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Dan Conradt: No shield. No armor. No problem.

August 12, 2018

Dan Conradt

It’s only going to get bigger if you leave it,” Steven said.

“I know.”

“Next year, it’ll be huge.”

“It looks pretty huge already,” I said.

“It’s getting dark,” he said. “Now’s the time to do it.”

“You’re probably right,” I said.

“You have a can of that spray in the basement, don’t you?”

“Yeah, somewhere.”

“How close do you have to get?”

Anywhere in the same ZIP code is too close. “I’m not sure. I haven’t used it.”

We stood on the sidewalk and looked up at the peak in the soffit over the front door.

“Next year, it’s going to be HUGE!” Steven said.

My Adam’s apple bobbed a couple of times.

“I’ll go get the spray,” I said. I took the scenic route to the basement … through the garage so I wouldn’t have to walk under the peak in the soffit.

I found the spray can in the corner of the basement where I keep cans of paint, a bottle of RoundUp and a gallon of Hilex bleach. I took the scenic route back out to where Steven was waiting.

“Can I see?” he asked.

I showed him the can, and he studied the label.

“Is that what’s up there?” he asked, pointing at the image of a wasp.

I was hoping it was dark enough he didn’t see the goose bumps that suddenly covered most of my body.

“Yup.”

“Why are you so scared of them?”

Ordinarily, I might have bristled at the word “scared.” But it’s hard to argue with the truth.

“I got stung by a wasp one time, and it hurt like heck,” I said. “And they’re just kind of … creepy. I guess everyone’s got something they’re afraid of … snakes, mice, spiders. For me, it’s wasps.”

He lowered his voice and added a touch of menace: “Then let’s blast ’em.’”

I smiled through the goose bumps.

“OK, here’s what we’re going to do,” I said, hauling the stepladder out of the garage. “I’m going to set up the ladder right here. I’m going to climb up, and when I say, ‘Now!’ I want you to shine the flashlight on the nest, and I’m going to spray it.”

“Cool!”

I hope so, I thought.

“First, let me see how far this thing sprays.” I stepped into the middle of the yard, shook the can and pressed the red button, releasing a 10-foot cone of gray-white fog. It was a good sign, and I moved the ladder back a couple of feet.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s do this thing!”

“Blast ’em!”

The flashback came as soon as I put my foot on the bottom rung of the ladder:

I was 10 years old when someone discovered a wasp nest the size of a bushel basket hidden in the fronds of a willow tree at the cabin. Fortified by the kind of courage that can only come from a case of Blatz, Dad and the guys formulated a plan: Once it got dark, they’d sneak up on the nest, quickly encase it in a plastic garbage bag, wrestle it out of the tree and toss it into the bonfire they’d already built. I was watching from the window as the bonfire suddenly erupted in a shower of sparks, and four shadowy figures went running in opposite directions, shouting most of the words mom told me I could never say.

“Are you OK, Dad?” Steven asked.

My foot still was on the bottom rung of the ladder.

“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s blast ’em.”

I stepped up to the second rung. The third. The fourth.

The nest got bigger the higher I climbed. By the time I reached the top of the ladder, the nest was the size of a cantaloupe, and even in the gloaming, the surface rippled with the movement of wasps.

It was Stephen King meets “The Twilight Zone.”

“I’ve got the flashlight,” Steven said from the bottom of the ladder.

I took a deep breath and went from a whisper to a shout in two words: “OK … NOW!!!”

The flashlight beam lit up the nest and the can of bug bomb hissed as I unleashed a deadly cone of fog … 15 seconds … 30 … 45.

Wasps were raining down onto the deck below. By the time they finally stopped falling, my trigger finger was numb. On wobbly legs, I climbed down the ladder.

The window slid open. “How did it go?” Carla asked through the screen.

“It was cool!” Steven said. “There was … like … a million wasps! Dad was awesome!”

Aw, shucks.

“Weren’t you scared?” he asked.

“Nah!” I lied. “Well, maybe a little. OK, yeah, it was pretty scary.”

“Let’s go have a Popsicle!” he said.

In our house, any event worth celebrating requires a Popsicle.

“Good idea!” I said. “I think I’ll have orange.”

And this time, we went in through the front door.

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