Having recently explored in depth the range of Benny Goodman’s music—the “heyday” stuff from the mid ‘30s to mid 40’s—I’ve found myself musing over the implications of a simile in one of his big band vocal hits, “You Turned the Tables on Me,” from 1936 and featuring Helen Ward as vocalist. The song is about a reversal in love, in which the protagonist was blasé about her suitor, but ironically finds herself in love after the suitor has rejected her. The song ends with the lines:
Just like the sting of a bee
You turned the tables on me.
What I find myself pondering is just how a reversal in love is comparable to being stung by an insect. Yes, a sting hurts physically just as unrequited love hurts emotionally. But is a bee sting a reversal, with the stinger having been the one being stung before? No. I have to chalk it up to the lyricist Sidney D. Mitchell needing a rhyme for “me” in the next to the last line and using the best thing he could think of.
But I’m about ready to take some kind of vengeance, having been stung during my bike rides twice in the last seven or eight days. Trouble is, I don’t have a clear concept of my attacker. Having been a beekeeper, I doubt these were honeybees. For one thing, hive collapse has radically reduced the number of such bees in the air, and for another, honeybees are not very aggressive. In fact, they are docile unless severely aggravated. What stung me were probably hornets, wasps, or bumblebees. Luckily, I think my beekeeping years built up my resistance to the kinds of toxins in bee stings. That doesn’t mean they don’t hurt, but it does mean that my body can deal with the pain short-term, and that there are no real long-term issues.
The earlier hit was a classic insect-in-the-helmet incident. Riding along, I hear a “smack” as something hits the plastic headgear and enters through one of the large vent holes. It could be a leaf or some other tree debris, it could be a June Bug or some other harmless critter, or it could be a stinger. This time, after feeling it crawl for a couple of seconds, I feel the sting, a hard one, right on top of my head. For a few seconds it hurts a little bit, then its hurt a whole bloody lot for about five minutes, and then the pain dissipates.
Later in the ride my neck and upper shoulders ached unusually, and I assumed that was probably the toxins dissipating. Somewhere along the way I stopped and got the helmet off, but as usual there was nothing there; the culprit had flown. About three days later a welt forms where the stinger went in, and my body rids itself of the tiny bit of infection.
Then today, less than two miles into my ride, I approach the hill that goes up to the overpass bridge crossing I-66. In olden times my family and I liked to walk out there on winter nights during freezing rain storms and watch the hapless commuters trying to fight their way home through frozen slush. Today, though, it’s sunny and warm. A small object darts downward toward my left hand, which is on the shift lever. As it hits, I flick it aside with my thumb, sending it across my body. Apparently there is just enough of a trajectory so that, combined with the forward motion of the bike, the object lands right in the tiny space between the nose of the saddle and my right upper thigh. A second later the sharp, burning pain confirms that the object is some kind of stinging insect. This time the trajectory of pain was much the same except the intense hurt started immediately. Again, however, it was gone by the time I was halfway to my turn-around point. Right now there is a small red welt there, but no pain, not even with pressure. Much more flesh to dissipate the toxin in, as opposed to the top of my skull.
So I think I have paid my dues to the stinging insect clan. It was never my intention to hurt them, but they hurt me, and they may well have lived to hurt again, since only honeybees die when they sting a victim. Their stingers are uniquely barbed, and stay in the victim, usually along with part of the bee’s abdominal contents, when the bee pulls away. Not so wasps, hornets, and their ilk. I beg all such insects to take their aggression elsewhere and let me henceforth ride sting free.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.