Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the G&G book S Is for Southern: A Guide to the South, from Absinthe to Zydeco. A compendium of Southern life and culture, the book contains nearly five hundred entries spanning every letter of the alphabet.
The mosquito is the devil’s house pet. When Satan lost his footing and fell from heaven, God let him retain a few powers to better test our faith, and the mosquito was one of them. You won’t find that in the Scriptures, specifically, but it’s implied, the same way it’s implied that having more than seven cats is a sin. The existence of the mosquito is proof of God’s existence; it serves no other purpose. I’ve spoken to experts and they assure me that our ecosystem would do just fine without a mosquito in it, that it essentially has no function. And yet it’s the most dangerous animal on the planet. Your chances of incurring death-by-mosquito are ten thousand times greater than getting trampled by a herd of stampeding possums. Many people assume the opposite is the case. Not so.
A mosquito is disease on wings. Malaria, yellow fever, West Nile, dengue fever, and most recently the Zika virus are all spread, generally and principally, by the mosquito. They’ve been around for about fifty million years, without really changing, like a Twinkie.
In the light of all this death and microscopic mayhem, the fact that they can also kill a backyard cookout may seem a small thing to the non-Southerner, but the truth is that in the South there are four seasons: fall, winter, spring, and mosquito. So small as to be almost invisible, so crafty and fast it is often unkillable by the human hand, it stalks us. It is inescapable.
Dangerous assassins, these weeds of the insect world. But insanity is also a mosquito by-product. This can be caused by the one mosquito—a single mosquito—that slips through a teeny tear in your window screen and, right after you turn off the light, finds the path to your ear. That’s how it was for me on so many hot and humid summer nights in Alabama. I grew up poor. Our window screens were made of asbestos and the mercury we drained from old thermometers we found in the town dump. Mosquitoes flew in with impunity, and a mosquito with impunity is a scary thing. It feels empowered. It comes at you with an aggressive confidence—élan. How it finds the ear itself is a mystery; some scientists say it may remind them of the Jurassic caves they used to live in. Regardless, the mosquito (Spanish for “little fly”) is drawn to the ear and in the dark of the night is virtually indistinguishable from the darkness. It’s under these conditions that insanity occurs.
No one would be happier than my uncle Merle (who lost his right arm to the mosquito—such a long story) if we could rid ourselves of each and every one of the maleficent infidels. But we can’t; it’s literally impossible. So how do we protect ourselves? I own anti-mosquito bracelets; I spray myself with poison. I’ve purchased a flock of dragonflies and bought a huge outdoor fan of the kind normally used to cool down nuclear reactors. Everything helps but nothing works. Like Taylor Swift, mosquitoes are a fact of life.