It started because of nice weather. Spring is the season for flat squirrels in the road and cats bearing dead mice, of mating or at least hooking up, and of taking stock - in this case, taking stock of a problematic centennial white oak that's way too close to my modest dwelling, but is also a local landmark, a thing of great beauty and inspiration. It's also home, recently, to a colony of enormous European hornets.
European hornets are large, scary, noisy, diurnal and nocturnal insects. It is this latter feature that makes them so unnerving for me. While they are not aggressive like the giant cicada killers that live in the ground but do not sting, the Eurohornet can sting when in a bad mood. Unlike the far smaller yellowjackets, which can sting vengefully and multiple times, the Eurohornet is not necessarily out for trouble. However, being nocturnal and attracted to light, they will come to the patio, bash themselves against a lighted window, or just let themselves in and make serentiy impossible until one of us is dead. This happened almost every night the past summer, and so far I'm alive and many of them perished in the attempted occupation of my house. Here is one of them now
This past summer, while dutifully cleaning up an overgrown flower bed next to my driveway, I ran afoul of a formerly unrecognized in-ground nest of yellowjackets, those banes of picnics and cookouts. They are smart. They did not attack the weedeater, but went after me, the one who is allergic to them, and began to attach themselves, biting to hold on, while stinging repeatedly. My impulse was to move away, and since I didn't want them following me into my own garage I headed for the street. Oh. When I have a reaction to a sting I ususall just drop like a rock. I was hustling for the intersection when this happened, so was moving forward onto very rough asphalt. I came to crawling on my hands and knees with big hunks of my left kneecap, left elbow and the heel of my right hand missing. The meatbees (as they are known in Southern California) were gone. So, nearly, was I. Crawling back to the house, I staggered inside, found the EpiPen and used it. Did I mention I have an old and quiescent but signifcant cardiac history and frequent cardiac arrhythmias? All this is generally not a problem at all, but after jamming an amp of epinepherine into my leg I figured there could be some fireworks. The EpiPen worked, but I was all bloodied up and missing chunks of flesh, still weak and now shaky and buzzing as well, so I dialed 9-1-1 (always do this if you're allergic and get stung, even if you have an EpiPen. There is a significant risk of delayed second reaction). I was observed, banadaged, laughed at, and sent home via my cousin, the one who asked me, seven years ago, after a stepladder had flipped out from under me while changing a lightbulb in the master bath of my then-home in Laguna (which action caused me to fall forward into the wall on the far side of the bathtub and subsequently slide down the wall, breaking my left shoulder in the process) "What are you doin' up on ladders at your age?" to which I had replied "I beg your pardon!"
Yes, the tub was empty. Everyone asks. I may be crazy but I'm not stupid. I also heal quickly, and that was the first longbone fracture in my life. I think that's pretty good, considering the number of contemporaries disabled as early as high school by varsity sports (including one high school senior who actually lost a leg due to complications from a fracture caused by a rough tackle - so age has what, exactly, to do with this?).
Cousin this time just shook her head and said nothing.
Your reporter, back home after the yellowjackets beat and robbed me
So while the yellowjackets are diurnal and I was able to sneak up on their nest at night soon after the attack and kill them beyond dead, I cannot abide the nightly summer visits from giant hornets. Besides, I already know they will sting. You see, one day a long, long time ago, I was driving through a local park when I heard a loud click! like unto the sound made by a stray piece of gravel hitting the windshield. Nothing happened, so I ignored it.
Until a few minutes later, that is. When I suddenly felt what seemed to be a flame-heated needle penetrating the area of my left testicle, and was forced to raise myself from the driver's seat - while yet driving - and looked down to see if a spring had popped through the upholstery. This is when I saw the giant European hornet saunter out from underneath me. This explained the loud click. He'd hit the windwing and was directed directly to beneath my middle parts, taken offense, and stung the first available part, right through my Levis.
Well sweet bleedin' Jayzuss! I have felt pain in my life (as you can probably guess, but will understand even better before we are done) and that was among the most equisite of them ever felt. I'm not sure if it was anaphylaxis or the kicked-in-the-nuts reflex or both, but I became quite weak and faint, and started to grey out. Only the fantastic pain kept me from passing out as I carefully put my left leg out the driver's side window and drove that way the next quarter mile to the conveniently located emergency room where I was quite well known already. I hobbled in, told the triage nurse I'd been stung and was allergic, and was rushed back to a cubicle to be given a shot. A nurse asked me where the sting was located. I said "It's not important, just gimme the epi." She insisted "We have to actually see the site of injury first, you know that. So I showed her. She started to laugh. I did not. She went and got another nurse. I remember her pointing at my nether regions and the two of them laughing. Then a doctor came by, chewed them out, and I had my shot.
My sperm count was halved by that incident. It is a miracle I fathered my third and final child. I hope she appreciates how unlikely it is that she is here on the planet.
So I cannot, like this guy in the video, play with the hornets, much as I'd like to.
Notice what they've done to that ordinary tree trunk. Well they've eaten at least four times as many condos in the base of my big oak tree, and each is about a cubic foot (estimated, since I can't really see the insides of them). Supposedly they do not come back to the same nesting place every year, but hell, when it's already built, I'm not taking any chances. Besides, the tree has been seriously undermined by these devils, and is within a dozen feet of my house. If it were to give out during a strong wind or heavy snow, there's no way it wouldn't wind up on top of me as I lay in my bed. I have no doubt that's how things would time out. So I have to retain an arborist at once and hope the thing can be saved. I know what will happen to the hornets. I don't know what will become of the tree, and this part is really sad, because I do love that monstrosity (it is at least 60' tall, maybe more, and about 3' around at the base).
So while I've never had a piano fall on me, I do have a history of accident proneness, and some of it is not my fault (the above insect-related stuff), but some of it maybe is. Like the time I resolved to remove a sizeable limb from a tree at my old house (the Silver Spring, MD bunglalow pictured in another post here, "Climate of Hunter"). I had not the resources nor cash to have the limb taken down, but figured I could do this one myself. I would climb a ladder, tie a tow rope to the limb, use a bow saw to cut it to the pont where it would start to give, pull it away from the fence it would other wise fall on, while jumping backward off the ladder. Then I'd climb back up and cut the proximal end loose, drag it to the driveway, and throw it into my truck for disposal by moonlight on someone else's property. Yes. I can see the problems now, hindsight being 20/20.
I had it all planned out. I even took a cordless phone with me, in case I found I needed help from my 12 year-old daughter who was inside doing her homework. I'd thought of everything.
When the plan went into action and I, the tow rope wrapped around my right wrist, jumped backward off the ladder, I hit some wet grass and fell on my butt. I watched from the ground, to be sure the limb would not fall onto the fence. The tow rope was rather slack. Then I realized the limb, still with some rudimentary attachment to the tree, was swinging horizontally toward me.
I did not estimate, quickly enough, how far it would come nor how long it would take me to get up from the muddy, slippery ground.
The limb fell, branched end first (mercifully) on top of me. It wasn't dense enough at that end to break anything (like ribs) but it was heavy. I couldn't seem to wriggle out from under it. I was perplexed, and looked around for neighbors, who I am convinced were watching and laughing somewhere. No one came forth to help get it off me, though. Then I remembered the phone. I dialed the house's business line, knowing Adele could probably drag the thing, with my help, to where I could get up out of the mud.
"Hi. It's dad. I have a problem."
"The limb fell on me and I can't get out from under it."
Time passed. The sun started to lower in the sky. I decided I would have to make a hurculean effort to pull myself out. This is where skin was lost and much mud became attached to me. But I did get out from under, and went straight inside to ask why my child had not come to assist me, why she had laughed and hung up. She looked up and her had went to her mouth, her eyes got big, and she said, reasonably enough, "I thought you were kidding."
"Never assume that again. Please."
You see, there had been other incidents. Countless ones. They started when I was two and stood up in my high chair and promptly fell over the side, big head first, breaking my nose on the handy radiator. That was the first of three breaks of the nose. Like I said, never a long bone til I was eligible for senior discounts on stuff. But the nose? Oh yes. Like once when a guy drove from California, all the way across the country without incident, to turn left in front of me at a blind intersection, where we collided head-on. Second nose fracture.
Once, while driving past the hospital where they laughed at my mighty sword after the hornet had its way with me, I depressed the clutch of my Dodge Dart, only to find it did not come back up. I couldn't shift. I couldn't do much of anything in fact, so pulled to the shoulder, where I cursed as I tried to pull it up from the floormat with my fingers. It would not move. I loudly shouted some choice obscenities, went to the trunk and got the tire iron. I would pry it loose and be on my way. I pushed the pointy end down into the carpet and pried. All I heard was the ripping of carpet. My priorities badly skewed, I decided I didn't want to rip the carpet, so I turned the tool around and placed the curvy socket end under the pedal where there was some space. I couldn't pry that way, so tried pulling with it.
Did I say "curvy end"? On carpet? Needless to say, it slipped, and when it did, the pointy end that was facing my face came at me with all the power I had put into pulling on it, the point striking me over the right eyebrow. It hurt, I cursed, and then blood cascaded into my eye so I couldn't see. Screaming supernatural curses, I reached into the back seat where there was a box of Kleenex, grabbed a handful, pushed the wad into my eye to catch the blood, and began the walk to the friendly local ER. I walked in and up to the triage nurse, who had her nose buried in paperwork.
"Pardon me," I began," but I hit myself with a tire iron, and I think..."
She looked up, saw the big wad of bloody kleenex I was holding on my right eye to keep the blood out of it, and screamed "Oh my god, he's put out his eye!" and went running, presumably for someone with a stronger stomach.
For a moment there I actually smiled. That was almost good accidental guerilla theater.
Stitches were in order, as was the admonition "You could put out your eye that way!" Well yes, I suppose so. It seemed to be my mission in life.
Then there had been the lunch hour home improvement mudroom project (same house). The very first nail I drove (while standing on a chair at 90 degrees to my work, something you must never do), bent. I curse, flipped the big Stanley hammer around to use the claw to pull out the cheap, soft, stupid nail. I was working at an angle, so it took much more effort to pull that nail, that soft, bendable, stupid nail.
And the the head came off the nail, and I realized I was pulling toward my face a large, heavy Stanley claw hammer with an orange handle, and that I was likely about to die. "What an incredibly stupid headline..." I thought, before the lights went out. I came to on the floor, hammer in my hand, dazed and confused, my face aching to beat hell. I placed my hand over my mouth, convinced all my teeth and much of my cheekbone would probably fall out if I didn't hold the mouth shut. I vaguely understood what had happened, and went to the phone, convinced I was mortally wounded. I dialed 9-1-1, then realized that in my confusion I had dialed 4-1-1, hung up and wandered to the bathroom, where I looked in the mirror.
I looked like me. I removed the hand. No mark, just a slight pink spot on the cheek (it turned out the cheekbone was fractured, but as the doctor so kindly put it later when I asked what should be done for it, "You want me to splint it?). I opened my mouth. Nothing fell out. Then the phone rang. I absently answered it, as my brain started to clear. "This is 9-1-1 dispatch. Did someone there dial 9-1-1?" I said no, I'd meant to but misdialed. The dispatcher explained that I had not, in fact, misdialed, which is why he was able to call back. Wonder of wonders! We had auto-trace at last! So he asked if anyone needed help. "I'm not sure," I said. "What happened there?" he asked. "I hit myself in the face with a hammer."
And then came the question I could build a sitcom around, I am certain: "Was this a suicide attempt?"
Needless to say I survived, only to stab, fold, spindle, and otherwise mutilate myself over the intervening years until the ladder threw me into that bathtub and took me out of the game for six weeks.
From all this I learned. Don't rush. Things will get done. Take your time. Be mindful. Measure twice, cut once. I've gotten a lot better about this stuff. Nature, however, does not love me, so the hornets must go, and perhaps the oak tree as well.
These things apply to love as well as physics, and some of the most painful accidents have been ones with unclear causes, things that took two to cause, and those hurt in a different way, but as I said, I've learned: Don't rush. Measure twice, cut once. And most of all, don't stop living just because as Zevon said, "Life'll kill ya." It's still life, the only game in town.
I think I'll go pour a glass of malbec and slice me some of that artisan cheese I've been saving for a dull day. I probably should have someone else do the cutting. That would be nice, sharing the treat. Oh hell, maybe I'll substitute Hostess Snowballs. They don't require a knife - or an assistant.