half way, much more than we would ever need to win.
NEXT WEEK: Chapter 4: Geronimo’s Last Jump and the Battle in the Break Room
LAST WEEK: Chapter 2: Never Count Your Money While You're Sittin' at the Table