Would You Like Flies With That?

In 1980, I was in the sixth grade at Hickam Elementary School in Honolulu. Hawaii, being a tropical island, is home to a lot of insects. This explains the giant electric bug zapper that hung suspended from the ceiling of the cafeteria, I suppose.

But not really.

The bug zapper in the school cafeteria was very similar to this one. Seriously. (Courtesy of popularmechanics.com).

I mean, how disgusting is that? I recall many a lunch where I would be innocently working my way through a hamburger or a slice of pizza only to be interrupted by a loud, sizzling ZAP from that thing. Another one bites the dust, as Freddie Mercury once sang. As kids, we applauded and cheered whenever that happened, if we paid it any attention at all. It was just the background ambience we were used to, much like the chirping geckos that would crawl across the ceiling at two in the morning, or the ocean waves lapping at the sand in Waikiki. White noise. You tune that stuff out when it’s so commonplace. I half expected the cafeteria lunch lady to ask, would you like flies with that? when I walked by with my tray. Only now does the idea of an electric bug zapper twenty feet above our heads while we were eating strike me as not the most sanitary contraption in the world. It had a big aluminum trap surrounding it, but still. Kinda turns my stomach to think about. I’m sure the county health inspector long ago made the school get rid of it.

What a weird memory. I hadn’t thought about the bug zapper for a good couple of decades. It wasn’t until our garage sale a few weeks ago that I was reminded of it. There was this annoying bee that was dive-bombing me, and I reacted how any respectable man in his early 40s would.

I dashed around madly while flailing my arms. And though I’ll never admit it, I may have screamed like a little girl.

This customer, while scouring through our stuff, was amused by my freestyle dance moves. He mentioned a portable electric bug zapper that he and his family use on their patio. And just like that, the memory came flooding back.

Cafeteria. Mosquitoes. Zzzzt.

Mmm. Protein! (Courtesy of greatgreengadgets.com).

It was one of those recollections that made me pause. I wondered if it had, indeed, actually happened. Surely, there were sanitation rules in place – even thirty-two years ago – that would have prevented such a thing from being legal. And yet, I remember it clearly. Then again, rules and regulations weren’t so stringent back then. A couple of years before that we were living in Ohio, and our house was chock full of radon. They sent a crew through to treat that one winter, but we remained there during the whole process (and, besides, you can’t even eradicate radon – Tara (who is an expert in such matters) tells me at best they would have put up some type of vapor barrier). Which is rather scary considering the fact that radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, behind smoking.

I’m beginning to think it’s a miracle I’ve lived as long as I have.

The bugs in my food probably gave me some much-needed protein, at least.

Anyway, bugs are on my mind because we are going camping soon. Camping as in real camping. With tents and sleeping bags as opposed to the glam camping (call it “glamping”) trip I did with the kids and the ex-wife seven or eight years ago. That involved a cabin with a linoleum floor and a bunk bed and a door that locked. Now I’ve got a girlfriend who loves camping and a just-like-new tent that I have never used and, well, you can probably see where this is going. Suddenly we’ve got a two-night trip planned to the Panther Creek Wilderness, with nothing to protect us from ravenous mosquitoes and other creepy, crawly, possibly-biting insects besides a flimsy layer of canvas and a can of Off.

And yet, I’m excited about our trip. I’ve long considered myself an outdoorsy type. Two days in the woods, with myriad options to go hiking and fishing and sharing ghost stories around a crackling campfire sounds like fun. We’re bringing the kids, and when I told them we were actually going to be staying in a tent instead of a building with walls, they were rather surprised. Turns out they’ve never camped in a tent before.

Clearly, I’ve failed as a parent.

But I’ll be making up for that oversight in just a few short weeks, insects be damned! We made a “practice run” last week by using my portable fire pit to make s’mores on the patio. They were good, too. I hadn’t had a s’more in ages.

We may come back eaten alive, but I’m sure we’ll have the time of our lives anyway. I’ll just have to invest in one of those portable bug zappers beforehand. Ooh, maybe they’ll sell a radon-powered one! Then I’ll really be reliving my childhood.

I’ll just be sure to keep it a good distance away from our picnic table.


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

27 thoughts on “Would You Like Flies With That?

  1. One thing about where you live…mosquitoes ARE bad. That was the one thing I hated about hiking there in the summer, the mosquitoes and the mosquito spray because it ruins my nail polish! (good thing you don’t wear polish eh?) What about those clip on fan things that have the repellent in it? You can clip them in or by the opening of your tent? Maybe some Citronella candles for the picnic area? Aside from wearing the spray, maybe those things can kind of keep them away from where you eat and sleep.


    1. I remember when you and Scott went to Bend and came back all chewed up. Yes, they can be really bad here – worse some years, depending on the amount of rain we’ve had. Unfortunately, today we just set a record for wettest spring ever, so I’m pretty sure the mosquitoes will be a bitch to deal with this summer.

      I did mention bringing citronella candles. They don’t smell great, but they do a good job. I also like your fan idea. We’ll have to try that for sure!


  2. Don’t forget about the mosquito spraying truck that went through the neighborhood in the evening! Spraying insecticide all over!


  3. OMG, I had forgotten that we had a bug zapper in our backyard when I was growing up. My dad wouldn’t tolerate the bugs. Poor little guys. I bet you all will have an great time camping.

    THANK YOU for pointing out my Pal Mal-Pall Mall mistake. What can I say? I was really young when my dad stopped smoking. Jeez, Kathy. God, it would have been bad to send off a ms. with that kind of mistake!



    1. Camping will be a blast, mosquitoes or not! We’ll just have to hope for not-too-hot weather so we can wear long sleeve shirts. Fortunately, the Pacific Northwest in June can be quite cool. Summer? What summer??

      And glad I could help with the Pal Mal/Pall Mall thing!


  4. Bounce dryer sheets work well and you get to smell good in the process! As far as camping, I used to love it until one fateful summer in 1988. Tara can tell you all about it and I guess I can fill you in on the horrors of it later. The horrors that she may not remember.

    Oh…have a blast camping!!


      1. You’re right! It was ’87. It was ’88 when I divorced. Thanks for setting me straight…lol


  5. Mark, I truly can’t get over how so many times you’ll post about something and the SAME THING has happened to me!!

    First, I grew up in tropical Florida, so I know exactly what you mean about..

    “Hawaii, being a tropical island, is home to a lot of insects.”

    OMG…aren’t the bugs the WORST? That’s one thing I do not miss about Florida. That, and the heat.

    Also, not two nights ago, a huge…and mean HUGE Palmetto bug got into my apartment (after it rained) and was FLYING around. That thing sounded HELICOPTER it was so loud. And do you know what I did?

    “I dashed around madly while flailing my arms. And though I’ll never admit it, I may have screamed like a little girl.”

    Bwhahahahahahahaha! I KID YOU NOT! And I do admit it….I DID scream! And I stayed up until 1:30 AM until I was able to catch that thing and SMASH it dead, because I knew there was no way in hell I could sleep if it was alive.

    I’ll give you a tip about using something ‘natural’ for deterring insects that you can use on your trip. Get some Eucalyptus essential oil at the health food store. It’s very inexpensive and works. Put some drops around your tent and sleeping bag and I guarantee you won’t see a bug. It works for all types of insects. Plus, Eucalyptus smells really good.

    Anyway, have a great time on your trip later this month.

    Great post, buddy!


    1. Glad I’m not the only “screamer,” Ron!

      I have never seen a Palmetto bug, so I have no idea what one looks like. Up here, we’ve got crane flies which look like mosquitoes on steroids. Fortunately, they’re harmless – they just look creepy as all get out.


  6. I’m way excited to go camping…mesquitoes, shmaquitoes. I haven’t pitched a tent in almost two years so I’m long overdue to get out there and enjoy the wilderness for a couple of days.

    And for the record, Michael Buzan, I haven’t camped in an actual campground in ages. Finding a flat spot out in the middle of the woods is definitely the way to go!


    1. I’m all about flat spots out in the middle of the woods. But flat spots out in the middle of the woods also attract bears. And cougars. For the record, bears and cougars are way scarier than mosquitoes.

      Still, we’re going to have a blast, dear! 🙂


    1. I’m with Tori — the only reason I faux-camp (with walls rather than nylon screening) can be summarized in three words: FEAR. OF. BEARS!

      Good luck to you all … sounds like quite the adventure…



  7. Every time I’ve camped outside in a tent, I’ve woken up to see a HUGE spider staring back at me. And I hate spiders. Especially big hairy ones that look hungry. So…….give me a room at a 5 star hotel and I’ll happily camp out……..in the spa. 🙂


Add Your Two Cents!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: