Wednesday, October 15, 2008


"To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul."
--Simone Weil

We're back in New York now, back in our apartment, and we'll be here through at least November. I hadn't realized how much I missed it until now.

As I write this, I'm sitting on the couch in the front room, the pug is a soft black line between me and my laptop, and M sleeps in the bed, emitting an occasional sigh or snore. We live in a garden apartment, and one of the best things about that is being able to leave our back door open at night, as we do for most of spring and fall. Right now there's a fresh breeze blowing in from the garden helping to displace some of our accumulated dust.

It's October, which means that the wasps who live somewhere in our walls are also back. It's the strangest thing: we moved here in October seven years ago, and as we were carrying in the boxes I looked down at my pants leg and saw a wasp gripping my corduroy. I screamed and dropped the box. I've always had an outsized reaction to bees, wasps, and hornets and give them far more credit for possessing a kind of evil intellect than the simple creatures deserve.

(Ongoing debate between M and me: Can bees/wasps/hornets smell fear? And if you kill one of them, do they emit a pheromone that calls out to their brothers, "Avenge me, avenge me, aveeeeeeeeenge meeeeeeeeee..."?)

We figured out they were coming from behind the radiator in the front room and went down into the basement to seek out their nest, but couldn't find it. Then November came and they were gone, so we stopped worrying about it. Next October, they appeared again. This cycle has been repeated many times, with searching by our landlady and an actual exterminator, but no one can find their home. And since we've never been stung (they are very sluggish, climbing slowly up the glass of the front window as if drugged) and since they always leave come November, we've learned to accept them as another marker of time.

It also helps that M kills them for me. I'll be working at my desk when suddenly I'll hear it, the quietest of alarms--two pieces of paper slowly sliding against each other, that's what it sounds like when they move. Usually the poor thing is crawling his way up the window, which makes him easy to spot, and I call out to M who saunters in and applies the blunt end of his chopstick to the insect's center, killing it instantly. Then he has to clean up the carcass and dispose of it outside because I've seen too many horror movies to let something like that remain in my home. Plus, there's that pheromone thing.

Sometimes the creature will get further, though. One made it all the way from the window to my foot. I was at my desk, working on my computer, when suddenly the hairs on the back of my neck pricked up and I looked down just in time to see the little beast attempting to bridge the gap between carpet and my shoe.

Did I step on it myself? No. I've always managed to find a way to outsource my killing. Before M there was my sister Ruth, who got a kind of thrill from rescuing her older sister from spiders and stinging things. Hey, I'm happy to play the part of the rescued damsel so long as someone else is doing the dirty work.

All of which is to say, it's good to be home.


Kathleen said...

We have wasps in our yard that I swear are solitary, and live alone. As evil as they are, not all wasps are aggressive. Some will really only sting in self defense. I hate them anyway.

stjenkins said...

I used to see wasps when I had a garden apt. on the Upper West - they seemed to come out of holes in the ground to drink the water from the plants after I'd watered the garden. In Riverdale now, I've had a couple this month who get in around the screened windows in the gap between the sashes. They are slow, so I catch them with a glass & paper and toss them back outside. Some wasps are very helpful in the garden as they eat the aphids & other nasties eating the plants. Hornets, on the other hand, make me shrink with fear.

JM said...

I've read, too, that some wasps like to feed on spiders, so it's possible these guys are helping out in that department.

But what do you make of the fact that they only appear in October? And they are always so sluggish, as if they are about to die.

And they are HUGE. Last year we thought the queen had finally emerged, but I guess not.