BUMBLE IN THE BONNET

Previously, we touched on insects as unwelcome surprises in flight that might be avoided through more careful inspection beforehand — black widows between short little running socks, fire ants in the nether regions… But not all entomological crises are subject to prevention.

I was flying a single ride from the aft seat of a 2-32 (so spacious back there I always feel like a baby in a bathtub) when thoomp, a bumble bee shot in through one of the forward vents. It struck the passenger’s shoulder first before proceeding to carom off everything else in the cockpit. Happens every time.

Bugs appear to go nuts after such an entrance, but put yourself in their tiny little shoes. Going about their everyday buzziness, suddenly they’re sucked through a terrifying worm hole into totally foreign airspace. I’d panic, wouldn’t you? They must be wondering, ‘How’d I get in here and which way out?’ Generally though, if you leave them alone most insects reconnoitre the cockpit once or twice and get the gist, then find a comfy spot to settle down for the ride.

Okay, but a bumble bee? If you fly long enough, you’ll catch many kinds of bugs that way, and my first thought was getting this full-size buzz bomb back to earth in good order would be a catch-and-release trophy! Sure it’s visually intimidating, but that’s partly to engender respect. It too will take care of itself — if we allow it to. And that’s the flaw in the ointment, humans who do go nuts when bugs start whizzing round in a confined space.

This was not some kind of rabid monster determined to assassinate the first person it met, but my passenger saw it as life and death. Whenever the bee flew he tried to knock it down, and every time it landed he’d disturb it. Each fresh assault further antagonized the bee, duh, and not to anybody’s benefit. The only one who didn’t understand this was that maniac in front — we’ll call him the MIF.

When the bee sought greater safety in back with me, the MIF was not satisfied. He pulled out of one shoulder strap and twisted around in pursuit. It tried to hide behind me, so the MIF yanked my hat off and began swatting all around my head and torso, hitting me more often than his quarry…

No, this really did happen. And yes, that’s how far I let it go before grabbing the MIF’s arm like I meant it and doing what I’ve never done before or since: shout angrily at someone in the air. (Mom always said the less often you do it the more often it works, and she was right again.) That smoothed things somewhat, I regained control of my hat and got the MIF facing forward again, but our bee was still on his mind.

It, meanwhile, had perched on the wide cushion beside me for a needed rest. Though rightly indignant at the rude reception, it was ready to let that go in the interest of comity. We eyed each other warily, but when I whispered that I preferred its companionship to this other guy’s, it seemed to nod in consensus.

Soon though, time came to bank a turn, prompting the bee to hop up on the canopy rail for a better view. And that’s when the MIF also turned his head, saw the enemy again, and renewed his moronic attacks.

The bee had no reason to expect further violence now, nor continue to tolerate it. This time both combatants were even more belligerent, and what was once a vast reservoir of patience began escaping like steam from my ears. Open ended conflict might sell viewers on TV, or even buy the votes of fools, but it fits nowhere in my understanding of ‘crew resource management’. Despite genuine sympathy for the bee, I declared a safety of flight emergency and batted the poor thing to the floorboard. It had to be one or the other, the bug or the MIF…

I suppose I could/should have let it lie there stunned, maybe laid my hat over it to pacify the MIF, but who knows how mad it would bee the next time it flew? And what if it remembered which of us most recently knocked it down??

What we all agreed on was that none were cool with this situation, so I, having most control (and least to lose, frankly), decided to end it. With ambivalence that felt downright cowardly – to protect myself from the MIF, not the MIF from the bee – I pulled my foot back and unceremoniously crunched all life from the one of these two who’d become my overwhelming favorite.

Yuck. Finally at least one of us was happy, the MIF now freed to enjoy the remainder of his flight, somehow. But not me.

I could rationalize that the victim was probably too battered by then to survive anyway, but it was really the MIF (and whomever so loosely strapped him in, hint hint) that merited a heel to the head. Our problem was never some pitiable bug; as usual, it was a fool human lacking appropriate self-control.

Which human? You be the judge.