Of Fruit Flies and Davy Crockett

I wanted to write a wise political column this week.

It would encompass my dismay over how shallow and dirty so many political campaigns have become. My frustration that a handful of “battleground” states will likely decide the outcome of the Presidential race and that my vote will mean absolutely nothing. My amazement over the nonsensical way some voters decide whom to support in an election.
After several false starts, one of which was a fairly entertaining recounting of Davy Crockett’s political career, I decided to scratch the topic of politics and to write about something else entirely.

Fruit flies.

It’s not my first time to delve into the subject. Several years ago, I wrote about a fruit fly trap I’d “invented” that was amazingly effective in controlling the little buggers. People still occasionally ask me for copies of that column, or to remind them how to build a trap of their own.

Surprisingly, I didn’t need a trap until recently, even though we had fruits and vegetables on the kitchen counter almost the entire summer. But come October, the house was swarming with fruit flies. Not just the kitchen, but other rooms, too. Especially my home office, where they would hover directly in front of my computer screen. Taunting me.
Anyone who’s ever tried to kill a fruit fly barehanded knows that it’s nearly impossible. By the time you can raise your hands to clap them together, the enemy’s radar has kicked in and moved him out of striking distance.

Leaving no choice but to set traps.

Here, again, is how to do it. Get a fairly tall drinking glass or jar and put a piece of overripe fruit in it. (Though citrus will work, it’s not as appealing to fruit flies as, say, a rotting banana or peach.) Cover the mouth of the container with a funnel, the tip of which should not touch the fruit. Then wait.

The flies will soon congregate near the trap. It takes a while for them to work up the nerve to fly into the funnel. But sooner or later, they will. They’ll be rewarded by the putrefied mess at the bottom of the glass, blissfully unaware that they’re feasting upon their last meal. Though it’s conceivable that they could re-enter the narrow end of the funnel and fly straight up to freedom, I’ve never seen one do it.

In a few days, you’ll have dozens—or perhaps hundreds—of dead fruit flies and a stinking piece of fruit in the bottom of the glass. Clean it up and start all over again until the fruit flies vacate the premises. Which may or may not ever happen.

Wonder of wonders, I find I still have space to write about Davy Crockett after all. Who, in running for elected offices including the Tennessee General Assembly and the U.S. Congress, quickly discovered that most voters were more interested in hearing entertaining stories–which Davy was enormously gifted in telling–than in listening to serious political debate. He also learned the value of giving small presents to voters. “In one pocket of my buckskin shirt, I’d carry a bottle of whiskey,” he said. “In the other, I’d have a plug of chewing tobacco. That way, when a fellow had to spit out his own tobacco to have a drink, I would replace it with a fresh chaw.”

Davy’s most important, albeit painful, political lesson was that it was unwise to butt heads with President of the United States and fellow Tennessean Andrew Jackson. Their bitter disagreement over the Indian Removal Act, which Crockett fervently opposed, led to his defeat in the Congressional election of 1835. Prompting him to declare to the voters in his district “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”

Sadly, we know how that turned out.

(November 4, 2012.)

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