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Lots of people were in the vicinity, from time to time, but none were aware of the strategic research.

Sidetracked by a phone call from out of state, I interrupt my usual meandering to report a discovery that may improve everyday domestic life.

Paraphrasing, the request was: “How do you take out those pesky flies? We’ve been chasing one all around, and can’t get rid of it.”

My solution is the result of laborious research while lifeguarding in the local country club pool during college summers. One assignment was at the poolside, one was at the basket and check-in counter. It was at the latter where the research was conducted.

During slow moments in the check-in duty, concentration on whatever I was reading was continually disrupted by one or more of those helicopter insects, “helicopter” being the operable term.

To briefly (for me) cut to the chase, the discovery, after hours of frustration, was that the housefly has incredibly superior HTO (horizontal take-off), but inversely limited VTO (vertical take-off).

My research experiments revealed two methodologies for countering these tendencies:

  • Almost assured success — rather than a one-handed slap at the beast (advantage, housefly), slowly surround the intruder sideways with both hands, and a forceful clap will end the distraction about half of the time – 50%! – assuming the invader is at rest, wall or table, bowl or goblet.

One caution: maximum effectiveness is achieved with total surprise, but social niceties may require alerting guests at table that a serenity break is about to occur. (i.e., Ask permission.) This warning may affect the percentage of success, due to nervousness of the problem solver under intense observation, or hyper-activation of the insect’s alert system from the focused attention. (With no warning, observers may gasp to attention at the sudden movement and loud hand clap, but then at least acknowledge relief of the symptom.) Upon conquering the enemy, the enforcer, with equal finesse, must remove the victim forthwith from its final resting place on table, floor, plate, or bowl.

  • Eventual success, after an extended patience ritual, only for those with time and solitude to invest or kill, determined to wage a primal battle, cerebral and physical, to defeat a microbe-brained opponent and re-affirm the superiority of the human species. Eventual success results in 33-50% of attempts, but this claim is diluted into the 7-14% territory based on the average seven attempts at success.

The ground-breaking discovery that led to this pursuit is: the ignoble creature actually relishes the combat! Before the VTO realization, I would try a hand slap when my opponent, seemingly randomly, landed on my leg, begging my attention. My first attempt always failed – but, probably mocking me, the disruptor returned to the selfsame scene, and the mental swords were drawn. I faked a slap, “it” flew off, and then returned, probably embarrassed by the fake. Whereupon I slowly brought my hand closer above the target before launching the next slap. Again, a miss, a return to battle, a weapon drawn oh so slowly closer, and another attempt or fake. By the time victory was in sight, the little bug would let my hand hover four or five inches above, thinking his HTO was still faster than my by-now improving muscle memory. Splat! I don’t remember there ever being any witnesses.

On a more humanitarian note, it is probably more significant that no one ever drowned on my poolside life guard watch. I can remember only two significant rescues, both in the shallows. One was a pre-schooler splashing to the side of the pool. I finally jumped in at the three-foot mark, one lane from the edge. The other was a similar scenario, except that I was watching all the way and thought the toddler would make it, but the mother was nervous and requesting support, so I denied success to the dog-paddler.

As summer recedes, hats off to the beach life guards, who have waves of more demanding challenges, and less opportunity to make significant evolutionary discoveries.

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