Our home is a one-story building. It looks like a bunkhouse –– weird I often think –– but it suits its present occupants, well.
The house’s exterior is finished in sheets of T1-11 panels, painted brown –– cordovan brown –– according to the paint can. The T1-11 panels have vertical ridges. Mud wasps love to build both single dwellings and row houses, and even occasional high-rises in the vertical ridges running up and down the T1-11. The results are tan colored mud nests that mar the deep brown color of the house. I find the mud huts unsightly; they look like tumors growing from the walls.
The presence of the mud wasps is aesthetically offensive to me, and then, too, the mud wasps sing a lot. Well, maybe not exactly sing, but they get noisy when making their house repairs. I’ll be sitting inside and suddenly I hear a high-pitched whine like a dentist’s drill. The mud wasps are busy fixing things up. The sound persists; it reverberates through the interior of the room. I first thought was I was developing tinnitus. It was annoying.
Over the years I like to think I’ve been magnanimous, tolerating their unsightly homesteads on the walls of my house. I’ve tried to ignore any noise they generate.
One day I watched yet another mud wasp homebuilding and I decided that was enough; they had to go. I did not make this decision lightly. For heaven’s sake, I thought, the wasps have an entire forest around the house with lots of natural home sites that would easily accommodate a new housing development.
I began to raze the huts.
I started with water and a hose. It was like a military strategy, where one army softens the enemy’s resistance with a preliminary artillery barrage. I soaked the mud huts thoroughly for a few minutes and as I did it I had uncomfortable thoughts. Still, I pressed on.
As the water began soaking into the mud huts, they began dissolving and streams of soft tan liquid ran down the T1- 11 like blood from deep wounds. I began feeling predatory, like a sheriff who evicts residents for unpaid rents.
Mud wasps erect remarkably sturdy huts. They initially resisted the water barrage like cinderblock huts in a Caribbean hurricane. Thoroughly soaked but still standing, I took a long pole and began scraping the huts away. In the eight huts that I demolished, I saw only one wasp. Their huts we’re rock solid and built to last. I soaked them still again, scraped more, took a brush to the residues, and finally their huts knew the place no more. My house looked much better.
The truth is that my complaint with the mud wasps was not that they did me any harm, or were damaging the house, but that their habits offended my aesthetic sensibilities. My decision to get rid of them was based primarily on appearances which begs the question of how many of my judgements are based on appearances, appearances that either offended or pleased my sensibilities. We are seduced by our illusions, tricked by the way we assume things are.
I remember standing in a line, BC, (before COVID-19) at the supermarket. The line was longer than usual. A large man stood in front of me. He wore a dirty tank top, stained shorts, built with a huge frame, was covered with tattoos, and held two big boxes of Coors Lite, one box under each arm. His beer belly protruded significantly.
In front of the man a frail woman stood, her grocery cart apparently serving as her walker. The line moved along, and finally she shuffled up to the cashier, and prepared to check out. She first had trouble finding her check book and I could see that she was now having a terrible time writing the check. Her hands shook as if palsied and as she tried to write she’d hesitate, start again and again hesitate. This slowed the line down but the man behind her seemed unconcerned. Finally, he spoke to the woman in front of him. ’Scuse me, mam’, can I help you write out that check– I’ll fill everything out and you can just sign it.’ He put down the beer, she moved ahead, relieved, while he wrote the check and handed it to her to sign. She thanked him and seemed to struggle less while writing her signature: I imagine it was the long familiarity with writing her own signature that made it easier.
I did not for a minute peg the man as someone who would behave this way. I had him relegated to a skinhead, a hard, angry man who would act defiantly and aggressively. This man was a sweet guy. He just didn’t look like my image of a sweet guy
We live in a celebrity culture. Appearances are everything. Titillating drama, florid showmanship and reality shows are the coin of the realm where entertainment becomes the reality, our regular source of alternate facts. Presentation is everything, they say, unfortunately in places where it should be anything but.
In July of ’19, I remember reading a headline in Vanity Fair when the Mueller Report came out. The headline read, “Robert Muller tries to be as boring as possible in Capitol Hill Testimony.”
“Former special counsel Robert Mueller opened his highly-anticipated Capitol Hill testimony on Wednesday by throwing a big wet blanket over the entire media spectacle, reaffirming in his opening statement that he would not veer from the text of the report his team prepared on Russia’s election interference and apparent obstruction of justice on the part of Donald Trump.”
Mueller and his team worked on the report from May ’17 to March ’19. It was long, excruciating detailed work, executed by a man of great integrity and skill. It produced hard evidence with no fanfare. The article in Vanity Fair’s column was troubling, a sad commentary on how entertainment and showmanship occludes the fruits of hard work. Mueller was accused of being boring “throwing a big wet blanket over the entire media spectacle.” We prefer spectacles to learning.
About the mud wasps? I’ve never felt easy about getting rid of them. They remind me that I am not in that state of grace I’d prefer to be in; living gently with differences, even with minor offences and not judging others by appearances.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.