Abject Cruelty To Insects
For the most part, Suburbia was a happy place. Kids safely roamed the streets and the sound of laughter filled the air. But then…there was the dark side! Kids could compensate for being on the low end of the human social ladder by imposing power onto even lower orders of creatures. Oh no…not anything that could lick your face and cause joy, not to anything that belonged to the class Mammalia. No, the poor hapless creatures of choice for suburban children (and children worldwide) were insects and other assorted creepy crawlies!
The Methodology of Kid Insect Torture
During the 1960’s, a kid’s view of war was shaped by television. Not the vivid combat footage coming back from Vietnam…more like Hogans Heroes and John Wayne movies. Hence kids had no qualms of “playing war” and we had no qualms in using live creatures and our “soldiers”. As young aspiring Panzer commanders, my friend Danny and I would make hollow capsules made of thick modeling clay (the kid torturer’s secret weapon). The clay capsule would then be fitted with long sewing needles with the sharp points facing outward and the whole thing would be stuck onto a short strip of wooden shingle so that it could be pushed forward on a tabletop. Our gallant “tank” crews consisted of some poor doodlebugs (sow bugs) that had the misfortune to be crawling by at the time. Once our crew was placed inside the clay capsule, we buttoned them in with a piece of clay and the battle would begin! Danny and I (the cunning generals) faced off on the patio picnic table. We would slide our “tanks” back and forth in jabbing motions until sufficient damage was done to our clay fighting machines or until someone’s hand got stabbed with the needles. After hostilities ceased, we would open the clay capsule, and the general with the surviving doodlebug was declared the winner. Usually, the battle was a draw since both bugs were dead. I guess we pre-dated the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
The Space Program
President John F. Kennedy set a goal that the United States was to send a man to the moon and return him safely to the Earth by the end of the 1960’s. We patio children went one further…we were going to send a bug 30 feet into the atmosphere and return him, well, to the Earth and do it all in one afternoon!
Once the kid space command determined that bugs would fly, whether they had wings or not, work began on clay “rockets”. From a ball of modeling clay (again), we would roll conical shapes then hollow them out to accommodate the doodlebug “astronauts” (again). Once again our hapless victims were buttoned into their spacecraft as we all anxiously awaited the countdown. FIVE…FOUR…THREE…TWO…ONE…BLASTOFF echoed down the suburban streets. With that, the launch officer (the kid with the best throw) flung the craft into the far regions of space careful not to hit any tree limbs or telephone wires. At apogee, the bonds of Earth would once again pull the craft homewards, and it would fall back into the hands of the launch officer. More often than not the launch officer would miss the “splash down” point (especially when it was a kid that was not particularly adept at fielding pop flies like me). A resounding SPLAT usually marked the end of the mission. After the late astronaut received a state funeral, we came to believe that such sacrifices were required if we were to beat the Soviets to the moon.
Massacre At Calvary
A good dose of Protestantism was necessary for the Patio Culture, especially after Saturday night poker parties! For the kids that meant getting scrubbed, dressed, and packed off to Sunday school to learn the fear of God. It is only natural that the impressions the Biblical stories made on the kids would make their way to the sandbox. Once we made three tiny crosses and placed them atop a little hill in the middle of the sandpile. To them we would lash dazed red wasps and the occasional, appropriately enough, praying mantis. True Romans that we were, we would leave the tiny crucifixion victims in the sandbox for the remainder of the afternoon while we went off to play. Upon our return, we would sometimes discover an insect that had survived the pseudo-Golgothan sun. We would then hasten matters by exposing the survivor’s heads to each other and he who had the most powerful mandibles would win the contest. I once saw a praying mantis eat the head of a red wasp in this manner. If guilt ever overcame us in this masochistic activity (and I don’t remember it ever doing so) we could always return to Sunday school the following week and repent!
Gimmie A Body Count!
One time the steps that led from our kitchen to the patio got infested with ants and became quite a nuisance. As the defender of my patio, I wasn’t about to permit this invasion on my watch! As their nest was somewhere under the threshold of the backdoor a direct assault was out of the question. Instead, I was forced to wage a war of attrition as the crafty little buggers stepped out of their stronghold and went about their daily business. Sitting on the back steps I would hold my “fire” until a good number of the enemy were in sight of my big guns (my thumbs) and then I would let them have it. The firepower of a 12mm thumb can be an awesome thing to witness. The carnage of the squishing was supplemented by an audible type of “bang” sound that I won’t attempt to spell. After about 30-50 of the ants lay dead and dying on the battlefield, the guns would have to be “cooled off” since my thumbs were getting pretty tired by then. A curious lemony smell followed the destruction which is interesting since I later learned that ants reportedly have a lemony taste. One day I felt particularly prone to the thrills of brinkmanship and got a can of Raid from under the kitchen sink. Not being too skilled in the use of weapons of mass destruction, I hosed the entire back step with the deadly substance. After the half-life of the insecticide was reduced to a semi-safe level, I surveyed ground zero. Not an ant in sight! In an instance, my brief career as an exterminator had ended. No more lazy afternoons in the ant-killing fields. Such is the price of war.
Note: Don’t try these activities at home kids! The webmaster does not condone cruelty to other life forms without the approval of the President and consent of Congress pursuant to the War Powers Act of 1973.