Kage Baker hated bugs. All kinds, colours, sizes, and sonic ranges of cries: she hated ’em. She couldn’t even tell the absolute difference between an arthropod, an insect and a bug, and she didn’t much care. As much as she was a stickler for details in most of her personal data base, anything with at least 6 six legs and a minimum dozen eye lenses was on her fecal roster.
Why am I on this theme today? Well, summer is the season for bugs, even in the barren flatlands of Los Angeles. And I have grown weary of large and serious subjects, and I got too little sleep last night due to a spider, and well – Kage’s arthropodaphobia was an integral part of her character. Therefor, let us light citronella candles and tell triumphant stories of the death of bugs.
Kage was a meticulous housekeeper, (I am a slob) and bugs in the house were a constant source of anguish to her. She was fond of Bug Bombs in our pre-parrot days, and I’m not sure how she never blew out a window. God He knows, she’d have counted it a small cost to rid the house of ants. But you have to go pretty green on cleansers when you start living with a bird. They have fragile respiration. Kage learned that nearly anything would derail an ant trail or daze a cockroach – screen cleaner, spray-on olive oil, Simple Green – and then she could do the Mortal Tarantella on them and wipe up the remains with a Swiffer.
She dealt with garden pests as grimly and efficiently as household ones. She made exceptions, though, for lady birds and praying mantises, because they are useful. Walking stick insects, though, were summarily thrown over the garden fence (while I gibbered in the background at the mere horrible sight of them). Butterflies were welcomed, unless their caterpillars ate flowers and vegetables. Culprits were removed to open lots where they could eat weeds. Except for tomato horn worms – Kage loathed them with a personal hatred, and executed them on sight.
Many natural remedies out of folklore turn out to be good for maintenance. Chili powder, cinnamon or lemon oil will cut an ant trail; oil of peppermint will repulse spiders. Lavender and cedar oil will chase moths away. The rind and scent of cucumbers will both dismay and kill cockroaches, doing something fatal to their nasty little chitinous carapaces. Tobacco will knock out aphids: breathe smoke on them if you like, as Kage’s Momma used to do, or make a spray solution of tobacco and water. Don’t spray it on fruit, though: only flowers.
There is always the ancient remedy of boiling water (because nothing really benefits from having boiling water poured on it). Some of you Dear Readers may recall Kage’s story “The Two Old Women”, wherein a woman widowed by the Sea keeps the revenant spirit of her sailor husband in the house by surrounding the place with Borax Powder; that was drawn from life, as it were, since – as the old woman says to her flabbergasted sister – It works on bugs.
Citronella doesn’t work much, especially on a type of extremely fair-skinned white woman (like Kage. And Kimberly.), who are just natural mosquito chow. DEET works, though. So does Avon Skin So Soft lotion. And so do bug zappers, which not only clear the night-time air on a summer porch of flying bugs, but provide amusing sizzles and bursts of what looks like Cherenkov radiation as they fry the skeeters and moths. And! Now you can get LED Bug Zapper light bulbs! They screw right into an ordinary porch light socket, and last for months, as well as providing safety on your front porch from mashers, muggers and werewolves.
With the Los Angeles summer having reached its now-normal triple digit temperatures, we have suffered from recurrent ant invasions and occasional forays by cockroaches. Housekeeping has nothing to do with it: the bugs don’t want to be out there in the heat any more than we do, and they will assail any weakness in our defenses to get indoors. I can deal with the ants, annoying as they are, but the cockroaches send me ballistic – I actually like many bugs, but not roaches. Fortunately, Michael has been handling most of them, including finding the cracks and holes in screens whereby the little bastards are getting in, and it looks as though he has defeated them. Which is good, because Ashby the Maine Coon cat is a champion bug hunter; and there is nothing quite as unnerving as having a proud and affectionate kitty bringing you her not-quite-dead German cockroach prey …
Spiders: well, Kage didn’t care for them, but they also didn’t freak her out. Me, they often reduce to hysteria. Except for jumping spiders. They are charmingly furred, their 6 eyes are usually an exquisite shade of emerald, and you can pet them. Also, they don’t bite humans much. Something around here does (I suspect the common dust spider) and it is making my all-too-hot nights an even greater misery. But the A/C discourages them nicely, and there is always peppermint oil …
Kage never wrote about aliens, much, because she thought the most interesting aliens were actually other people. And because one of the great goofy tropes of science fiction is GIANT BUGS, which she hated with the heat of a thousand suns. I told her to write about non-bug aliens, but Kage said she couldn’t: no matter what she did, they came out bugs in the end. She said it was a race memory. Or something … the closest she got to aliens were the demons in Ermenwyr’s world.
Mind you, she did make some notes anyway. She never threw an idea entirely away. So I can always go through the files and see what may be found. There are whole universes in the files.
And, of course, all of them have bugs …