By Howard Peacock
Talk about bonehead questions! Here's one from my overflowing bag. I popped it to two classy ladies, causing them to back away from me with a grim glare on their faces. I wasn't sure whether they were staring through my skull into my brain or at my dirty mouth.
It happened on a perfect October day in the Big Thicket–cool, bright, just right. The three of us were sitting together in a crowd at ceremonies dedicating the new Visitor Center of the Big Thicket National Preserve.
Mary Ann, a sweetheart from our high school class in Beau-mont, now a well-known California artist, graced my left. Annie, a statuesque young Austin artist, bloomed under a big hat on my right. Squeezed between them, I sat upright, arms stiffly stretched forward so that my elbows wouldn't press on theirs.
My mind was on the Kirby Nature Trail, which winds through a wonderful forest two miles away. I've been trekking it for about 35 years, ever since we called it the Kirby Primitive Tract. It's a favorite old haunt, always with signs of evolving.
When the ceremonies ended, the three of us arose. My mind still played on images of the nature trail. As I turned toward Annie and Mary Ann, a great idea came over me.
"Would you beautiful girls," I began, smiling toothily, "like to take a little walk in the woods with me?"
I must have wiggled my eyebrows, like Groucho Marx, or winked an eye against the bright sunlight. They froze as if a bomb had dropped between us, ticking.
Bonehead question! Big time!
"No! No!" I protested, finally catching on. "I swear I didn't mean it that way! Let me explain! Just let me explain!"
They relaxed a mite and let me explain. They even let me describe the wonders of the Kirby Nature Trail. And, hot dog, they agreed to the walk. Away we went.
A hundred yards or so down the trail, the first squadron of mosquitoes struck. Big babies. The females drilled their needle noses into our skins and sucked blood while the males flew around whining.
Annie and Mary Ann began slapping at their own faces, arms, and legs. Then they teamed up on slapping my face, neck, and virtually hairless scalp. "Gotta kill these 'skeeters!" one of them shouted, whacking me with a combination left and right.
They wanted to retreat. I kept promising wonders of peace and beauty ahead. But the stinging devils swarmed all the more.
At one point, Annie started dancing up the trail instead of just running to escape. Maybe she thought joyful whirling might confuse the mosquitoes or charm them into submission. Maybe she had been driven nuts. Meantime, Mary Ann kept on whamming my face.
At last the trail ended, and with it the ordeal.
"That was extremely unusual," I said. "It's never happened to me before on this trail." We stumbled, bleeding, to our separate cars. "There must have been a heavy rain here 21 days ago," I said. "That's how long it takes for mosquitoes to mature." I thought a little science might help the situation. "By the way, ladies, did either of you bring any anti-itch cream?"
Another bonehead question! Ow-w-w-w!
As the two beauties roared away in their car, now sporting numerous, itching welts smeared with blood and smashed insect bodies, I set myself two rules for future outings: 1) always carry bug spray and anti-itch stuff, and 2) think twice or thrice before asking questions of ladies.
From the October 2005 issue.