Before we moved to our small town in Tennessee and again shortly after, residents told us how much we’d love it.

“Y’all are going to be so happy here. It’s a great place to raise kids.”

“The people here are so much nicer than in Los Angeles.”

“These are the best schools in the state.”

“Wait until you see the trees around here in the fall. The scenery is gorgeous.”

“It’s the best of both worlds. You can be in downtown Franklin with all the good shopping, then drive for five minutes and you’re in the country, with horses running around in the fields.”

They were correct on all counts. The scenery is lovely, the people are nice, the schools are excellent, and the traffic is so much lighter, my ability to maneuver and simultaneously exchange hand signals with other drivers has atrophied.

However, after a year of living here, I realize they omitted a key bit of information. The full disclosure sales pitch would’ve gone more like this:

“Y’all are going to be so happy here. It’s a great place to raise kids.”

“The people here are so much nicer than in Los Angeles.”

“These are the best schools in the state.”

“Wait until you see the trees around here in the fall. The scenery is gorgeous.”

“By the way, during the summer we get some seriously BIG-ASS bugs.”

It’s not that the other places I lived were bug-free, you understand. There are bugs everywhere. In Chicago, I once moved into a townhouse that had just been vacated by a family of slobs who apparently considered it beneath them to clean the kitchen. I spent the first month conducting chemical warfare against an army of cockroaches. One of them even volunteered for a suicide mission that involved hiding in my slippers and inducing cardiac arrest. It nearly succeeded.

But here’s the difference: In Chicago, if I happened to walk into a dark room occupied by roaches, I was alerted to their presence by the sound of my shoes crushing them. In Tennessee, I’m alerted to their presence by tripping over them. If I found a roach in my kitchen in Chicago, I reached for a magazine. Here I look for a hammer or frying pan … and only because I don’t own a gun. I’ve even backed away from a couple of cockroach confrontations after realizing I lacked the weaponry to assure victory.

That’s the downside of living in an area with gorgeous, green scenery: The scenery is gorgeous because trees, grass and other plants love water and humidity. So do bugs.

One of the few advantages of living in the glorified desert known as Los Angeles is that mosquitoes were nearly non-existent. I could walk for an hour at night and return home without a mark. Not here.

This summer was, according to our neighbors, supposed to be light on mosquitoes. We had three snowstorms and record-cold temperatures last winter, which was supposed to decimate the mosquito population. Perhaps it would’ve worked out that way if not for the Great Nashville Flood of 2010, which blessed the area with countless pools of standing water. The mosquito population may have been decimated in winter, but the survivors bred like crazy in the impromptu swamps a few months later. Consequently, when I walk at night now, I have three choices:

  • Wear long pants and long sleeves despite the hot, humid weather
  • Spray toxic chemicals on my skin
  • Return home with my skin looking like a 3-D map of the Andes and feeling anemic from the loss of blood

During last night’s walk, a large bug with wings landed on the hand that was holding my Romeo & Juliet cigar. I didn’t scream like a girl, but I did a frenzied, Irish-jig sort of thing that ended with me retrieving the still-burning cigar from a neighbor’s lawn — about 50 feet from the site of the jig.

What kind of bug was it? No idea. That’s the other downside of living in a moist, lush area: I’ve been introduced to bugs I didn’t know existed. I recognize a rat-sized roach as a roach, and I recognize swarms of mosquitoes as mosquitoes. But at least a dozen times this summer, I’ve killed worm-like creatures with approximately 6,000 legs — always in the downstairs bathroom. I still have no idea what they are. I just know they like being near indoor plumbing.

Twice now, I’ve come across a species of exceptionally long-legged and exceptionally fast spider. Both times I saw this spider (once in the TV room, once in the living room), I attempted to kill it. Both times the spider managed to spring across the room and escape into a vent as I was chasing it. When a 5’11” man with 34-inch legs loses a foot race with a 5-inch spider, something is wrong. If I had the same proportional speed, I could play for any team in the NFL and guarantee a string of 98-0 victories.

Last week I made the mistake of practicing my golf swing in the back yard while wearing shorts and chasing a wiffle ball into the bushes. When I woke up the next morning, my legs were covered with red, circular welts that itched like crazy. I looked like someone who lost a kicking contest with a gang of pepperoni pizzas.

Then there are the wasps. Like mosquitoes, wasps are hardly limited to the South. As I recounted in a previous post, I was stung twice during my youth in the Midwest, and in California, a wasp made a sortie in my direction after squeezing through an open window in the shower stall.

But in the past few weeks, despite being vigilant about keeping the doors and windows closed, I’ve had to kill three wasps inside my own house. I now keep my wasp-hunting gear — long pants, a hooded sweatshirt, a hooded jacket and winter gloves — laid out on a chair so I can slip into them at a moment’s notice, like a fireman.

Two days ago, my girls ran downstairs to my office to inform me a wasp was buzzing around their mid-level playroom — again. No idea how the flying demon found its way inside.

I put on my gear and went to the laundry room to arm myself with a can of RAID, only to discover that my wife had succumbed to the Go Green movement:  our bug spray was now a can of “organic” pesticide made from orange-peel oils. I might have fallen for the Go Green pitch if not for the fact that she’d already informed me the orange-peel mosquito repellent she’d tried previously was worthless. So there I was, all geared up, imagining the results of spraying a wasp with organic bug-killer.

“Hey, thanks for the refreshing orange-peel spritz there, Mr. Human. Believe it or not, I’ll actually be dead in a few hours, but in the meantime, I’m just really, really pissed. You should probably commence screaming like a girl now, because I’m going to sting your ass at least 50 times before the orange-peel oil begins to weaken me.”

Fortunately, I dug around and found the can of RAID. It was nearly empty, so I took that as my primary weapon and carried the can of organic spray as a backup in my other hand. Shortly after I entered the playroom, the wasp — perhaps having heard warnings about humans wearing winter gear during summer — flew at me. I raised a can and sprayed, only to find myself noticing a pleasant orange aroma. Wrong weapon.

The wasp reacted by flying to the other side of the room and dropping behind a bookshelf. I’m pretty sure I heard it snickering back there. I tossed a toy against the bookshelf to try to roust it. Nothing. A few minutes later it flew out again, and this time I scored a direct hit with the RAID. Chemistry wins. Wasp loses. Orange-peel oil flunks battle-testing.

I love living in the South. I love the people, the attitude, and the scenery. But I’m praying for that first frost.

22 Responses to “I Love The South, But This Bugs Me …”
  1. Catherine says:

    I must say that I enjoy your writing in general, but when you let loose on the subject of bugs, you are truly hysterical. I giggle maniacally the whole post through, until my husband is forced to ask me what’s so funny. I sympathize with some of your bug issues here in St. Louis–few cockroaches, thank God, but the mosquito population of Missouri obviously prefers our backyard before all others. Thanks for the laughs!

    My pleasure and thanks for reading.

  2. Bruce says:

    Make bugs fun and practice your tennis swing.

    I have used these in the past. They work great on mosquitoes and flies. On wasps, they will knock them down and stun them, but not kill them. I have to go in for the kill with my “Totally Green” bug killer…my size 16 shoe. Works every time!!

    I live near Chicago, and when I was working, I dealt with a company in South Georgia. Talking with the rep down there on a daily basis, we of course would mention the weather. She would ask how we were able to handle the latest zero degree weather. I said easy, you just zip up your coat. I asked her how she could handle the summers with the gnats and humidity and bugs, she said, I guess we don’t know any better. I thought the response was great, as you can take it two different ways.

    Brilliant idea … exercise and bug-killing combined. If they make a golf-club model, I’m in.

  3. Angel says:

    In Hawaii, the cockroaches are called B-52s, because they are of comparable size to the bombers of the same name. Fortunately I didn’t see too many. I think I heard somewhere that geckos eat them, and I was always seeing geckos, which didn’t bother me (unlike the cockroaches, which engendered some sort of visceral fear/hunter/huge adrenaline surge response). However, the price I paid for the gecko extermination services was gecko poo on my stuff in my closets. If the geckos were eating the cockroaches, though, then it was worth it!

    We’ve heard of people building bat-houses in place of bird-houses around here because the bats keep the mosquitoes at bay.

  4. Jan says:

    One of the things I do NOT miss about the South (and after nearly six years, I still miss it dearly) are the bugs. Has a rat-size cockroach flown at you yet? And the welts on your legs? Most likely chiggers. What about May flies and June bugs? One of the things that tickled me about living in the South was the infestation of May flies every April, followed by swarms of June bugs every May. Up here, we just have Japanese beetles killing our lawn, but at least they’re kind of pretty.

    It may have been a rat-size cockroach that landed on my cigar-smoking hand. I just felt the landing, saw a bug, and flapped my arm so quickly I didn’t get much of a look.

  5. Jimmy Moore says:

    Welcome to God’s country, Tom! Yes, we have our bugs down here, but we LOVE it! 🙂

    Only a native southerner could love it. I’m just trying to get used to it.

  6. Jennifer says:

    And don’t forget those lovely Fire Ants!! (This girl from Texas empathizes)

  7. Hey Tom!!
    I hate bugs!! But then I’m still in the glorified desert called Los Angeles…
    I read about your wasp encounters with sympathy (and much laughter). I was chased by a bumble bee this morning. Do you know if their stings are worse than normal bees?? In other words, how hysterical should I be as I run away?

    Bumble bees are one step lower on the pain scale. Not quite as bad as a wasp, but I don’t think you’d like it much.

  8. Woody says:

    I feel for you Tom. It’s been so long that I’ve lived in “civilization” (LA ain’t that!) that I have forgotten the terror and hilarity of bugs. The worst around here is an occasional spider that freaks the ladies of the house out. Back from a visit back East Wendy and Kate were covered in mosquito bites. I knew there was a reason I never leave the studio.

    Excellent play by play of the spazz out! “During last night’s walk, a large bug with wings landed on the hand that was holding my Romeo & Juliet cigar. I didn’t scream like a girl, but I did a frenzied, Irish-jig sort of thing that ended with me retrieving the still-burning cigar from a neighbor’s lawn — about 50 feet from the site of the jig.”

    Have to admit, in our house it’s not the ladies who freak out over spiders. To top it off, my wife wants us to go camping … you mean where the bugs don’t even have to find a way in?!

  9. I’m with Jan on the chiggers position. I moved from the SF Bay Area to an inland farm region and discovered chiggers the hard way by walking through a field in shorts. The long worm like bugs with 100 legs are likely centipedes or millipedes. We had those in the Bay Area. In northern Nevada it’s scorpions and black widows, but they don’t come in the house, thank goodness. If they did, I’d pack my bags for Tennessee or Chicago to trade for roaches.

    My wife lived in Africa for two years during her stint in the Peace Corps and had run-ins with scorpions. She of course finds my fear of less-dangerous bugs amusing.

  10. your older brother says:

    The organic stuff works — you’re just not using it right. Grab the can by the cap end and beat the sh*t out of the wasp.

    The orange stuff inside the can is for if you miss and have a normal physiological reaction in your underwear as you realize you’ve just whiffed on your only chance to stop a now berserk hornet.

    i.e., use it as an air freshener.


    If they make a can that’s at least 5 feet long, I’ll give that a shot.

  11. Dunno if this helps, but my husband uses a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol to take down some bugs. Works reasonably well for knocking ’em out of the air, at which point he swats ’em.

    But for wasps he generally uses poison. Serious poison. The man’s gone into anaphylaxis once from a sting; we sure don’t want it to happen again.

    Of course, you could feed them Twinkies…

    Your husband is a smart man. With a wasp, I want chemicals that produce instant death.

  12. Anne says:

    Chiggers – I am a chigger magnet. My husband can walk over the same area as I do and I am full of chigger bites and he gets none. I even get them from our front yard! I have found that a shower in the evening will wash them away before they get a chance to burrow under the skin. At least they don’t carry disease….as far as I know.

    You must be sweeter than your husband. I’ve learned to always rinse off after walking through tall grass or bushes around here.

  13. Be says:

    I hate WASPS – those lil buggers HURT. The only thing that hurts more is the embarrassment of how stupid you look to people outside of earshot range. Why is that guy jumping around and waving his hands (or tennis racket) like Uncle Jake who had to be taken away in a straight jacket and now sits down at the hospital curled up in the corner, rocking back and forth singing nursery rhymes?

    LOL funny post Tom.

    I’ve had that experience walking into spider-webs under trees. Wave your arms like crazy, then slowly realize other people don’t know you just ran into a spider-web.

  14. Ed T says:

    I’m originally from Oklahoma which is chigger-country. On more than one occassion, prisoners escaping from the state prison and hiding in the woods to evade capture have actually gone back to the prison to turn themselves in to get away from the chiggers. The chiggers are better deterrents than fences.

    I’m now in Washington, DC and the mosquitoes here are troublesome. Rather than use an artificial insect repellant, I performed some research and learned that in India, they use a mixture of coconut oil and neem oil to repel insects. It works pretty well and the mixture smells a lot better than Off.

    I also find wasps in my house- dead ones. I’m not sure why that is and I try hard not to think too much about it.

    Yikes … finding them dead is sort of spooky. I mean, I don’t like finding them alive by any means, but you gotta wonder what’s killing them.

  15. steep says:

    A photographer friend uses his spray mount glue on wasps. A little spritz on the wings and they stick together. Then you have one angry insect that can’t go anywhere.

    I presume he has some cool pictures of sticky wasps.

  16. Auntie M says:

    The tennis racket-style bug zapper works well on the smaller bugs. It’s probably evil of me, but I enjoy zapping those mosquitos. I’m petrified to use it on wasps, though, as I don’t think it’s strong enough to kill. Stunning isn’t good enough. Also, I don’t want to get that close. Perhaps if there was an extended handle and you hooked it up to a car battery, I might try it. Much though I hate to use the poison, when it comes down to it, it works. I made sure to buy a fresh can of Raid after your last rant. It reminded me of the price on my head from the wasp Mafia (for killing one of their own). 🙂

    After seeing what wasps can survive — such as direct hits with a paddle and an apparent drowning — I’m with you. I don’t want to just stun them.

  17. gwen says:

    I recommend high-powered lasers.

    Seriously. I have a half-watt blue laser I keep near my chair that I will cheerfully use on some flying hypodermic someday. Blow his little buggy central nervous system right back through his thorax. That thing will light matches and pop balloons from across the room. I shudder to think what it’d do to those compound eyes.

    And if that isn’t enough, I have a 1-watt laser on order. It will easily punch through a CD case.

    Now to make a laser bug fence like this one:

    Damn bugs. *shiver*

    I’m looking forward to aiming one of those things and hissing, “Go ahead … make my day.”

  18. Lars says:

    I lived in Missouri for four years 1994-98. One summer three varieties of locusts came out of hibernation at the same time. I could never get over the thunderous noise they made all night.
    Yah a lot more bugs there than my native San Jose, but I loved seeing fireflies for the first time.

    There is that. My girls loved catching fireflies this year.

  19. Elenor says:

    “I’ve killed worm-like creatures with approximately 6,000 legs — always in the downstairs bathroom.”

    Do you mean those super-fast ones with the 50-60 two-inch legs? I call them outrigger bugs, cause those legs sweep in a wave like outrigger oars…. Horrible, horrifying — and thankfully I can throw a drinking glass over them to keep them in place and tell my husband where it is so he can get rid of it. Maybe your wife would do the disposal work for you… for a price?

    I trap it in a glass cause the first time I screamed (but then, I AM a girl) and he missed killing the disgusting thing (they’re FAST!), and it disappeared into a vent, which meant it was STILL in the house, which meant I couldn’t go to sleep that night… The South is just horrible with bugs — and having been here for 12 years Tom, I think I can assure you you will NOT adjust. {shudder}

    These are actually on the slow side. I’ve been able to take careful aim with a rolled-up magazine.

  20. Don says:

    Tom, I’m pretty sure the centipede you saw is called a house centipede:

    I remember the first time I saw one. I ran like a sissy girl :o)

    The ones I’ve seen are longer. Or that might be my imagination telling a fish story.

  21. Lucy says:

    In Missouri we run two Mosquito Magnets full time during the summer, one about 6 feet from the front door and the other about 6 feet from the back door. They catch a lot of mosquitos. I still think the real trick to using mosquito magnets though, may be to get your neighbors to put them out 😉

    The best cure we’ve found for mosquito bites is a two step process, 1) rub the bite area vigorously with white vinegar and then 2) apply a thick coating of baking soda paste (baking soda mixed with enough water to make a spreadable paste). Works better than even prescription steroid creams.

    unfortunately you have to stay home for all this to help, so we only venture away from the house in the heat of the day and then covered in Deet (which is losing its effectiveness they say, God help us all).

  22. WSB says:

    We do have some outrageous bugs; but I think things were particularly bad this year due to the flood in May.

    That’s what we were thinking. Perfect breeding ground, all that standing water.

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