Pamela Balluck

Running From the Wasps

~Big, Shiny-Black Bees~

I am not para­noid when I leap from my patio lounge into a run for the back door. I see through the screen I’m pulling shut between us, the thing has fol­lowed me. It hov­ers, and its black shell reflects sun­light. It darts out of frame with a rum­ble. From indoors, through alu­minum mesh, I watch it, or anoth­er, approach and enter its lair behind my lounge’s tow­el-draped shoul­ders.

I’ve been mourn­ing Airwolf, a show that died a cou­ple years ago, after leav­ing CBS for USA Cable; L.A. for Vancouver, B.C.

I’m say­ing so-long to the ‘80s and watch­ing thir­ty come up fast.

~Red Rooster~

Running from Airwolf bees, I may resem­ble Mom on our horse ranch in Montana in the ear­ly ‘70s, chased through the yard by a red cock so fierce in pro­tect­ing his red hens, he beaked at Mom’s ankles, pecked at her heels, flapped at her head—shades of Tippi Hedren—all the way to the house. When Mom got inside the boot shed, the roost­er threw him­self against the just-slammed door with a clat­ter.

~Paper Wasps~

I live in a North Hollywood guest house next to a main house with a pool wasps fre­quent in their nest-build­ing efforts, land­ing on its sur­face, tank­ing up, lift­ing off and, stu­pid-drunk with water, swerv­ing like slo-mo, car­go-laden heli­tankers, legs dan­gling and sway­ing like land­ing skids, in the direc­tion of the nests they’re build­ing with plas­ter made from water blend­ed with plant fibers that dry like lay­ers of swirled paper. The pas­sage between my abode and main-house build­ings serves as an unob­struct­ed wasp high­way from pool to front-yard con­struc­tions. They’re not nec­es­sar­i­ly com­ing at me; prob­a­bly, I’m in their way. Their gold­en, bloat­ed bod­ies careen, legs drag in air, my hairs bris­tle, and I run. My over­all strat­e­gy is to stay out of their way and don’t get them angry, so they don’t home in on me and force me through my back screen door.

~Hummingbirds~

I have two pome­gran­ate trees in my own back yard from which I can­not har­vest even one whole fruit with­out drill holes where hum­mers have hov­ered, poked, and sucked the pulp out of indi­vid­ual seeds from the out­side. Hummies have the advan­tage, dart­ing in and out before I can com­plete my protests. Sometimes the drilled-out skin falls away from the hang­ing fruit, expos­ing the interior’s white, fleshy hon­ey­comb, emp­tied shells of cells—like a building’s out­er wall falling away in a quake and expos­ing the rem­nants of its rooms.

~Airwolf Bees~

I have lived in this guest house adja­cent to my dad’s since I was fif­teen, for almost as many years, give or take a few adven­tures, some back in Montana, where my lit­tle sis­ter and I also grew up, after Mom’s remar­riage and before her death from can­cer in ‘73.

This North Hollywood com­pound, I call it, was not our first L.A. place with Dad after Mom died. First there was a coastal apart­ment high­rise with a pool; then a San Fernando Valley rental house shared with anoth­er sin­gle-par­ent fam­i­ly, also with a pool; then Dad bought this Morrison Street place, in a part of the Valley that used to be farm­land and my guest house an orange-grove caretaker’s cot­tage, before the main house was built, before there were streets. The guest house is zoned in the con­tem­po­rary grid as a half-lot attached to the main lot. Both hous­es bear indi­vid­ual, whole-num­ber address­es fas­tened to walls above mail box­es and paint­ed on the curb.

In the back yard of the guest house, along the edges of a postage-stamp lawn are free­way plants—Oleanders flow­er­ing white, pink, and scar­let along wood-planked fences—and an evil, thorny, ined­i­ble-lemon tree with a role in home secu­ri­ty. At the east­ern edge of the lit­tle slab of con­crete I paint­ed ter­ra-cot­ta red, the two ancient pome­gran­ate trees pro­vide the gnarled trunks into which black bees drill holes; they tun­nel to their nests. It’s because I sit close to the pome­gran­ate trees that the big, shiny-black bees come at me. So says the wasp man, who tells me that my Airwolf bees are Carpenters, X. cal­i­for­ni­ca. The males are par­tic­u­lar­ly pro­tec­tive, ter­ri­to­r­i­al, with­out an arse­nal past intim­i­da­tion. Only their women folk have stingers.

~The Wasp Man~

I am a cliché strug­gling writer in L.A. with a not-writ­ing day job. Except I am not strug­gling to pay rent. My dad is an episod­ic tele­vi­sion writer who, even when act­ing as a sto­ry exec­u­tive attached to a stu­dio lot—like on High Chaparral, Little House on the Prairie, Fantasy Island, Hell Town—does most of his writ­ing at home. He has no desire to rent to strangers for income, held up against how much he val­ues his pri­va­cy. Plus, he wants me to save what I make at my tal­ent-agency day job, at least what I’d pay in rent, toward launch­ing myself in some sure direc­tion. I assuage my guilt of luck by man­ag­ing things around here for him, and the guest house is again, in a sense, a caretaker’s cot­tage. I am a lucky girl. I know we have a wasp prob­lem because I’m no stranger to Dad’s pool; and the guest house’s back yard makes part of my liv­ing space. Dad is will­ing to pay an exter­mi­na­tor. But since I’m the one com­plain­ing, I must call around, request bids, super­vise.

I’m glad to talk with the wasp man, walk him on a tour of the yards and struc­tures: Dad’s mod­est two-bed­room (one his home office), sur­round­ed on three sides by walled-in patios; the ancient gar­den­ing shack; the guest cot­tage; the red­wood car­port; the con­vert­ed garage, con­tain­ing my mar­ried sister’s old room, plus laun­dry room, and stor­age. I show the wasp man the paper nests around the place. And he points out nests that are news to me.

When he’s ready to blast the wasp com­mu­ni­ties from their beams and eaves, he suits up. We all—cats, too—have to stay indoors until the dust set­tles: the dev­as­tat­ed, angry swarms, the con­fused and anguished sur­vivors.

The wasp man tells me if, in future, I want to patrol against rede­vel­op­ing nests, to knock them down with blasts from water noz­zles, to do so at or after sun­down, when they’re home for the night. He says to wear pro­tec­tive cloth­ing. I will.

The wasp man says the Carpenter bees might be mis­tak­ing my eyes for wood holes, in the prox­im­i­ty of the pome­gran­ate trees, whether sock­ets or sun­glass­es; maybe are mis­tak­ing my eyes for their aims, their ports of entry. Tiny Jan-Michael Vincent led crews are not strate­gi­cal­ly pilot­ing these air beasts search­ing for and pro­tect­ing their lairs. So much is guess­work and instinct on the path to the right gnarly trunk hole.

~Cock~

After Mom’s roost­er chased her, flail­ing and trip­ping, into the house, her sec­ond hus­band (the man she left Dad for) fash­ioned a wood­en club he hung for secu­ri­ty out­side the chick­en-coop door. It gave me a sick sat­is­fac­tion, knock­ing that roost­er over the head, ren­der­ing him uncon­scious and harm­less until my feed­ing and water­ing and egg-col­lect­ing were done and the wood-framed, chick­en-wire door latched again between us. I always left him in a just-com­ing-to state, about to fling him­self at the door—at me, safe on the oth­er side of chick­en wire.

~ Airwolf~

My friend Elyssa guest-starred in one of Airwolf’s last CBS episodes.

After the series went to cable, no more Jan-Michael Vincent, no more Ernie Borgnine, and for all intents and pur­pos­es, no more sexy-black, super­son­ic Airwolf itself. Why invest myself in new episodes just for recy­cled shots of Airwolf in flight (a heli­copter that the down­scaled, first-run cable pro­duc­tion couldn’t afford, every­thing new shot in a ground­ed mock­up)? I was in love with that heli­copter, see­ing it in action, mov­ing tri­umphant­ly to its own glint­ing score, and feel­ing that excite­ment in my heart; super-sexy.

While the men­ac­ing black bees buzz me—and hov­er at eye level—seem to stare me down, my fear is mixed with fond­ness and admi­ra­tion, because, hon­est­ly, who can­not see the resem­blance?

~Chicken Hawk~

While my sis­ter and I were in school, Mom’s red roost­er was killed by a chick­en hawk, which in turn was shot by a weapon-wield­ing neigh­bor. Saying good­bye to that roost­er was fine with me. What did we need him for, any­way, the pic­turesque? Mom had thought fer­til­ized eggs would be more nutri­tious.

On that Montana ranch, the roost­er died. The white rab­bit I brought from California died, obese and triple-chinned. After Mom died, her yel­low cat died, bro­ken heart­ed, wail­ing her­self to death in the garage; then, Mom’s sheltie, who was blind and deaf and had no more rea­son to live. One of our California cats sur­vived, the daugh­ter of the yel­low cat, born here in the Valley in the ‘60s when my par­ents were still mar­ried, and she was brought back to L.A. from Montana by me in ‘73; was buried years lat­er, next door, in a cor­ner of Dad’s front court­yard.

~Mocking Birds~

None of us is safe. Not cats, opos­sum, crows, high-wire squir­rels and rats; not my scalp, as I walk across the yard. We are in mock­ing­bird nest­ing ter­ri­to­ry. Second-gen­er­a­tion shades of Tippi Hedren—me duck­ing and run­ning, wav­ing my arms above my head, from one back yard to the oth­er.

~Running from the Wasps~

Now that I know what to look for in the way of Paper Wasp home­mak­ing, I some­times but­ton up from neck to toe and patrol the prop­er­ty at twi­light with noz­zles on hoses, when­ev­er it appears the new papery nests are re-form­ing, in the same eaves, same cor­ner of the car­port. I can­not stop wasps from land­ing on Dad’s pool any more than I can stop Carpenters from drilling into trees, but I tell myself I can encour­age wasps to move from the pool in oth­er direc­tions, seek new struc­tures, so maybe I can relax for a minute on this ter­ra-cot­ta pad with­out rush­es of adren­a­lin, with­out the forced run­ning from my own back yard.

You would like to see me run­ning from my own back yard?

~

Pamela Balluck’s cre­ative writ­ing has appeared in, among oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, the Western Humanities Review, The Southeast Review, Quarter After Eight, Square Lake, Jabberwock Review, [PANK], Barrow Street, Night Train, Freight Stories, Avery Anthology, Prime Mincer, and The Ocean State Review. She has fic­tion forth­com­ing in Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories and in The Way We Sleep. She teach­es writ­ing at the University of Utah.