Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fond Memories (Of Things Now Deemed Dangerous)

Remember mercury fever thermometers? They started their lives as a tool for telling Moms just how sick their kid was. Occasionally (well, frequently, actually) one broke, and they changed from tool to toy. Kids gleefully scooped up all the little drops of mercury, stored them someplace safe - from discovery and/or loss, that is - and when time and parenting permitted, took the precious treasure and - GASP! - played with it! No gloves, no face masks to prevent inhalation, no school evacuations when drops taken to school were rolled around on desks, split and shared with friends,  rejoined, rubbed onto pennies in an attempt to fake nickels if the two metals finally consented to bond.

Imagine the scandal if that happened today.  Mercury was such fun that many in my generation find it hard to take spills seriously as any kind of danger. Close the school? Ridiculous! Decontaminate a factory? Hey, can we get in there first and grab a stash of our own to take home? Look, we spent as much time as we could playing with it, experimenting with a property some of us later learned to call surface tension because that was the strongest and cheapest example of it around. We're still here, still healthy, still whole, still sane.

OK, maybe not so much sane when you look at election polling, but still.

Since returning to Arizona, I'm redeveloping a fondness for the old No Pest Strip. It was a yellow slab of (plastic?) coated in insecticide, a bit gooey on the surface but who cared? One opened the foil packet it sat in waiting for use, then - barehanded again! - slid it into a heavy paper box with lots of air openings on the sides to let the chemical out into the air and hung it up. About 4 months later it came down and if bugs were still incoming, it was replaced.

They hung in the house. Near food, even. After all, they kept bugs at bay, killing flies way better than rolls of sticky flypaper hung from ceilings and way less work than a flyswatter. More sanitary too. Flies are so-o-o-o disgusting! We'd seen the filmstrips in school showing us how nasty flies were, and we surely didn't want them anywhere near our food.

They were so effective that my grandparents-in-law told how, every spring when they left Arizona for their cabin in Minnesota, they'd hang one or two in their mobile home. When they returned in the fall, they didn't have to shake scorpions out of shoes in their closet before putting a foot in. No flies. No tarantulas. Heck, they were so strong that they'd even kill a rattlesnake if one crawled in!

No Pest Strips were so strong that they disappeared from the market decades ago. It seems that they could damage people as well, especially when improperly used. Who knew? I used them regularly for years with no ill effects.

I think.

Anyway, the environmentally correct substitute became the sticky trap, whether on a flat sheet or inside a little "house". No chemicals, just adhesive. Really strong adhesive. I still recall finding one in the garage with a chipmunk partly stuck on it, thrashing around until it managed to work itself with trap into a plastic grocery bag. Of course, I found the thrashing bag before I identified what actually happened. That was fun. Once things calmed down a bit, we took such pity on the poor chipmunk that we pried it off the sticky board and turned it loose in the garden, quite a feat when one is trying not to get bit, before, during, or after. We have no knowledge of what else it may have stuck to after vacating the trap, as it still had adhesive blotches, or even whether it survived. I kind of enjoy imagining it stuck to a neighborhood cat. Likely it just carried around a layer of dirt and bits of dried leaves for a month or so.

The nostalgia kicks in now because I've spent much of my spare time since arriving finding and removing bug residue from the cupboards, tossing foods we thought were sealed effectively, scrubbing shelves and drawers, washing all their contents, including towels and potholders, that we didn't toss.

I'm not done.

Yes, the sticky traps caught a whole bunch of critters. Just not enough. And I still have not managed to locate the 8th trap that was set out last spring. I have my suspicions, but....

I'll let you know if Steve ever cleans his room down to the floor and finds a trap stuck to the bottom of whatever he brought in from the car and tossed onto his floor in the dark. But meanwhile he's been sick, so I'm still waiting to find out. And I'm not absolutely positive that's where the 8th trap was placed. It's just the only spot I haven't checked three times.

Out of intense dissatisfaction, I hit the internet to see if anybody anywhere still sold No Pest Strips. Legally or not. And they do! Of course, one warning label would cover a whole set of strip holders even without the holes, but they are still out there. I'm planning to order a bunch, while I can. Next spring before we hit the road - the last available second before if the warnings are to be heeded, and not forgetting a thorough hand washing - I will set out two or three, depending on square footage covered, and lock the doors. Once back, they get removed, all the windows thrown open for a few hours before turning on the AC, and I should be able to confidently expect an end to the endless search and destroy in the kitchen, larder, the bathrooms, the closets, the library, the....

Ahhhh, sweet fantasies!

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