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Thursday, May 26, 2005

My Worst Summer

I was forced to go live under my parents' roof for a six month period when I changed jobs two years ago. This indignity was compounded by several humiliating factors: my little brother now owned my former bedroom, I had little or no money, it was the peak of summertime, and we had fleas.

I hated this. The air conditioning was rarely turned on since Dad was also unemployed. It was very hot in the house. The only way for me to get relief was to lay on the cold concrete of the basement floor. I even slept there sometimes, right next to the washer and dryer. I got the occasional spiderbite when I lay there, but that was cake compared to the insect assault I was soon to endure.

Dad drank bourbon. Due to this hobby he slept in the living room while Mom slept upstairs. He'd hang out the back sliding door all night long, blowing cigarette smoke, ashing all over the light brown deck. As the night wore on he'd shed articles of clothing one by one, until finally at 1am he'd pass out on the back porch in his underwear with a cigarette filter smoldering between his scarred fingers. Sometimes I'd find pizza crusts in the toaster or urine in the refrigerator if he'd had a good night.

One day a possum, raccoon, or some other wild gamey marsupial nested itself underneath the deck. The furry creature brought a severe flea infestation along. The deck was just a wooden platform standing a foot above the ground, more of a porch than a deck. But it was slatted, and insects and other assorted pests could pass through it easily.

I began to notice a problem when I was watching an inane television show one steamy July day. My legs felt tingles. Little pinching nerve twitches. I couldn't see why. At first. Then I saw a few small holes in my right ankle. The holes grew swollen pink rings around them. Then they glazed over with a translucent apricot colored jelly that dried and encrusted like mucus.

And they itched. Oh, how they itched. I scratched sizable chunks of flesh off my legs.

I slowly lost my ability to remain calm. Over a period of two weeks, I finally began to figure out that I was getting bites from the floor, not from an airborne pest like a deerfly or mosquito. When I slept on the family room floor they bit my ass and shoulders, too.

I lost my composure, slowly but steadily. I began to stand in place and stare down, obsessively trying to locate the cause of my welts. Finally I saw the hopping black specs. Loathing and disgust welled up as I began to yell at my father about the little ebony sesame seeds with grapefruit spoon teeth that cored into my legs and sucked my blood.

Dad showed me his legs. They were much, much worse. He'd been drunk on the patio many times. His legs were freckled and bloody.

I spread the news. My mother did not believe me. She's a sweet woman, but she's the type to deal with a problem by saying nice reassuring things and waiting for it to go away. The third day she tried to tell me it might be mosquitos I forced her to look at my legs. I screamed at her. I swore. I was mean. I had to get through. My sisters looked at me like I was a monster. How could I be so vicious and horrible to sweet old mother? Did I want to be just like my father?

My younger sister eventually recognized reality. She had a couple bites of her own. She promptly moved out to her boyfriend's house, wrapped all her exposed sheeting and clothing into sealed bags, and quarantined herself from the rest of us. My mother and little brother had no bites. They were immune. They had the wrong blood flavor for flea suckling, or a natural anti-flea musk about their feet.

I became increasingly volatile. I wore three pairs of socks at once. I used rubberbands to seal my pants to my ankles. I refused to sit down. I stared at the carpet all the time. I took three scalding showers a day. I scratched. I bled. I shaved my legs from the knees down. I cried. I did research.

Finally, one day, I kicked everybody out of the house. I closed all the doors and windows and I fumigated. I put bug bombs in every room. Nobody was allowed back inside for five hours. I went back in first, and I forbade my father from opening the back door ever again. I forbade him from inviting those horrible little fucking monsters back in. Against my mother's wishes I allowed smoking inside the house. I knew she suffered from asthma and weak lungs, but she'd survive longer with that problem than with a twitching angry homicidal son with bulging eyes and bloody legs.

The house was safe again. Then we all got evicted.
7:26 AM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm


May 26, 2005 9:25 AM, Blogger Kerouaced said...

Damn, that was funny. And that ending was great...Fleas will make you insane. My dogs had them a few years ago and I damn near lost it trying to combat the little mothers...

May 26, 2005 9:59 AM, Blogger Wardo said...

I don't rate the story as funny at all. Well written, yeah, but that's pretty upsetting about your dad's behaviour.

If this actually happened, it's a shame.


May 26, 2005 10:05 AM, Blogger Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm said...

Yeah, this one is real.

May 26, 2005 10:38 AM, Blogger Kerouaced said...

Humor is often contrasted with tragedy and I wasn't making light of your father's situation or any other hardship presented in the piece. I think you (Steve) get that. In my opinion what you do though is take the unpleasantness of life and make it palatable, you describe it with a grittiness and a humor that allows us to laugh at our own shortcomings. Who wouldn't think this paragraph wasn't funny: "I became increasingly volatile. I wore three pairs of socks at once. I used rubberbands to seal my pants to my ankles. I refused to sit down. I stared at the carpet all the time. I took three scalding showers a day. I scratched. I bled. I shaved my legs from the knees down. I cried. I did research."

What you can't laugh at the tragic heroes in literature? What about Don Quixote? He gets the crap beaten out of himself but in his insane journey there can be found humor. Tragedy and humor can be great literaty partners. Sometimes you have to look at the big picture and cast aside strict literal analysis, which some people don't do. If you can't then I don't think you're getting the whole gist of someone that tries to take their writing to a more complex level...

May 26, 2005 10:54 AM, Blogger Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm said...

Steve, it's cool. It's two years past these events now, and I am indeed looking back and laughing at them.

At the time, fleas were the bane of my existence. They were serious business. I couldn't tell jokes about them. For a good six months after I moved out, the mere mention of fleas set me off ranting.

I still tell stories about my dad doing silly things while drunk, because as sad as alcoholism can be, it's also very funny sometimes.

I agree, tragedy and humor go together like bacon and cheeseburgers.

May 26, 2005 11:01 AM, Blogger karen gsteiger said...

I truly believe that comedy is pain, and pain is comedy. We laugh at other's pain or in recognition of shared pain. We laugh at our own pain to deal with it.

Fleas suck. Our cat used to get them. Although they never used to really bite me...I would just see them briefly bouncing around on my arms and legs like I was a damn trampoline.

May 26, 2005 11:05 AM, Blogger Anonysis said...

still have scars? I do.

May 26, 2005 11:10 AM, Blogger Wardo said...

I wasn't jumping on Kerouaced or anything there. Although I can see the humour in the story, it just didn't strike me as a flat-out humour tale. At least in comparison to others on this site. It seemed to have too much sadness in it for me to say, "wow, funny story! I liked the part when..."

I laughed with reservation, if that makes any sense.

May 26, 2005 11:12 AM, Blogger Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm said...

I haven't really looked, but I'll bet these's still some little liverspot marks on the top of my feet.

May 26, 2005 11:53 AM, Blogger Kerouaced said...

All good points and everyone has their own opinion on the matter. We look at things through our own lenses. Overall maybe the piece wasn't a humor piece but with the tragedy taking place and then that paragraph about putting rubber bands around his pant legs that was a nice release.

Karen - Well said. Humor and tragedy can be like the dips and swells of a roller coaster. When used in combination they can accentuate one another.

Argus - I immediately try to defend myself when writing. It's nothing personal. It's just second nature now. It's from years of those damn writing workshops when people rip you to shreds and you have to fend them off with your wit and a giant Mead notebook.

May 26, 2005 12:22 PM, Blogger Dave Morris said...

mmmmmm. Bacon cheeseburger.

I had a problem with bedbugs when I was a kid. Mom would turn the sheets back at bedtime and brush them off onto the floor and step on them. I had a really hard time sleeping, waking up every hour and throwing back the blankets to see if any more had joined me. Those little fuckers became the bane of my existence for 3 or 4 months. Finally mom could afford to spray for them and we were free.

Funny how we take for granted simple things like NOT having bugs.

May 26, 2005 1:06 PM, Blogger Mishka said...

It seems that I remember my sister and her boyfriends futon becoming invested with fleas (it sat directly on the floor) one time. I don't think the whole house got them but I know that the two of them were miserable for quite some time....fleas suck.

May 26, 2005 2:43 PM, Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

Discussion of fun/not fun must consider the last line, "we got evicted." That's tragi-comedy at its finest. Good tale, Rocket.

May 26, 2005 2:48 PM, Blogger Lostinspace said...

Oh Steve,so glad that you are not in that situation now. my heart is with you, even in your reflection. wow, i didn't realize that there was such a stir among all the commenters summer when i lived in boston, i basically rented from a pot landlord. i slept on the brown carpet, and there were baby roaches everywhere. when i showered, black bugs would creep out of the ceramic cracks. the kitchen was treacherous. i finally got pity and found something free on campus, though i still had to pay for 2 months rent of not being there.

May 26, 2005 6:51 PM, Blogger Isabella said...

tragedy and humor rock but yo, i've been in a house with fleas and maybe the california variety are less agressive but it was nowhere near that bad.

Mid-west fleas are pissed about the way most of you are voting.

May 26, 2005 7:00 PM, Blogger Stace said...

HOLY COW, that sucks!! EVERYTHING about it sucks. Now I raise the question why did you get evicted, or is that another story? Either way glad you are on your own now. :)

May 26, 2005 7:04 PM, Blogger Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm said...

You are all very kind.

Thanks, Hoss, LiS and Stace for your sympathy and compliments. The eviction is another story for another time.

Isabella, I'm in Illinois! We're electorally favorable.

May 26, 2005 8:13 PM, Blogger ty bluesmith said...

i think kerouaced is an overbearing pussy who should be shot up full of guinness and forced to wrestle retarded bears.

May 26, 2005 9:19 PM, Blogger You Can't Afford Me said...

thank god i have been blessed with the blood of evilness that fleas do not like to ingest.

once when i was a kid my whole family was getting eaten alive by fleas. funny thing is that the cat slept with me and i never once got bitten. haha!

May 27, 2005 7:35 AM, Blogger Kerouaced said...

Ty I wish a horde of fleas on you. Steve, he really doesn't know what he's gotten himself into does he?

I forgot I had flea incident in college in an apartment I moved into. There were thousands of them doing little ritual hat dances all over my body before sinking their filthy teeth in. It really does drive you to the brink of madness...

May 27, 2005 8:26 AM, Blogger Brad said...

God. I'd almost forgot about my run-in with fleas. As a kid, my mom always had a fleet of fleabag cats in the house, so it was practically impossible to get rid of them.

Probably the worst thing about fleas is that each one is freakin' invincible.

Swat a mosquito, and it's dead. Swat a flea, and it laughs at you and calls you a whore.

May 27, 2005 11:05 AM, Blogger ty bluesmith said...

stop. you guys are making me itch and compulsively check the floor

May 27, 2005 3:26 PM, Blogger Isabella said...

they must be commuting, which probably pisses 'em off even more.

May 27, 2005 10:41 PM, Blogger Wino McHackenpuke said...

I had fleas once. When I was little. I was petting a neighbor's dog, and they jumped on to my wrist and started chomping away.


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