The Feast Of Stephen.

My cousin Stephen had a bee in his ear.

That’s not a figure of speech, like when someone says they want to put a bug in your ear about something, an expression that always bugs me, or when someone is said to have a bee in their bonnet, an expression that’s even worse because having any kind of stinging insect trapped inside headgear sounds like a nightmare. Anyway my cousin had a literal bee in his ear, crawling around like it was looking for a lost contact lens. It didn’t sting him because as we’ve all been told since we were small a bee won’t sting you unless you annoy it, and my cousin was letting the bee go about its business. In fact he seemed completely oblivious to the bee in his ear while I was completely freaked out by it.

We were picking blueberries in a field near my uncle’s summer cabin which was perched on the edge of a lake in northern Maine, an area known for long, brutal winters and short, intense summers with long days which causes the local insect population to work overtime to grow, feed, and reproduce. It was there that I learned that the name “horse fly” is a bit of a misnomer—they’re really closer in size to a small pony, but still big enough that we’d have to run for cover when the shadow of one passed over. It was a fun place to stay and I enjoyed picking blueberries with my cousin Stephen, although I think I would have enjoyed it more if he weren’t feeding every bloodsucking insect within a five-mile radius. The bee in his ear, which he eventually prodded out with his finger, was merely passing through, or at least I think it was since I’m pretty sure there was no pollen or nectar in my cousin’s ear and bees don’t build their hives out of earwax, or if they do they get it out of their own ears. He was also surrounded by swarms of gnats and mosquitoes so he always appeared slightly out of focus and it’s a wonder he wasn’t anemic by the end of the week. The insect attention never seemed to bother him, although later that week we would have lobster which is basically a giant aquatic bug so maybe while he was tearing into a crustacean’s carapace he got some kind of revenge.

The real mystery is why the bugs were so drawn to him when they more or less ignored me and other family members. A whole group of us trooped out each morning to pick blueberries and while a few mosquitoes and gnats would go after one of us the vast majority would zero in on my cousin Stephen like he was The Pied Piper of Anopheles.

This is something I’ve noticed in other people too. My wife isn’t nearly the mosquito magnet my cousin was but if we’re outside she’ll draw the attention of ten mosquitoes for every one that lands on me. And I don’t want to complain, but still, hey mosquitoes, what am I? Chopped liver? Maybe I am since every mosquito I’ve ever met has called pate overrated, but that’s another story.

Why insects are drawn to some people and not others is a subject of serious scientific inquiry somewhere, or at least it should be. I know that in laboratories where mosquitoes are studied there’s usually a lucky grad student who gets the job of offering up an arm to feed the subjects and surely scientists have noticed that some are preferable to others. When I was a kid I was told that eating sugar makes you attractive to mosquitoes and swallowing a spoonful of vinegar will drive them away which I would think was a ploy to keep the dental bills down if vinegar weren’t at least as hard on the incisors as a popsicle.

For now, though, it remains a mystery, one that may not be fully solved until sixty-five million years in the future when humans have become a shadowy mystery, a subject of intense study and debate for the insects who dominate the planet and perform a reckless experiment, extracting DNA from an ancient ancestor trapped in amber, so they can revive the hominids who once ruled from pole to pole. I expect the clone of my cousin Stephen to be a major attraction at Cenozoic Park.

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10 Comments

  1. Arionis

    When you said the bee was just passing through my first thought was, poor Stephen, not only does he have a bee in his ear, here is his cousin saying he has no brain since the bee was just passing through. Perhaps I should worry about the condition of my brain when that is the first place it goes.

    I also seem to be ignored by insects when others are around. My wife will get eaten up by mosquitos on the back deck and not even come my way. Just a few weeks ago my son was a incessant target of horsefly attacks on a hike while I just walked along unmolested.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I really didn’t mean to imply Stephen was unintelligent. He’s a very smart guy, actually, and makes a living in something involving the transfers of large quantities of green slips of paper which are quite valuable. It’s all well beyond my understanding, but apparently it pays well. It’s funny to me that someone so smart was so oblivious to being an insect buffet.

      Reply
  2. mydangblog

    When I was a kid, I saw an episode of Twilight Zone where a guy took revenge on someone by somehow putting an earwig in the other person’s ear, and it ate its way to the man’s brain. It terrified me, but of course I was too young to know that earwigs are called that because they infest ears of corn, not because they are ravenous meateaters! So I’m happy your cousin survived without losing part of his brain!

    Reply
    1. Arionis

      I’m 49 and you just taught me why an earwig is named that.

      Reply
      1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

        Even knowing that earwigs still give me the jibblies.

        Reply
    2. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      How have I not seen that episode of The Twilight Zone? That sounds horrifying and fascinating, and as a Twilight Zone fan I must see it even though earwigs give me the jibblies. I don’t care that they eat corn and various forms of detritus, and aren’t really harmful to humans. Those big pincers they have on their hindquarters creep me out. Trust Rod Serling to tap into such primal fears.

      Reply
  3. BarbaraM

    Interesting timing….a friend of mine sent me a picture of him 2 hours after a bee stung his lower lip. It grew to about 4 times the size of his normal lip and took all sorts of medication and ice to get to the point where he could actually speak. Still went to work in the pubic Library, although I think they stuck him in a closet so as not to scare the children.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      They could have used him as an exhibit! “This is why you don’t annoy bees, kids. Avoid getting stung.” I’m just glad he didn’t have a worse reaction. It’s scary that bee stings can cause severe anaphylaxis in some people. There’s another reason to use him as a library exhibit. “Think how much worse this could be, kids!”

      Reply
  4. Ann Koplow

    We, for all, welcome another major attraction from our blogging overlord.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m not sure I’m up to the responsibility of being a blogging overlord. If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not lord.

      Reply

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