Al Batt: The vexatious fly nailed the screen test that time

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

It was the time of the screen door slams.

I was trying to spell Czechoslovakia. I’d found a lucky rock and put it in my pocket to help me with my spelling. I was a good student and got two As on every single report card. There was one in Allen and another in Batt.

Al Batt

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The Sandman had put me to sleep, the smell of bacon was my alarm clock and I spilled my milk at dinner. That was our noon or thereabouts meal. I spilled milk at every meal that offered milk. I’d hit a growth spurt that made the sleeves of my long-sleeved shirts too short and turned my blue jeans into high-water pants. I reached far for things that had become suddenly closer. 

“That’s OK, sweetie,” said my mother, with a mop in hand in anticipation, “no harm done.”

After a big meal, I took the time to lean back and notice that the ends of my fingers had broken out in nails.

The splash of the milk had alerted every fly that could find access to our abode through a hole in a screen window that hadn’t yet been repaired by fingernail polish or needle and thread.

Flies have every right to act like flies. You might scare a bear away by yelling, but it takes a flyswatter to discourage a fly.

We had a flyswatter. We used to have two — the good flyswatter and the other one. It did us no good to have more than one as we’d just lose one. We’d lost one and were stuck with the good flyswatter, the Whistler 5000, a top-of-the-line swatter.

Dad used that flyswatter. It’s good to be king.

I’d been perusing a bird field guide a wonderful teacher had given me. I plopped it on the kitchen table to give my brain a breather.

I heard the buzz of a fly. The onslaught had begun. It flew a mission around and around my head as it waited for the tower to give it landing instructions.

It reminded me of a joke an elder had told at Vivian’s Cafe. A state trooper had pulled over a farmer for speeding and lectured the farmer about his driving deficiencies. As the police officer wrote the ticket, he swatted at the flies that buzzed around his head.

The farmer said, “Having problems with those circle flies?”

The trooper stopped writing the ticket and said, “Is that what they’re called? I’ve never heard of circle flies.”

The farmer said, “Well, circle flies are common on farms. They’re called circle flies because they’re almost always found circling the rear end of a horse.”

The officer said, “Wait a minute, are you calling me a horse’s rear end?”

The farmer replied, “Oh no, officer. I’d never do that. I have too much respect for you  to even think about calling you a horse’s rear end.”

The trooper nodded and said, “Well, it’s a good thing you weren’t,” and went back to writing the speeding ticket.

The farmer added, “Of course, it’s impossible to fool those circle flies.”

That punchline had just finished its run through my brain when the fly’s buzzing stopped. The fly had landed on my head.

My mother saw it touch down on my melon. She was unarmed because my father held the flyswatter as he read the latest issue of the Capper’s Weekly.

I could tell she wanted to dispatch the insect as she recognized it as a familiar foe. She had a history with that fly. It had been pesky to a point where it had landed on her green Jell-O and skillfully evaded her attempts to swat it.

She looked around the table for a weapon.

I remained motionless as the kitchen clock ticked loudly. I don’t know what the fly was doing because I couldn’t see it.

Mom picked up my bird book and used it to give me a larruping good lick to the side of my head. She missed the fly, but fanciful singing and dancing circle flies wearing bib overalls and football helmets orbited my brain. Since that day, my nose is always buried in a book.

It’s not only difficult for me to put down a book, I don’t dare.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.