Not That Kind Of Buzzed
By Kelly Hayes-Raitt
HOUSESITTING IN MEXICO provides all kinds of opportunities to increase my vocabulary. A recent palabra du jour, for example, was: avispa.
Meaning “wasp” – and not the non-Jewish type – the word buzzed into my vocabulary when I saw several of the furry flyers building a huge, unpermitted wasp-condo complex, maybe even a multiplex with underground parking and an open-air amphitheater, on the ceiling of my beloved “happy hour” patio where I housesit. The swarm was three or four wasps deep with several dozen/hundred/thousand condo-dwelling wannabes (“wanna bees,” get it?) milling around.
Not sure how to handle this hive, I emailed a guy who used to broker stocks, herd sheep, and keep bees who now wrangles writers. He suggested I call the fire department because with everything built in adobe, the firefighters get bored and will de-bee for free.
No one at the bombero station spoke English, so I blurted over the phone, “Tengo un problema con avispas,” hissing the last word as if I were talking about underworld spies or drug kingpins. The fireman promised to be out shortly (I think, this was all in Spanish over the telephone), which then lent itself to the great existential question: What does one wear to a de-wasping?
I expected hoses and hatchets, but it was all very simple: The hooded, gloved, cloaked bombero sprayed water and soap all over the layers of wasps, causing mass carnage and consternation. He used dishwashing soap; you know, the kind Madge used to soak fingernails in? He then scooped gobs of soggy wasps into a Wal-Mart plastic bag and went on his way, promising to return the next day to show any renegade wasps who’s their daddy.
At another house-sitting gig, I increased my vocabulary even further. Here’s what the week looked like:
Sunday: Padded barefoot, carrying my shoes, to the downstairs bedroom and made an almost intimate acquaintance with a very black scorpion on the bright white floor. Beat to death with shoe. May have dented the ceramic tiles in my enthusiasm. Vowed to watch every step I take. Learned alacran.
Tuesday: Learned serpiente de cascabel. “Cascabel” is a word I actually know from my first grade rendition of “Jingle Bells”: Cascabel, cascabel, musica de amor…
So, it never occurred to me that such a benign, jolly word would cause the four rescue dogs I was watching to raise such a ruckus out in the yard. When I went to investigate, I could hear the snake’s rattle all the way across the yard (though I didn’t know what it was, since I’d never before heard an angry serpiente de cascabel).
It was a ¡muy grande serpiente!
I didn’t know what to do, so I started throwing things at the snake – anything I could find– golf balls, an empty Coke can – hoping it would slither off. Instead, it reared its head, daring me to come closer. Finally, I remembered there was a meat cleaver in the kitchen. Looking like a version of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, I heaved the cleaver and missed the snake by a mile. It sneered. I did have the garden hose coiled at my feet, but the snake was strikingly close to the spigot. It stuck out its tongue at me.
So, another S.O.S. call to los guaposbomberos. I stuck the dogs inside and waited on the road for the firemen. Five uniformed guys in their twenties and one young woman who looked like a girlfriend tag-along arrived carrying baseball bats, a long metal pole, gardening gloves and one blackened fire jacket. By the time they set up camp, the snake had adiosed. The young firefighters spent half an hour literally beating the bushes to flush out the snake. Defeated, they told me to call them when it returns.
Wednesday: One of the dogs killed a squirrel and made a big show of it in the backyard. (Don’t squirrels carry bubonic plague?) Unable to deal with the lifeless beady eyes, I covered the corpse with a bucket, guiltily leaving it for the gardener to deal with. Learned ardilla. Ardilla muerta.
Thursday/Friday: After a delightful afternoon sharing wine with a friend and a relaxing evening watching a favorite movie, I headed downstairs to go to bed. In the bathroom, I started to brush my teeth when I saw – and I swear I am not exaggerating – a three-inch scorpion crawling in the sink!
Luckily, I prefer my dangerous and gross predators in the sink because I don’t have to resort to mano-a-mano combat. I flipped up the spigot and started scooping water over the scorpion. Its milky white tail reared, but it didn’t flush. Finally, I created a personal Niagara Falls that doomed it down the drain. I triumphantly spat toothpaste in its wake.
Relaxed once more, I continued brushing my teeth, keeping the spigot running full-force, just to be sure. Then, like from a Japanese horror film, I saw first one, then more, scorpion elbows emerge from the drain, hoisting the reincarnated arachnid back into my sink.
Now I freaked. The hand soap wouldn’t squirt fast enough; I grabbed a bottle of shampoo and doused it, praying it would die a well-coifed death.
So just why do I housesit in Mexico?
Well, it’s not just the critters that crawl; time does, too. I spent a lovely day recently with a dear friend, whom I met at noon to do “something.” When I arrived at her place, she offered to make us sandwiches for lunch and announced she was making chicken enchiladas for dinner. Nine hours later, belly and heart more than full, I headed home. When was the last time I spent nine hours with a friend just hanging out and chatting? There’s a lot to be said for savoring.
Learned muy contenta.
(Ed. Note: After nearly a decade of full-time housesitting, Kelly Hayes-Raitt has just published How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the House Sit Diva (from which this essay is excerpted), available on Amazon and her web site www.BecomeAHousesitter.com.)