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Updated on April 7, 2010

I've often wondered when a fly dies in a beer, does it drown or does it simply end up too stupid drunk to find its way out of the bottle? Perhaps it stares up at the hole at the top through its two drunken compound eyes, now seeing 3,200 of those holes and just says "Oh, hell naw."

It was my father and I, grandma and grandpa, and my Uncle Ron.

And the flies.

They were everywhere. On the table, on the chairs, swooping and buzzing and regurgitating around the myriad snack bowls and soda cans. The white exterior walls of the house were infested with them, looking like the back of a grazing cow in a farm field. Arms and other appendages were to the pesky little insects what airstrips are to a plane. Several of them would make kamikaze-like passes by the ears, getting just close enough so that you could hear them, or even feel them tickling your ear, before they went tearing off in the other direction—if a fly could laugh, that one maneuver alone would be enough to send it into a wild bout of hysterics. I must confess that if I could do that it would probably make me laugh so hard I'd blow off a wing.

Without question the little buggers are annoying as ever, though surely no one can deny a fly its remarkable power of flight. It takes great skill to fly like they do, with such amazing speed and accuracy. They have to change their course in an instant or face certain death from an opposing object like a newspaper or a flyswatter—or just a hand. Imagine for a moment, from a fly's perspective, having to counter 1,600 objects coming at you all at once, and then making it away. When you put it that way it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "holy shit, that was close." There's probably even a fighter pilot out there somewhere who has at one time or another in his lifetime marveled at the flying capability of a fly, and then felt a little bit jealous.

There were a few of them dead, having met their apparent demise on the bottoms of empty bottles of beer which lay haphazardly about the table. I've often wondered when a fly dies in a beer, does it drown or does it simply end up too stupid drunk to find its way out of the bottle? Perhaps it stares up at the hole at the top through its two drunken compound eyes, now seeing 3,200 of those holes and just says "Oh, hell naw."

As most days were during the summers in Holiday Shores, a private lake subdivision in the small town of Edwardsville, Illinois near St. Louis, it was hot. There were at times the occassional breeze, but most of the time the air was as still as a dead man. And yes. There were those darned flies.

I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but truly I must profess to you with every bit of seriousness that I have never seen as many flies in my life as I saw in Illinois. I'd be willing to bet that tennis elbow might very well be the most common ailment in the state from round the clock swatting.

The family was in town visiting from Milwaukee. With the five of us sitting on the back porch, which spanned the length of the house overlooking the long gravel drive, Grandpa made the same joke that he always made whenever he came into town.

"When this damned state picked its bird they got it wrong," he would proclaim. "It should have been the fly."

It always got a laugh. It still makes me laugh to this day. And he was probably right. They should have made it their state bird. It seemed far more plausible one would see more flies in one day than one would ever see cardinals in a lifetime. In fact, I could probably count together on my fingers and toes the number of cardinals I ever observed.

That may be a bit of a stretch. It's entirely possible that I could have seen eleven of the little, red crested finches in my day before I moved from there, off to attend Navy boot camp in the Great Lakes in the summer of '92.

Naturally, as it all too often went, there was eventually that breaking point. You could only bat the little buggers away for so long before something would have to be done. The time had come that a counter attack would have to be launched.

"That's it. Where in the hell is a flyswatter?" Grandpa bellowed in his trademark low and drawn out monotonous tone, clearly having had it. Werrr in theee heeelll is a flyyyswatter?

War had been declared, and the fly's would need to take notice. Lifespans would be shortened.

I bounded for the back door to run inside the house and retrieve one of the many flyswatters we had in our arsenal. Keep in mind that In Illinois one keeps flyswatters around like rednecks keep guns. Many a Chinese factory has made its fortunes here, selling the plastic and metal instruments of fly death deliverance by the truckload—to a single household! Only in Illinois can you actually wear one out.

I grabbed a green one hanging on a nail by the door. There was a white one there too and I grabbed it as well. On the kitchen table was a blue one. I quickly snatched it up and added it to my arsenal. My mom, Aunt Bridget, and my sister were all in the kitchen preparing food-stuffs for the dinner we would have later.

"Where are you going with those flyswatters?" Mom asked. Did she look panicked?

"I'm getting them for Grandpa," I replied. "He's had it with the flies."

She chuckled and waved me off. Then her face returned to seriousness. "Well, make sure they get back inside," she said.

God forbid you lose a flyswatter. I swear there have been people who have ended up in padded, rubber rooms on just such an account.

I went back outside onto the back porch, armed with my colorful tools of death and wondered if they saw me. The flies. Did they know the jig was up? Did they sense the war would be on soon?

I pictured them in a frenzy at the very sight of my precarious handul of flyswatters. I envisioned the robot on that show, "Lost in Space." Only now it wasn't the robot, but a mechanical fly with its praying front feet flitting about wildly, its voice small and weird. It sounded like a chipmunk with a lungful of helium. Danger! Danger!

In reality, the flies probably didn't even know I existed.

"Well, it's about time," Grandpa bellowed. I handed one of the flyswatters to him and he gleefully began whacking away.

I set another flyswatter on the table, and then turned my attentions back to the side of the house. There must have been hundreds of them. Thousands of them, landing and taking off. Landing and taking off. This was going to be easy pickings, I thought. The white of the exterior made their tiny black bodies stand out like a sore thumb.

And then I started whacking. Wa-put! One of them fell to the floor of the porch. Wa-put! Then another. Behind me, I could hear a multitude of whacks coming from my grandfather's swatter. "What kind of a godforsaken place is this?" I could hear him saying. "This is ridiculous."

Wa-put! Down went another. I kept whacking, improving my aim, getting faster. A few of the flies that met with the business end of my flyswatter didn't fall to the ground, but rather stuck to the wall. Now they were nothing more than motionless, reddish black dots.

Soon my uncle got into the action, taking up arms with the last of three flyswatters. He was at the wall with me. The whacks continued on like machine gun fire. It was literal carnage. The porch floor was fast becoming a graveyard of dead flies.

Yet they still kept coming. The flies never stopped coming. We killed flies until nightfall, stopping only once to eat dinner in between. In the end it was mostly just my uncle and I. My grandfather had early on settled in on the idea that it was a fruitless fight. We just went on killing flies until it turned dark and the flies went wherever flies go when the sun went down.


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