Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Swat Flies:

There are no houseflies in my home. Not a single one, as usual. But recently ... well, let me begin at the beginning.

I bought a flyswatter many years ago, when dozens of bees crawled through a crack into my office at work. It hangs on the wall now, untouched for months and years at a time. We recently had a six-day winter infestation of house flies. Not all at once, but forty or fifty a day, appearing at all times in twos and threes and fives. I took up my flyswatter, determined to kill them as fast as I could find them. I figured this would be like remembering how to ride a bicycle, but there were some surprises.

First, I should explain that I have a serious pedigree in the matter of catching flies. My great grandfather (he was German, so you might want to stop reading this blog item right now, I'm warning you) used to make little folded paper boats and wagons. Then he would sit still until a fly landed on his hands, and as it crawled around he'd catch it alive between his fingernails. (This is not as hard as it sounds when there are a lot of flies, I did it myself when a teenager.) He would swipe a little paste on the fly's wings and stick it to the bottom of one of his paper models (I've NOT done this myself, I promise!) and then enjoy watching the models move around the table as the flies lugged them here and there in their efforts to escape.

I really learned how to swat flies at my grandmother's farm. The house had a long outdoor veranda with an inexhaustable supply of flies. I and my cousins would swat away at them, running up totals in the hundreds before we got bored.

Nonetheless, in a few days in my own home, I learned new things about stalking flies:

  • They love warmth. They're not getting into the house via the bathrooms, they just collect there because the bathroom lights are always on.

  • They are easier to swat with a gentle stroke than a furious one. You'd think a fast stroke will hit them before they can react, but in fact a gentle stroke produces so little headwind that they don't react at all.

  • In an enclosed space, you can swat a fly in flight by waving the swatter rapidly back and forth. This motion creates a suction in the air that draws the nearby fly into the swatter.

  • And I'll also tell you things I already knew, in case you've got to face the little beasties yourselves:

    • They fly backwards as they take off. If you aim just in front of a sitting fly, you'll miss it.

    • It's terribly boring to wait for a fly to settle so you can aim at it, but with practice you can often knock them out of the air in flight.

    Thank goodness we don't have to deal with pack rats.

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