Chasing the mosquito man through the big blue DDT cloud

By Anthony Buccino

For all the DDT -- Drop Dead Twice -- sprayed on hot summer evenings, the killer fog never seemed to eradicate mosquitoes (or lightning bugs). One always managed to squirm through a tiny hole in the metal screen and spend most of the night buzzing your ear.

I saw the greatest minds of my dead end street running into the blue mist of the sweet-smelling cloud behind the Essex County Mosquito Man's Jeep.

Mosquito Man Jeep - 2012 version

Summer in the 1960s, and the living was good.

Sticky fly paper hung over the Maytag wringer washing machine next to the kitchen sink. Melmac cups were neatly stored on the yellow contact paper on the shelves behind the glass doors. Sometimes, you'd bug Ma while she was cooking and get to eat a raw hot dog. It was just like rolled baloney from Prosperi's around the corner store.

It was best to be a kid on those hot days. Butterflies flew in on their magic carpet colored wings and lit on the damp clothes on the back yard line.

Some days we found red ants in the cracks of the sidewalk. We'd watch them for hours. Or stomp them. Other days we watched black ants carrying crumbs off to a hole in the pavement. Sometime we tried to get a war going between the red and the black ants.

Then Grandma came out with the pot of boiling water and we watched the ants float away.

On hot July nights, besides world famous New Jersey heat and humidity, you could count on mosquito bites and fireflies in the night.

Special Formula M18 mosquito control formula

For all the DDT ("dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane") -- Drop Dead Twice -- sprayed on hot summer evenings, the killer fog never seemed to eradicate mosquitoes (or lightning bugs). One always managed to squirm through a tiny hole in the metal screen and spend most of the night buzzing our ears. We tried hiding under the sheets unless it was too hot. Finally, we fell asleep, the buzzing drifting away in the darkness?

We could never find a mosquito truck when you need one.

On our dead end street we kids stayed out as late as we could. We played hide-and-seek or if we had a big ball, we played Sputnik -- assigning each kid a letter and throwing the ball up and calling a letter, yada, yada.

After playing, we'd come in and pour the calamine lotion on the bug bite welts. The rich families on the block had a window fan or two. The rest of us awaited a summer breeze through the window screen and the gossamer curtains.

We probably had the same cycle of boom and bust years for critters then as now, but, frankly, there weren't nearly so many houses in our suburbia. The critters had their place and we had ours. I wonder where the critters go in their off years, and what calls them back in those great numbers when they are on?

It must be a lot like the lightning bug. Around here we only see them in June and July. They light up fields and back yards in summer with their private fireworks.

Kids will always chase and catch fireflies. For bugs, they fly darn slow. And low. They fly darn low, low enough for a child to reach up and catch them or watch in wonder as they alight on a tiny hand or finger.

Last month Ask Marilyn, in the Sunday Parade, wrote about fireflies. Marilyn vos Savant took the wonder out of the insects by explaining where they come from and where they go. The short answer is, the light thing, it has to do with mating, in case you didn't know.

Why is it always a little boy somewhere whose sole desire is to see what makes the little bug light up? Boys always take apart their toys to see their guts and what makes them run. Why can't they just catch them and put them in a jar with some pulled grass, and a wax paper lid, and watch them light and go dark until the sandman arrives? Those bugs were usually dead by morning light.

These days, the mosquito commission uses whirlybirds to spray swaths of bug killer over a city. Meanwhile, smart fireflies keep moving to the country. They keep finding the country is further and further away.

Now, when we see fireflies on summer nights, it seems to say we are no closer to dousing that little light of theirs than we are to clearing the bog of mosquitoes.

As man has proven himself an inept caretaker of the earth, so far, the earth has rebounded. With each round, it seems the mosquitoes get stronger and more resistant. Some day we'll look out our window from our air conditioned house and see a mosquito as big as a jetliner.

Some day the species you'll see only in a book will be man.

Adapted from Greetings from Belleville, New Jersey, Collected writings

Chasing the mosquito man first published on NJVoices on July 26, 2008.

Copyright 2008-2016 © Anthony Buccino.


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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.

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