Roo and I were transiting northeastern Arkansas in an attempt to clear out of snake country when our windshield cracked in half. We camped and an installer came the next day to put a new one in. As soon as he had it in, he accidentally smashed the new one. Waiting for parts resulted in a six-day delay, which was put to use furthering this blog's chief goal: the science of analyzing highly specialized data, and the resultant warning: the most intense tick season ever recorded is here. If it hasn’t hit you yet, get ready.
Take your pick of tick. We’ve got your tiny pinhead-sized nymphal ticks, medium-sized ticks and full-size adults. If you’re lucky you catch them when you feel their stubby little legs crawling on your skin. Usually you don't, though. They're too smart. They send some tick they don't mind losing ahead with instructions to tell your Golden retriever that there's a new kind of mouse under a culvert 15 miles south in Jonesboro and that if she breaks into a gallop now and doesn't let off, she could get there in a couple of hours and dig it up in another two. The ticks strike while you're trying to talk the dog out of it. They get on at the ankle and run the length of you before they plant their flag somewhere you can't see in a mirror. You wouldn't even know you had some of those places until a tick bit you there.
Then, once you've found lots of ticks either crawling on you or buried in your skin in a short period, you start feeling like they're crawling all over you all the time. Ooo—like that! Feel that?! No. Wait. that wasn't a tick. That was just a dog hair... but THAT WAS! That was a tick! Ah, no. That was just my sleeve.
My theory is that this accounts for the immense popularity enjoyed around here by the Mint Julep of the 21st Century: nine parts warm Bud Light with one part Copenhagen dip-spit backwash and an Oxycontin chaser and you won't feel a thing. You can get the first two down at the Kum 'n' Go and the rest from the guy in Adidas sandals, white tube socks and baggy plaid shorts who hangs out behind the dumpsters. If you ever make a movie about it, get Matthew McConaghey to play him.
The flea med Roo is on, Bravecto, has almost no effect on the Lone Star ticks who run this place. I've been finding at least 50 running wild on her per day with another dozen attached, in spite of an hour of careful brushing and de-ticking and then checking her constantly the rest of the time. Roo is quite put out by it. She considers this overtime. She already suffers from a severe load of chores, like standing there and having the mud hosed off her and having to be toweled dry and pleasantly brushed while she constantly keeps turning in whatever direction she thinks a squirrel may be in. If I were to comply with half the demands she makes for jerky and Milk Bones in return for her increased workload she would swell up like a bale of cotton floating in the ocean.
The ticks start their journey to me on board the SS Roo. The lazier ones don’t like hacking their way through her thick fur, so they in the lifeboats and wait for me to trigger the rogue wave that will set them free by brushing her and flicking them off the way paint splatters off a paintbrush on the side of the can, and they land on me in a wide spray and start acting like they’ve just escaped from a chain gang barracks and over the barbed wire into the open green pasture they've been taking turns looking at through a crack in the boards that the guards never plugged up. Their bushwhacking days are over. Every one of them heads north, as if they're sure Switzerland is up there. Think about it: have you ever felt a tick crawling down your leg?
Dealing with so many of them on such a concentrated basis, I’ve started to notice a few things about them. Their temperaments and attitudes vary and some of them are cuter than others. The majority of them mean no harm, while others were just born downright mean. I hope you don;t think less of me for believing in such a generalization, but I can't help it. Those bad apples make you appreciate the regular ticks more, the unassuming and polite ones, the ones who prefer that you don’t even know they’ve nudged their little nose into one of your pores and are macerating your skin layer by layer to sup on your blood and pump some ehrlichosis out of their gut as their way of saying thanks. If ticks share a common trait it would be the way they handle their poverty. They accept their lot in life. They make do. They don’t complain about they way things are or fantasize about how they’d like them to be. Okay, so some of them start to get to you—the ones who just want to be loved—but of course, it can never be. It’s better to maintain some professional distance, so usually I don’t even pin nicknames on them. Wiley or Scoot or Spot or Vlad, The Impaler.
l employ every precaution against ticks known to humanity, except the only one that would work: refusing to walk Roo. But then she would stare at me for hours on end in ways far deadlier than any tick attack. It would be worse than being chained onto a courtroom bench by bailiffs to face the family members of someone I might have killed in a senseless drive-by shooting so they could berate me and tell me how much I had robbed them of and how they couldn’t wait to savor the buzzing sounds I wold make and the way my head would start smoking when the screws turned on the juice to fry me in the electric chair. So, not walking Roo is out of the question. And nothing else works. There are too many ticks landing on you, in waves, the way Allied troops did on D-Day, or coming by air, the way neutrinos left over from the Big Bang continually wash over the Earth and pierce us by the trillions every billionth of every nanosecond.
Even when you think you're in the clear and you’ve gotten them all picked off and Roo is washed and brushed and fed, you emerge from the shower and more ticks appear immediately. There are always five or six of them at a time, on the towel or clothes or crawling on your arm or trying to hide out of sight in your eyebrows. And those Lone Star ticks are aggressive sonsabitches. They keep an eye on you as if you’re the guy up in the tower running the searchlight on the walls. If they suspect you spotted them they start to run faster than a pack of tattooed rats and then start digging frantically the way Roo does when she believes she’s stumbled onto a lost civilization of subterranean mouses. Lone Star ticks that get dug in like that are nearly impossible to pull out because they have more backward-facing teeth than the average Confederate flag collector, let alone other ticks. Their most endearing quality is that they don't transmit Lyme disease. They've got every other disease known to tick, dog, cat, deer, horse, cow, mouse or man, but not Lyme.
If I wasn’t sure climate change is a hoax, I’d really start freaking out. But Dear Leader has comforted us all by setting us straight. Hell, I believed in the whole hoax before the President of the United States marshaled the resources of the federal government to shoot the whole wild idea right in its rabid head, right there on Fifth Avenue. Especially since he’s going to prove it by countermanding all regulations whose enforcement might trick everyone into believing that reducing carbon monoxide could possibly have any effect at all. Or exist, even. I mean, have you ever seen carbon monoxide? With your own eyes? Okay, then. Case closed. Why, you could hook a hose up to the exhaust pipe of your car and breathe it for a week and all it would do is clear your head. In fact, car exhaust is the way the planet makes oxygen naturally. And isn’t it a comfort knowing that if there really was such a thing as climate change, it would be at least 120 degrees in mid April instead of a cool 90, in which case you wouldn’t even have to put clothes on, because we’d all be wearing a suit of ticks? I’m hoping that Trump will cap his first brilliant 100 days of constant winning with an executive order to disburden Lone Star ticks of all the anti-Lyme disease regulations Obama and Pelosi and the rest of the Deep State used against them. It would be another masterstroke. Get those regulations out of the tick’s way, the Free Market will keep Lyme disease at bay, and that’s how we’ll know that whole thing was nothing but another hoax, too. I’ll be glad not to have to worry about it any more. Thanks, Obama. You should have let the ticks make an honest buck while you had the chance. But no. You had to be the Party of Nobama.
If you come down here to Arkansas, you might work up a brown lather of ticks, but you'll be disappointed in the snakes. There aren't even enough of them to weave a carpet. Not wall-to-wall, anyway. Sure, there are plenty of copperheads, but the Free Market has gotten rid of the cottonmouths here by letting everyone dry out the streams by diverting them to car washes and mortuaries, and thereby sending them all packing to Oklahoma and Louisiana, where the Free Market will douse them with crude and set on fire with the tinder left over from tearing the pine forests down. At the local pond here all you’ll see are plain-bellied watersnakes, who all look like they’re auditioning for cartoons. As soon as one of them sees Roo splashing in the water they stop swimming and freeze on the surface in mid-squiggle before they duck under and swim away, though not as fast as a tick. Harmless, though, unless you’re prone to coronaries and like to dangle a stinkfoot off the end of the dock when you're fishing for crappies.
We finally got our windshield fixed, though, so we’re free to leave tomorrow. Before we go, I have a request: if you happen to know any of the guys around here whose knowledge of history is limited to what they acquired at that highest form of American education—homeschool taught by dedicated meth heads—and who have embarked on their careers of driving around in pickup trucks with broken mufflers and festooned with both a Confederate flag and a United States flag, please inform them that, as it was the United States that ground the Stars and Bars into dirt by 1864 and spat it out in 1865, flying the two together is like featuring leprosy in a Bain de Soleil suntan oil ad. Or showcasing syphilis next to a bottle of penicillin.
On second thought, maybe don't put it that way. They’d just take syphilis every time. They proved that in the last election. Tell ‘em it’d be like serving Krispi Kremes on a horseshit platter.
No… not that. Same problem. I don’t know what to tell them. How about, it's like crapping your pants and calling it a hole-in-one? Nope. Won't work, either. They'll just say it was Hillary.
I’m out of ideas. In fact, I'm fresh out of everything but one hell of a good dog. And Wiley, Scoot, Spot and Vlad.
Every one of them is staring at me. The big one is going to win.