Sunday, April 6, 2014

Car Washing Bug Man


While I was hot on the trail of a Ph. D. degree in English, we had a neighbor who was an entomologist. He was a quiet man who loved bugs and had devoted his life to becoming better acquainted with every variety of creepy-crawly thing. He was very much the introvert and he had a lot of trouble laughing. He did not have time for foolishness because, even on weekends, he was pursuing deeper relationships with bugs.

I used to go with him out to one of Auburn University’s research ponds where the fish people did all their finny funny stuff. He had some fly traps set up all around a couple of those ponds attempting to gather samples of what he called adult horse flies. (I guess he would have rejected adolescent ones). I would fish while my solemn friend gathered his flies. He was more excited to catch a fly or two than I was to catch a nice bluegill, of which there were aplenty. They were the kind of big old bream so fat they looked like someone had punched their faces in.

Aside from catching flies, the only thing my introspective neighbor enjoyed was washing cars. I had taught him to use newspaper to clean windshields and he thought that was the most amazing innovation in car washing history and the second best use for newspapers, the first, of course, being to actually read them. We were not allowed to have birds in the apartments, so papers were not needed to line the floors of birdcages.

All my life, Sunday afternoons were for naps. But, as soon as we settled down for a Sunday afternoon nap there in Auburn, Alabama, the bug man would come rapping at our door. When I opened it, he would say, “Want us to wash cars?” I do not know why he needed me to wash my car while he washed his. It was certainly not for the company, because he did not say two words the whole time. I never touched his vehicle and he never touched mine. We just shared the hose and the moment. Perhaps he thought I knew some more secrets of car cleaning I might share, since I had enlightened him about newspapers for windshield cleaning. He loved for me to wash my old Dodge while he washed his Pontiac. He had one of those 1960s model Pontiacs that looked like it was in mourning. Remember those?

Anyway, my bug man friend was in ROTC and when he finished his doctorate in bugology, he went to Viet Nam as an army officer. He wrote me a time or two and I wrote him back, making jokes about horseflies and windshields, which I am sure, struck no funny bone, his sense of humor being what it was, not to mention, he was in Viet Nam.

He and his equally sedate wife came to visit us in Arkansas years later. At that time, he was interested in the breed of mosquitoes that left their wigglers in tree-hole water. I helped him syphon some of those and he later sent me a test tube with an adult tree-hole mosquito in it. While he was at our house in Arkansas, he never said one word about washing cars.

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