Ask G&G

Ask G&G: Creepy Crawlies and Summer Secrets

Surviving Southern insects, embracing fashionable neckwear, and sharing swimming spots

Illustration: Britt Spencer

Got a kid scared of spiders, aphids, worms, you name it. We need help, and fast.

The joyous Huck Finn aspects of a Southern summer spent outdoors have been sadly reduced. The problem you’re facing is that everything is “unknown,” thus fear inducing. So as you introduce children to the fauna in the back pasture, institute an aggressive handling program—trap everything you can find, ants, grasshoppers, toads, a garter snake if one’s handy. The guiding precept is to make every species known, very much including the species that must not be handled, such as black widows, brown recluses, scorpions, and vipers. My puckishly wise mother taught us a trick from her childhood on our great-grandfather’s South Alabama farm: Catch a june bug, tie a string around one of its legs, and anchor the tether’s other end to your child’s shirt. He or she will have a large, friendly insect buzzing around for the afternoon, an absurd companion, but that’s the point. The classic Southern scarab, in its iridescent green jacket, looks fearsome but isn’t. I’ve found it effective, as I’ve explained the menagerie to children, to eat some of the ants or chew on a grasshopper’s leg, casually, as one would on a sprig of johnsongrass. They’re not half bad. Eating insects does drive home the notion of the food chain, and the kids will dependably run around screaming. No, I’m not suggesting you bite the head off the snake.

Does anybody really wear neckties anymore?

The short answer is yes, this is the South, men in ties festoon the streetscape, and not just at weddings or to satisfy whatever club’s dress code. More worrisome than your question is the larger one it contains: Who are the killers culpable for the death of the idea of men wearing ties? The tragic erosion of neckwear dates to the go-go eighties and to the rise of Big Tech, whose founders, fresh out of school, inherited an unadorned style from a combination of leftover California hippies, faux-laid-back Napa wine squires, and stripped-down surfers. We can pinpoint the origins of the crime to Silicon Valley and Redmond, Washington, because, as they rashly devoured American corporate life, Steve Jobs, his partner Steve Wozniak, and the Microsoft boys—Bill Gates, Paul Allen, et al.—moved the necktie to the fashion graveyard, RIP, game over. Gates did it with a Shetland sweater, but of this otherwise praiseworthy cabal, the most globally effective sartorial vil-lain was Jobs, whose trademark black mock turtleneck became the emblem of American entrepreneurial spirit now imitated by start-up wannabes from Kuala Lumpur to Oslo. For once, the South’s historical resistance to change serves it well as the antipode, which is why stalwarts in Memphis, Atlanta, Charlotte, and, not least, the ur-Southern neckwear empire of Washington, D.C., still fly the flag. The takeaway? Soldier up, dammit. Next garden party you hit, don’t think “Steve Jobs.” Think “Atticus Finch.”

We found a fine, top-secret swimming hole. Should we keep it to ourselves? 

Our best spies use this oxymoronic principle: By definition, the second you know something, it’s no longer a secret. So, valuable though it can be to secure what we know, one needs to operate as if that either has been or will shortly be betrayed. In the South, a superb swimming hole can act as a prized engine of down-home Zen in the otherwise mad dash of life. Genetically disposed to hospitality as we are, the unforgiving geometry of sharing such a treasure means that you, as host, become an agent transforming the refuge into all that you do not seek, namely, a nightmare water park clogged with life-size alligator pool floats, crushed-up PBR cans, and shrieking kids in shark-fin headgear. Incidentally, there’s no permanent solution to your quandary other than buying the property and fencing it off. Take the long view: In betraying this paradise, you’re not handing NATO decrypts to Putin; it’s summer in the South, and it’s a natural, God-given thought to want to swim in good water with good people. Why not ring up your friends, pack a great tailgate spread, and mosey on out? The best secrets in this old world may just be those left in plain sight.