Nov. 10 2010 10:53 AM

One man’s war against the most revolting creature on Earth

This was supposed to be a different column. It was supposed to be a column about Juan Williams being fired by NPR for saying that he is afraid to fly with traditionally dressed Muslims. It was going to be called “Sheiks on a Plane,” which was supposed to include a scene in which Williams runs through the aircraft shouting, “I have had it with these motherfucking sheiks on this motherfucking plane.”

This is gonna be sooo funny, I thought as I brought my piping-hot coffee into the office and excitedly began typing out my brilliant idea—for a couple of minutes, anyway, until the creature arrived. It was a fly, and when it flew in the door and landed on my coffee cup, everything came to a screeching halt.

For two hours, we were at war, with him dive bombing my head and landing on my stuff, and me hunting him down with an Esquire magazine until losing him. Then I would search for bit, give up and return to work—which is the exact moment he would return, forcing me to chase him again, over and over, for about 10 cycles.

So, what is the reason for my pteronarcophobia? It all began in 1986, when I saw the remake of The Fly starring Jeff Goldblum as a scientist who turns into a murderous member of the musca domestica species.

There’s a scene in which his girlfriend catches him regurgitating on his meal. When she recoils in horror, he explains that this is how flies externally digest their food. The acidic vomit liquefies the solid so it can be sucked through their straw-like proboscis, and it occurred to me then that when a fly lands on my food, it’s probably puking on it. Either that or defecating, urinating, salivating or simply shedding any or all of the horrifying pathogens they carry in their disgusting little leg spurs.

At any given time, that teeny little housefly—sitting on your coffee cup, cutely rubbing its forelegs together like a kitten cleaning his paws—could be a bounty of typhoid, cholera, dysentery, salmonella, tuberculosis, anthrax, hepatitis, cysts of protozoa or the dreaded eggs of helminths.

When I see a fly, I envision a dead raccoon festering under the SoCal sun, a hundred bugs crawling over the thing until something startles them and they all take wing, each hurtling toward a different surface on which to deposit biological mayhem—like my coffee cup, on which the creature rubs its forelegs together to shake off every single egg of helminths and cyst of protozoa it brought with him.

I take a swipe but the bastard is fast. I chase him around the room, knocking over pictures and plants until he finds refuge in some cranny that I can’t locate. It’s a viscous cycle, and I can’t get any writing done. So I Google “Lifecycle of the common housefly.”

I was under the impression that they live for only three days and thought, Well, maybe I can ask my editor for an extension and then wait for it to die. But the little upchuckers live 20 days! And, judging by its size and speed, this one was young—probably only a few hours had passed since it was a maggot munching on the infected innards of a dead raccoon, the thought of which makes me want to externally digest my monitor.

It’s midnight now. Deadline is tomorrow.

My best hope is to ignore the fly and keep working on Sheiks on a Plane. So I write, “The problem with firing Juan Williams for his comment is that he is rubbing his forelegs together and dropping the cysts of protozoa into my goddamn coffee again!” I watch with contempt as the creature crawls into the cup. If I could, I would drop a nuclear bomb on his head and tolerate the radiation poisoning. I hate him so much. I hate him the way sharks hate surfboards. I hate him how hipsters hate Styx. I hate him the way Mormo—suddenly, he takes wing and heads toward the area of the door. In a flash, I leap from my seat, rush toward him and maniacally wave my hands shouting, “Out, fly, out!” until it concedes and careens out of the office.

“Don’t let the door hit you on the rear abdominal segment on your way out!” I shout as I slam it shut.

Peace then. Elation. Emancipation. After a few moments, I peek out to see if the coast is clear. It is. I walk to the kitchen, pour a glass of victory wine and return. Breathing easily, I start typing. My brilliant column about airbound sheiks, it appears, will be completed after all. Before long, I am in the zone. Then the unthinkable happens. “Honey?” says my wife, as she opens the door. “Have you seen my wallet?” at which point my little carrier smidgen zips over her shoulder and lands on the rim of my freshly poured glass of victory wine. Reflexively, I wail. It’s guttural and dampened, like a mouthless banshee being gang-raped by a grove of pine trees.

“What’s wrong?!” my treasonous wife asks. “I have had it with this motherfucking fly in this motherfucking office,” I howl, with bloodshot eyes and throbbing neck veins. She backs away, slowly, quietly. When I’m on deadline and blocked, I’m prone to demonic outbursts. At these moments, my wife has learned, it’s always best to retreat and shut the door.

“May the cysts of a million protozoa infest your pancreas,” I scream at her, as the fly rubs his forelegs and drops a few thousand more helminths spores into my glass of wine. I sigh, and delete my Sheiks on a Plane title, replacing it with “Pteronarcophobia,” thereby tendering my unconditional surrender to a motherfucking insect.

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Nov. 10 2010
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