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Column: Doing what comes naturally
My spirits soared as the Labor Day weekend approached. Beaches crammed with humans, a vast sea of exposed flesh awaited me. While some may ogle other body parts, my fetish is shins and backs of knees. In my book, there is nothing quite so beautiful and alluring as a shin, and the backs of knees are a close second. Oh occasionally I’m drawn to a thigh and every once in a great while, a lower back. Arms? Almost never (and I really can’t explain why the random attraction). Torsos never. Necks never. Heads totally never. I’m just a shin guy and proud of it. Hey, I’m a sand fly and I’m here to bite shins as often as I can.
This is what I do. You got a problem with that? So swat me.
I was born this way. I don’t remember being trained or directed toward shins. (Frankly, I’m shaky on the whole remembrance thing.) I simply became and then I started going after shins. There was no transition or evolving. No mom or dad coaching or outside tutoring. No nothing as far as I can remember and, as I think about it, mom and dad seemed to be preoccupied in parenting zillions of other sibling sand flies and had no time to shepherd me into shins. But I have noticed that most of my kin are shin-oriented, much like certain ethnic humans are led, almost against their will, to be sand dogs, digging subway tunnels, or steelworkers, working at the top of skyscrapers and mastering the art of not looking down.
As the summer season winds down, and, man, do I rue the end of summer and the diminishment of exposed flesh, there are a couple of things to bring up.
First of all, so-called repellents. People, have you noticed that they don’t work? I’m no expert as to the chemical makeup of these sprays, but they are not a problem for me. They are like the speed bumps in Dering Harbor, a pain in the neck but hardly a deterrent to rolling apace beside the harbor-side mansions.
I say I haven’t evolved. But you be the judge: When I spot a glossy patch of Off! on a shin? That will make my day. That is where you earn your stripes as a sand fly. The easy targets are everywhere. When you have to penetrate some Off!, that gives the bite distinction. You have broken through an attempted barricade to feast on what for millions of years has been our happy hunting ground: humans, who can only slap and curse at us in utter hopelessness.
Bites, in and of themselves, are the primary raison d’etre. I don’t consider myself reflective, but they are pretty much all I think about. You might assume that flying — hurtling around at amazing speed on tiny wings — would be a big deal. But that talent is so deeply embedded that it seems simply a way to get from bite to bite. Although in heavy winds I sometimes catch myself thinking, why the heck am I not being blown to the Azores? So clearly the flying prowess is prodigious.
Let’s review: biting is king and repellents are worthless. But for me the greatest joy and most significant achievement is what I call Movement. Last Saturday, for instance, there was an attractive family of four stationed about 20 yards right of the lifeguard tower at Wades. I began waging a marauding/biting campaign that soon had the adults sputtering. (I am not aware of having any ethics but I dimly perceive that I mostly consider children in the single-digit ages to be off-limits.) It took roughly a half-hour, but lo and behold, they packed up the umbrellas, the chairs, the coolers and the towels and headed down toward Dickerson Creek in search of respite. Bingo: Movement.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling amped up, I follow the transplants and drive them mad, but in this case, a family of six took over the vacated patch of beach and I began harassing them, hoping to notch another Movement tally. Sometimes, things don’t go as planned. These new would-be victims were tough. They had a preternatural ability to detect when I had alit and swat me away before I could bore in. Usually just buzzing around is enough to unnerve a human. But these guys were unfazed and I give them a tip of the cap. No matter, like 10 feet away, an older couple, their skin the color of saddle leather, reclined in their ancient beach chairs, defenseless. I gave them the business but they never even reacted. World-weariness? That’s no fun and I moved on.
It’s one thing to get humans to Move on a given beach. It’s an entirely different and higher thing to get them to Move to another beach. I usually work Wades and Crescent but a while back I checked out Menhaden Lane, just for a change of scenery. Only five parties were encamped, mostly families. For reasons that escape me, I chose to hector a lone human under a blue umbrella that seemed somehow familiar. He was pretty good at defense but after I got up the back of his shirt and nailed his lower back a couple of times, he packed up, rather huffily I thought, and went to Crescent, or that’s what I’m assuming because, in a never-before move, I was going to follow him to ruin his beach day entirely. I got as far as Goat Hill and had to take a breather. Once restored, I looked around. There, beneath some obscene plaid shorts was a very fine shin specimen. I guess you can figure out what happened next.