Bite me.

The mosquitoes are brutal right now, and every time I go outside it's like an all you can eat buffet of my exposed bits. That's the one bad thing about living in the woods in upstate NY -- the black flies of spring hand off to the deer flies of summer, and the mosquitoes are just all the damn time. Once, last year, I had about four or five of them trying to suck the blood out of my steak as it cooked on the grill. That's hardcore blood suckage right there. You have to be serious about your meal to try that shit.

I actually used to use an insect fogger around the place, but it tended to kill the butterflies, too, which wasn't optimal when your wife has a giant flower garden and happens to really like butterflies. So I laid off the fog for the last couple of years, and the flying insects have made a magnificent comeback. I was trying to take a few garden pictures the other day and was absolutely eaten alive while doing so. On the plus side, as I was swatting and swiping and swearing, it reminded me of a story.

The Snitch, Houdini and I were in the back yard riding on the whirly bird, and even though Houdini didn't know it, we were trying to make him sick. We were having a difficult time of it though, because it was only the three of us and the thing was completely unbalanced. Every time we got up any sort of speed one of the legs would start coming off the ground and the whole thing would threaten to tip over. We really could have used Markie. With a fourth for balance, we could get that thing moving so fast Houdini would be begging us to stop.

The Snitch and I heard it at the same time, and looked at each other. A faint droning in the distance, a high-pitched whine that sounded a little like a cross between an electric drill and a coffee grinder; a sound that could mean only one thing.

"THE MOSQUITO TRUCK IS COMING!" The Snitch yelled, jumping off the whirly bird without warning, almost sending Houdini and me to the ground in a pile of twisted metal and bruised ass-parts.

We jumped off too, and followed The Snitch as he ran into the house. "THE MOSQUITO TRUCK! THE MOSQUITO TRUCK IS COMING!" he screamed again, like some sort of mid-70s version of Paul Revere.

We had a job to do, and we took it seriously. Whenever the mosquito truck threatened our neighborhood, it was our job to protect our house by running around and closing all the windows. If we didn't, the inside of our house would be filled with dense, white clouds of DDT. The truck would drive slowly down one side of the street, traveling at perhaps ten miles per hour, spouting enormous gouts of fog, then it would come back up the other side and do the same thing again, pointing in the opposite direction. Sometimes we'd catch a break and they'd start on the other side and the wind would be blowing away from our house, but usually they waited until dusk on the most stagnant days, and the fog could sometimes hang around for 30 minutes or more. We didn't have much time.

As we ran around slamming windows, we could hear the obnoxious whine getting closer. It was loud, and the sound bored into your head like a muted chainsaw stuck on full throttle. Houdini ran to the front bay window and closed the bottom sliders and yelled, "I think I can see the fog! Hurry!" You'd think we were in a monster movie or something, and if The Fog touched us, our skin would bubble up and our eyes would pop and we'd instantly be reduced to raw, smoking meat and bones. Actually, the real reason was because my mother hated the smell of the fog, and so we did everything in our power to make sure the house was sealed tight against the poisonous fumes. If we got them all closed in time, we felt like heroes. This time, we made it with minutes to spare.

We ran back outside as the truck turned the corner and headed toward us, belching smoke toward our side of the street. We grabbed our bikes, and waited. Well, the Snitch and I did. Houdini was still a little too young to be allowed to ride by himself on the street. The front door on the house across the street opened, and Markie ran down the stairs. He mounted his own bike, jumped two curbs, rode directly across our front lawn and joined us.

"You guys riding?" he asked, nodding toward the truck lumbering toward us.

"Yeah," I said. "Looks like it'll be a good one, too. It's really still outside."

As the truck crawled by, we watched as the giant cloud billowed slowly toward where we were waiting. The greasy, kerosene-like stink of the fog enveloped us, and even though it burned my eyes and made me cough a little bit, I sort of liked the smell. It was a weird combination of charcoal lighter fluid and bug spray and it smelled like summer. We all thought it was incredibly cool to be standing five feet away from someone you could suddenly barely see. Inhaling poison, but that's beside the point.

But hey, it was 1972. Who knew? They were just figuring out that cigarettes were bad for you. To my mother's credit, she told us that we weren't allowed to follow the truck, but sometimes we didn't listen. If she happened to be away at a neighbor's house, or if we were across the street at Markie's when we heard the distant whine, we'd close all the windows and do it anyway.

We pulled in behind the truck, pedaling hard to catch up. We were in a crowd of about a half-dozen other kids on bikes, and a few more just running behind. It was sort of a mess back there because nobody could see, and we tried to avoid running into each other. Not only were we blind, we were also deaf. The truck was incredibly loud when you were literally ten feet from the power nozzle that was blasting out the fog. I remember that you could feel some kind of warmth, but I'm not sure if it was the hot exhaust coming from the truck, the residual heat from the sun-baked pavement, or some by-product of the fog-making process itself.

"It's gonna turn down Broderick street!" Markie yelled over the incessant whine of the fogger jets. We already knew this, because we were watching the same truck Markie was, but we were so excited to be flying in a cloud that nobody even yelled out the standard retort, "No Shit, Sherlock!" As the truck turned, we hung back a bit, because it was fun to let it get a little ahead so the fog had a chance to build up. Then you could go a little faster and not worry about passing the truck.

We were following the truck down the street and had just started coasting down a slight hill, The Snitch directly to my left and Markie on the right. Markie was probably ten feet away from me, and the fog was so thick I could barely see the outline of him and his bike. Suddenly there was a crashing noise and Markie disappeared behind me. I heard him yell "SHIT!," and The Snitch and I reluctantly peeled off from the pack and turned around, moving back up the hill through the thinning fog toward Markie.

When we reached him, he was just picking his bike up off the street and checking out the front tire. "What the heck happened?" I asked. And then as the fog cleared from both the street and my brain, it all clicked.

"Car got in my way," he said, looking down at the scrape on his elbow.

He had ridden directly into a parked car, and it was awesome.

From then on, we always rode down the center of the street when inhaling our poison gas.

It was much safer.


  1. And we thought asbestos was safe too.

    I wish I could show you a photo from my dad's Facebook page of him as a toddler playing with a can of Flit insecticide like it is a toy (circa late '40s). Which means that instead of taking the poison away from the kid, one of my grandparents instead went and got the camera to take a picture of the scene.

  2. That was awesome. At least you were lucky enough to have a mosquito fogger come through your neighborhood. We just dealt with the damn mosquito bites.

    My parents sent us out after breakfast, we were allowed back in for lunch, then back out until dinner. After dinner, back outside until the "streetlights came on". There were five of us in a 3 bedroom house with no basement. Seven of us on the weekend. The last thing they wanted was for all of us to be in the house at any time, so that is why I can relate to your blog. Some of the things we did were a lot like what you experienced. We had woods...we had a creek we had cornfields...and we had a lot of fun. :) Thanks for bringing back the memories.

  3. It seems like there weren't nearly this many mosquitoes when I was young. Also, it didn't get so hot. Or, I was just young enough to be oblivious to all of that.

    I saw an ad the other day for some OFF thing you clip to your belt. Maybe they'll send you a free one if you offer to review it?

  4. I think every kid that lived in a community with a mosquito fogger did the same thing. We did, and if I recall, Hillary Clinton once admitted to doing it. You'd think that there should be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of premature deaths by (mostly) men in their 40's and 50's. My goodness, if the Russians had wanted to wipe out American youth, they could not have come up with a better plan.

    Your description of the experience is pretty much the way I remember it, although I don't recall anybody riding into a parked car.

  5. The mosquito truck still comes through our neighborhood. Next time I think I will grab my bike.

    A lot of people down here like these new propane mosquito catcher things. They seem to work well to trap all the mosquitoes within about an acre.

  6. There's a scene in "Tree of Life" which depicts a very similar thing. Though the movie is extremely obtuse, I think it's supposed to be one example of how random our ability to make it through life is. In your case, it's just a funny story.

  7. Kids today are so soft. We played with toxic substances for FUN on a regular basis, and we're still here! I'd write more, but the sixth and seventh fingers on my right hand are kinda sore today.

  8. Valgal10:24 AM

    Notice how there aren't any people commenting here on how they didn't survive being a kid... they must not be into reading blogs.

  9. kristina11:40 AM

    We led such a sheltered life - I do not recall playing in or with any toxic chemicals when I was I kid. I feel so left out...

    The mosquitoes were only bad when we went camping near somewhere swampy, and then we would be doused in OFF, which at the time had far higher levels of DEET than is currently considered safe for kids - does this count? ;)

    Poor Markie. It's amazing he didn't break a bone or two crashing into the parked car...

  10. Anonymous12:42 PM

    We played in concrete playgrounds with no padding, slid down metal slides that sat in direct sunlight (well slide, singe,slide scream...)and had no AC. They don't make em like us anymore!

  11. LMAO! That's awesome. We didn't have a mosquito fogger. Instead we built smudges. We'd find the oldest manure straw, pile it up, pour gasoline on it, and light it. The smoke was nasty but effective.

    (I now have a propane catcher and it works fairly well.)

  12. Anonymous4:05 PM

    I get eaten alive by mozzies in FL and after ruining many pedicures to DEET products, I figured that any product that dissolves nail polish probably shouldn't be applied to my skin, twice a day, year round. But iIstill have to get outside and walk the dog so I make my own:

    Witch hazel
    Eucalyptus oil
    Citronella oil
    Lemongrass oil
    Thyme oil

    It works for a good half hour and I don't feel like I'm killing 10,00 brain cells every time I apply. I smell vaguely like salad dressing, but I can live with that.

  13. Anonymous4:35 PM

    I *wish* they ran a mosquito fogger in my neighborhood. The "poison" factor was obviously overstated since there is no such thing as "DDT syndrome" today. Plus now there are all of these new mosquitos from Asia to deal with...

  14. Robin, that just made your dad tougher.

    Pixie, Yeah, I think it helped quite a bit, since we had a swamp behind our house.

    KC, I think you're right. The DDT worked. I'd review the crap out of it if it actually worked.

    Blair, it was a great american tradition.

    Chris, I dare you. Also, I'll need photographic proof. I wanted one of those propane deals, but they're not cheap. And don't you just hate it when your tail chafes against your waistband?

    Adam, I'm not sure what movie you're talking about. The one at Disney?

    Valgal, good point.

    Kristina, I still manage to buy 100% DEET, but I try to just use it on my clothes. I don't know why. I'm probably buying into some hype or other.

    Anon, you're right. Did you steal the Pledge from your mom to wipe down the slide? That was the best.

    CG- I think I'd rather get eaten alive.

    Anon1, thanks for the recipe. I'm going to give it shot. I used to have this stuff called Natrapel, which had a similar mix.

    Anon2, I do think the DDT thing was a bit overblown. I'm pretty sure they still use it in other countries, especially those in which malaria is a problem. I've read so many studies in both directions it's hard to decide which is right. I do think we gave up a very effective pesticide for sure.

  15. Anonymous8:06 PM

    Oh lawsy, I did the same thing! It's amazing we all don't have some oddball form of DDT-induced cancer...or that we're not permanently immune to any form of bug biting from the total absorption of that stuff into our skin!

    Good story, love it.

    Peace <3

  16. My Dad used to buy this stuff called firewax. You used it as charcoal starter. Like napalm in a can. One boring afternoon, I poured a long string of it down the middle of the driveway from the garage, to the street. It wasn't as spectacular a flame as I imagined it would be, until the can went up in flames, which I forgot to move from the wax trail. It took my attention from my sisters Barbie laying in the middle of the driveway, with the firewax necklace.

    Mom was mad.

  17. Our little community in the middle of rice land still has a fogger cruising around the streets. They warn us via tape phone message that it is coming that night. I'm too old to run around behind it on a bike but I am happy it is out killing bugs. Who knows what the results are? As a nurse I do know there are clusters of heart defects to kids born here but we aren't sure it has anything to do with foggers. Oh well - I prefer to not have mosquitos.

  18. Anonymous12:52 AM

    omg! I seriously thought my brother and I were the only kids in the world that did this!! We lived in Nebraska in the early
    70's and couldn't wait for the skeeter truck to roll down our block. I now live in Montana and often tell the story of our summers with the truck and the lightning bugs...gawd, i miss them both!!

  19. Anonymous11:28 AM

    Ahhh, the fond memories of running behind the mosquito fogger...good times! Houston in the 70's had some mosquito issues - do they still fog today?

  20. http://15minutelunch.blogspot.com/2011/07/bite-me.html

  21. That was supposed to be this:


  22. My cousin's had a whirly bird and I was sooo jealous.
    Love this story, it's a miracle we all survived.

  23. You tell your stories so well that I could almost smell that sickly sweet stench of mosquito spray in my nose and feel the heat circling me as that white fog of poison made me feel as if I was flying in a cloud...cough cough...I need my inhaler...

  24. I built a Bat house once and no bats came.

  25. Anonymous1:59 AM

    Oh Johnny, how I envy those mosquitoes, since they have the opportunity to snack on your exposed bits!

    I'd even settle for licking behind your knees.


  26. You know how they call the hasmat team in when someone breaks a thermometer in a school and close it down for a few days? Well, back in the 50's, our 5th grade science teacher had a HUGE beaker of mercury (probably 20 pounds of the stuff) and he nicked it on something and the mercury poured out in about 3 seconds and we all scrambled all over the place collecting it with him very firmly telling everyone to be SURE to turn all of it in, but when his beaker was refilled, it was only about half-full. Oh, and he very adamantly instructed us not to tell anyone about this. We had a blast playing with our purloined mercury for months, shining dimes and all other kinds of stuff until we lost it or used it up. As far as I can tell, none of us seemed to have any brain damage, but linking up with a lot of these old friends on Facebook, there seems to be an awful lot of slackers and addicts from our old group of school mates.

  27. Marvellous reading, especially for a city boy. Wonderful.