After a long hot Southern summer, fall has finally come to the Carolina foothills bringing memories of first love, and the sound of thunderous snoring and a houseful of stink bugs.
Like so many, I fell in love in college, the fall of my senior year specifically. It was the beginning of the end of my college days when she, a preppy chain-smoking farmer’s daughter, and I, a geeky anti-establishmentarian, became star-crossed lovers. I was an editor, she was a feature writer and we were producing the journalism school’s newspaper. For weeks, as the days grew shorter and the trees on the Horseshoe began to lose their leaves, I wooed her with stolen roses and cheap wine at the University of South Carolina in the heart of Columbia, which even to this day is one of my favorite cities, no matter what nasty things everyone else seems to say about it. I guess we went to class, but to be honest, what I remember most is walking hand-in-hand on campus as the cooler weather brought us closer together. That “fall feeling” has stayed with me for all these years, and not an autumn arrives that it doesn’t trigger the urge for me to steal some roses from the university president’s garden, pour white wine from a green jug into plastic cups and playfully roll around in a pile of brown crunchy leaves with my girlfriend.
Thankfully, it was true and lasting love, because the wife and I are still together, 33 years and two grown children later, and we have the battle scars to prove it.
Fall may still bring a sense of romance-in-air, but these days it also brings some unidentifiable allergen that swells my sinuses shut tighter than the closed doors to an all-white fraternity house in the 1970s. Today, no air is getting in, and, back then, neither was an Asian, no matter how Southern-bred he might have been. Despite the heat and humidity, summer is always a blessing because whatever triggers my allergy is taking a vacation, and I can breathe without squirting Afrin up my nose. But come fall through the spring, I’m totally addicted to that worse-than-heroin drug — otherwise I’m banished to the guest bedroom for snoring louder than a motorcycle rally at Myrtle Beach’s Bike Week.
In most recent years, it is the stink bug that invaded my associations with fall. We are but a few weeks into fall, and already I have flushed countless of these hard-shell stinkers down the toilet, sometimes gathering as many five at a time in a fold-over-fold wad of tissue paper.
The very name “stink bug” is offensive, and to have them infiltrate our home feels dirty and shameful. The only thing worse than having a flying stink bug do an unexpected kamikaze on my face while reading the latest “Dune” novel late at night by lamp light is opening the book to a mashed stink bug on the page I last read. Phew and eww! I’d rather fight a giant sandworm.
We have screens on our window. We don’t leave food out on the countertop. We have scheduled visits from a professional extermination company. And still we have stink bugs aplenty.
I find them in the lampshades, crawling up the walls, mashed in the door frame, crunched and sticking to my bare foot, and stinking like all get-out when I get up in the middle of the night to do my manly duty. If snoring is a cause for bedroom banishment, you know what my wife’s reaction to my coming back to bed reeking of Eau du Mashed Stink Bug would be.
According to what I read, stink bugs are a growing and common problem across the nation, and nothing to be ashamed of. We are especially susceptible to them because we live in an older home… in the country… in a peach orchard… in the South… in the fall. And according to what I read, I’m doing all I can do: Pick them off one at time, careful not to mash them, and flush them — and wash my feet before going back to bed.
Our days of wine and roses are still with us, but so are the nights of snoring and a home with stink bugs. It’s fall, and romance is in the air. If I could smell it, it might not smell so good.
Steve Wong is a freelance writer living in the peach orchards of Gramling, S.C. Feel free to send him feedback — good or bad — at [email protected].