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God’s Creatures, Maybe, but They Bug Me

Ants are a common concern. You have them at your home. I have them in mine. And not just in the kitchen--but on the sofa, in my car and, sometimes, in my pants.

Fleas are another problem. The new kitten, Killer, is so infested that I’m thinking of renaming him Victim.

Then there are the black flies, the swarms of so-called “buffalo gnats” that have tormented golfers and other early-morning visitors to Griffith Park and the Sepulveda Basin. The little kamikazes swarm at our faces--in our eyes, our ears, our nostrils, our mouths.

My response has been primal.

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I’ve killed them. I killed as many as I can.

Normally, I do not consider myself a violent man, and capital punishment has long made me uncomfortable. But ants, fleas and flies are deserving exceptions. In the last few weeks, as the heat has driven the pests indoors, I have killed thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. In fleeting moments I’ve considered the morality of my deeds, but I haven’t lost any sleep. When they invade my home or my backswing, Darwin’s law kicks in. It’s me or them.

The desire to kill insects is, no doubt, a deep aspect of human nature. I really don’t think my bug blood lust has anything to do with the summer I interned at Field & Stream magazine. Most of us would agree that the only good ant is a dead ant. Ditto for fleas and flies. Oh, I’m all for the balance of nature and the rest of it. But the thing about these critters is that no matter how many you snuff out, there will always be more.

Sometimes I kill them in bunches, sometimes one at a time. I’ve spritzed whole battalions of ants with Raid, slaughtering hundreds with one blow. One hot day last week, I went to extremes. I closed the windows, detonated a set of pesticide “bombs” in strategic locations and evacuated the premises. It was not a good day for the ant race.

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Killer, of course, was evacuated as well. Upon re-entering the house, I immediately bathed him in a solution that is supposed to kill fleas. The ungrateful pussycat squirmed and clawed and bit and generally made me wonder if I shouldn’t have left him indoors for the fumigation. Then he looked at me and meowed and made me feel guilty for such thoughts.

Grooming Killer, I must admit, provided a certain perverse pleasure as well. I would locate a blood-fattened flea and trap it between my thumbnails, dispatching it with a satisfying pop. (Several fleas, by the way, were discovered holed up happily under his flea collar. Unfortunately I can’t remember the brand, because I’d want everyone to know that it doesn’t work.)

I must have taken on, mano a mano, or perhaps mano a pulga, about 50 fleas in recent weeks. Those that did not die honorably ran like cowards. But their time will come.

I’ve killed, I’m quite sure, even more buffalo gnats--the little pests that prompted golfers to wear a mosquito-net hood on the course. You may have heard that these black flies, unlike the ants and fleas invading our homes, have propagated into immense numbers thanks to progress in cleaning reclaimed water that flows in the Los Angeles River. And most of us thought clean water was a good thing.

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If I should find myself trying to explain my recent behavior on Judgment Day, I would point out that, at least in regard to the black flies, my actions were not premeditated. Usually it was just a reaction. I’d be standing over a short putt worth $2 in skins and a damn bug would buzz into my ear, and I’d slap. Pure reflex. Sometimes a fly would die, sometimes not. The satisfaction I felt in executing fleas might have stemmed from the harassment inflicted by the black flies.

It wasn’t pleasant picking dead flies from my hair, my eyes, my nose. It was less pleasant spitting them out or, worse, swallowing them. Lacking a mosquito hood, I eventually decided to just leave my body littered with their little, black carcasses. Maybe they would take the hint and leave me alone. They didn’t, but at least I can tell God that I tried to warn them.

I would also tell him about an incident Friday morning. We were playing at Woodley Golf Course, a place that two weeks ago was infested with black flies, albeit not as severely as the Griffith Park course. On Friday, however, the flies were gone.

Last I’d heard, authorities were planning to introduce a bacterium into the river to kill flies in the larval stage. Whether that was done or some angry golfer dumped toxic waste in the river I can’t say. All I know is that, on this particular day, I couldn’t blame my lousy score on the bugs.

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On the 18th tee, however, a black fly--a solitary survivor--landed on my shirt. I thought about smashing it. These flies are slow, and it would have been so easy. Instead, I brushed it off and watched as it flew away.

“Sweet mercy,” Shakespeare wrote, “is nobility’s true badge.”

So if it came to that, I’d tell God about that fly.

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But I’m not really sure I did the right thing.

Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.


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