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  • One of my very earliest memories involves wasps. I believe I was about 3 years old. It was summertime, at our old place on Midland Street in Pittsburgh. My older brother Brian and I were just kicking about the yard, bored and looking for something to do. We saw some wasps buzzing in and out of the base of a drain spout on the corner of our house. Brian said that one of those wasps had stung him the other day, and he was going to show them. I said that I didn't think it was such a good idea, but I was gullible and always up for something new, especially if Brian was allowing me the privilege of hanging out with him!

    So I stood right beside him while he lifted a squirt can of oil to the large opening in the drain spout base and started squirting that oil down on the wasp nest inside. He had such a gleeful look of exacting revenge on his face, until...all freaking hell just broke loose, like a terrible nightmare! Wasps came flying out of that hole, seemingly by the thousands, in formation, all with one goal in mind - protect the hive. Brian and I went hauling ass through the backyard, jumping over things, our bodies moving faster than our legs could keep up with, and then he was no longer keeping up with me, and I turned back to look - Oh, God, he was down, and those wasps were all over him! There must have been 20 all around his head, and 50 more dive-bombing his arms, legs, and torso. It was brutal. Yet, not one had touched me.

    I went over and started swatting at them to get them off of him, and eventually they all left, flew back to the drain spout, retreated. Brian was a mess of stings, crying and screaming. I honestly thought he was going to die. I started screaming for Mom. Again, not one of them touched me, not even when I was knocking them off of Brian.

    From that day to this, I can only remember ever being stung once, by a yellow-jacket, on my ear lobe, which did swell up like a cauliflower for a few hours. Other than that, I've never been stung. I don't know why this is - I've been around them thousands of times. I've had to knock nests off eaves of houses, had to work around them, spent a good portion of my childhood playing in Toner's woods, which was full of wasps, hornets and bees of all kinds. I did a lot of fishing when I was younger, and there were always bees buzzing around. Never really bothered me.

    I can only guess that something about the experience with Brian and the wasps taught me, not intellectually but just something I must have internalized, that if I don't have an issue with them, they won't have an issue with me. The way they went right after him, but left me alone. I've always made an effort to stay calm, not react in any form of fear, and to think, "I'm your friend - I have no issue with you", and so far, this seems to have worked...with wasps, hornets and bees. Even when I've had to remove a wasp nest, I've tried to keep it intact, and not damage it in any way.

    I think they're smarter than we give them credit for. I'm the same way with snakes and spiders. Now, rats....forget about it! They have always, and probably always will, give me the heebee-jeebees. I once stood on a coffee table with a baseball bat in my hand, barking at a big ol' rat that had come strolling out of our friends Breen and Sherry's kitchen in South Philly while Kathy and I were sitting on the living room floor. I did not feel very manly at that moment, but that's me and rats...just thinking about it gives me the heebee-jeebees. They scare the livin' daylights out of me.

    Photo: Brother Brian and I, at the house on Midland Street, around the age this incident took place.
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