Saturday, September 24, 2005

Is it Time for a Mosquito Pageant?

This summer has seen a bumper crop of mosquitos in Rehoboth. In the ten years I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve ever been bitten so much. It’s gotten so bad that I’m using Deep Woods Off as cologne. My Yard Guard habit is up to a can a day. And that’s in addition to torches, smudge pots, and citronella plants. I’ll admit that I do have a tendancy, a prediliction if you will, to overreact and to dramatize. But I’m not imagining it.

The State blames the weather for the mosquito outbreak this summer and has stepped up its spraying programs. Did you know Delaware will spend about $790,000 this year on mosquito spraying? Costs are increasing, according to the mosquito control manager for Kent and Sussex Counties, because of suburban sprawl and homes encroaching on woods and wetlands. With the out-of-control development going on in Sussex County, will it get worse?

Maybe it’s time for a mosquito control pageant in Rehoboth, for a renewed consciousness about the mosquito and its place in society and about how to co-exist with them.

The Kent and Sussex County Fair in 1937 featured such a pageant, which one newspaper reporter likened to a “medieval carnival.” It opened with a group of men wearing huge paper mache heads representing the types of mankind subjected to the attack of the mosquito: the rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer, politician, teacher, merchant, banker, butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. They marched single file in front of the viewing grandstand with each "victim" bearing a huge letter which collectively spelled out MOSQUITO HAREM.Then came the mosquitoes, a coiterie of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) boys garbed in fantastic costumes representing the varieties of mosquitoes most common to Delaware. The costumes were designed by Jack Lewis, then a young artist for the CCC who went on to become involved in the early years of the Rehoboth Art League and eventually became one of the state’s more well-known artists. Lewis’ mosquitoes danced around each man, making no discrimination among them. The dance won instant applause from the crowd.

I’m sure the “mosquito matron” herself -- Mrs. H.B. Thompson -- was there, beaming and nodding her approval. Most likely she was sitting in the VIP section of the grandstand and wearing a light colored dress and a fancy hat with mosquito netting. (I wrote about Mrs. H.B. Thompson and her efforts to rid Rehoboth of the mosquito in the June 3 edition of LETTERS.)Next came three floats. The first, illustrating health, was a regulation size dory in which were 8 young CCC enrollees, selected – according to the newspaper article -- for their physical perfection, carrying the tools used by the mosquito control workers on the marshes. The main color scheme was red.The second float – Animals – displayed a life size white horse standing on a green platform. The third float, representing prosperity and poverty, showed two small houses open so that the beds in each were visible. One bed had no mosquito covering at all.At the close of the pageant, the characters again formed in line, and their message spelled in huge letters read GET BEHIND MOSQUITO CONTROL. After the Fair, a special mosquito control exhibit was set up on Rehoboth Avenue.

I cannot help but wonder what crazy queen came up with that pageant?

In the pageant in this crazy queen’s mind, I’d keep the cute boys buzzing around dressed as mosquitoes. They’d be half naked and sequined. Surely a few of the Rehoboth Beach lifeguards would be willing. There’d be a “Miss Quito” drag pageant. And a “Mr. Mosquito Legs” to pick the guy with the hottest legs – bites required of course.

Oh, I’d have a booth where you could test the different mosquito repellent sprays by sticking your arm into the middle of a thousand hungry skeeters, thereby proving once and for all that Avon’s “Skin so Soft” really doesn’t work. It just makes you smell like some middle aged, straight woman.

People could submit nominees for the best screened porch in Rehoboth. There’d be a big cash prize to raise awareness of the benefits and aesthetics of the screened porch. I frankly don’t know why all the new houses going up around town don’t have them. There’s nothing like sitting out on a screened porch on a sultry summer night listening to the crickets and some Bobby Lounge. Creaky ceiling fans stir the air. Old lamps cast a soft, romantic glow and everyone looks good. Your cocktail is sweating and the conversation is witty. The sound of cackling and tinkling ice wafts down the street. But I digress…the important thing is that screened porches help keep out the mosquitoes and let you enjoy sitting outside.

There could be a sale of mosquito-repellent plants for the garden. Lemon Thyme, Rosemary, Marigolds, Citronella Geraniums, and Catnip. Of course, you can’t expect plants to repel mosquitoes by just sitting there. A plant fragrance specialist at Delaware State College in Dover says you need to crush the leaves and smear them on your body.

Just a little dab of catnip behind the ears.

I really think this mosquito control pageant has potential. With the right marketing, I bet it could grow into a Key West Fantasy Fest type event. I’ve magnanimously offered the pageant idea to Fay Jacobs and the Main Street program, but she doesn’t take me seriously. Maybe because there are no mosquitoes downtown? I don’t know, but I tell you what, those little suckers bite me on the butt every time I use my outdoor shower. We’ll never get rid of them, so let’s celebrate them.

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