Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Go, Jackets!

Sometime around Labor Day it becomes impossible to eat peaceably in sidewalk cafés.  The yellow jackets are out in force.  I suppose it is not impossible if you are just a regular unattractive human being.  I happen to be married to someone whom I accuse of being made completely of sugar and spice and everything nice, so attractive he is to all creatures that bite and sting.  A mosquito in our house can buzz around indefinitely and sense that I am as tasteless as cardboard.  The same mosquito will dart straight for Joe and leave him looking as if he has measles within half an hour. 

We avoid outdoor eating in the fall.  And somehow we’ve never managed quite to discern the day and hour when the yellow jackets will invade, so we have to experience each year a Day of Trauma before we pack it in and go inside.  It isn’t safe to sit outside again until perhaps late November. Then it’s too cold anyway.

Today, however, I went alone to lunch at Le Caprice, our favorite neighborhood café.  As its name suggests, it is a French establishment, laden with all manner of good breads and desserts, with an attractive menu including soups, salads, and sandwiches.  The weather was beautiful after four or five dreary misty days.  I decided to eat outside, knowing the risks full well.

My friend Bill MacKaye was to join me.  I was prepared to relocate should he determine that the yellow jackets were too bothersome to tolerate.  It turned out that, once he acquired his lunch and joined me outside, he was even less bothered by the yellow jackets than I.  My general approach to yellow jackets is to set something sweet down a short distance from me, so that they will get their needs met without bothering me.  Ah!  The little dish that contained raspberry vinaigrette was exactly the thing to lure them.  I set it down, unfortunately to little avail.  

One yellow jacket, about halfway through our meal, discovered my Coke bottle and flew inside it.  I said goodbye to the Coke at that point, about a quarter of a cup of it left in the bottle. 

The poor yellow jacket, like so many of earth’s creatures, simply did not know how to stop himself.  Within seconds he looked a little like a downed plane that had crash-landed in the inky waters of a Low Country lake.  Splashing about, he created in the syrupy liquid the semblance of undulating waves of a dark sea.  He was soon unable to do anything but lap (or whatever bees do) the substance between (I presume) final gasps that accompanied his ultimate demise. 

I screwed on the cap out of respect.

Bill and I continued our conversation over this little bottled-up tragedy happening before our averted eyes.  We talked of many things, some of them important, even critical to us both.  We finished our conversation.  I had to go.  I cleared the table, took our dishes inside, dropped the Coke bottle and its captive into the trash. 

Now, hours later, I am recalling how as a child I used to imagine that creatures like ants, butterflies, frogs—even sometimes the beans I was shelling or the peanuts at the bottom of a pack—had personalities, consciousness of a rather human sort whereby they knew when they were spared being killed or stepped on or eaten, as the case may be.  In my tiny world, everything seemed to matter before I learned the fine art of extermination.

I wonder, really, if there is any such thing as a death that does not matter.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2016

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