When Trombiculidae Come Home to Suck

Ah, summer, those hazy, lazy days. There are certain sounds that I associate with summer; sounds often linked to my childhood. Here’s one that takes me back, “Hey, mom, where’s your nail polish, I have chiggers.”

Childhood summer afternoons and evenings were full of yard games such as “wrestle”, “fall dead”, “freeze”, “crack-the-whip” and “wrestle”. Did I mention “wrestle”? While we knew the outcome of rolling around on the ground, somehow we figured that it was just part of the fun: wrestle, get chiggers, dab your privates and ankles with mom’s Revlon “Very Berry” nail polish and see who could go the longest without scratching until you bled. Thinking of these things from a distance of many years can cause one to experience the pleasure of sweet nostalgia. When this occurs, it means that you haven’t had chigger bites for a long, long, long time.

The day following last week’s golf outing with a friend–I’ll call him “Newman” to avoid embarrassment–wherein he repeatedly hit his ball into the woods and deep rough, I discovered the telltale red bumps of chigger bites. See, Newman wears Bermuda shorts for golfing and he has a reaction to poison ivy and insects, especially ticks, which seem unnaturally attracted to Newman’s nether regions, that causes him to shy from nature unless it’s paved over. Plus, he grew up in the Bronx where there is nothing natural.  Therefore, I, with my long pants, not much allergic reaction to poison ivy and a saintly concern for a friend’s lost ball, charged into the thickets, thrashing around, often emerging with not only his ball but a half dozen others. Finding lost golf balls is the primary pleasure I take in a golf outing, the rest of the activity being a brutal reminder of my failings as a human being.

Chiggers (Trombiculidae) are the larval stage of the berry bug, a.k.a. “harvest mites”, “red bugs” and the very descriptive nom de plume, “scrub-itch bug”. Two of the things that they love most are Haagen-Daz Cookies and Cream–which is hard to come by in their environment–and skin cells, which aren’t. So, if you have skin and thrash around in the weeds, where their very thoughtful parents laid eggs, these teeninsy parasites squeal with pleasure (although at decibel levels so high that only a Bichon Frise lap dog could hear them), hop off of their leafy homes and scurry to all the places on your skin not exposed to sunlight. They hate sunlight. In this sense, they are much like Count Dracula.

Not one to pooh-pooh homeopathic remedies, I rummaged around my current wife’s make-up table and found a stash of old touch up nail polish, Ruby Ribbon and All Fired Up. I knew that the polishes were old because she hasn’t used colored nail polish for several years, opting now for the clear acrylic nail, applied by a third-party technician at great expense. These old polishes would never be missed.

The two red polishes, both still viscous, were perfect for application to chigger bites. I dabbed away with revenge-filled thoughts of chigger suffocation.

Here’s a handy safety tip for those of you who might eventually try this particular home remedy. Before application of red fingernail polish to dozens of chigger bites, most of them on body parts that rarely get sunlight and many of them that never get public display, check your appointments calendar. I didn’t. Not good.

As it turns out, that afternoon I had a long-standing appointment to see an orthopedic doc as a follow up on some previous surgery. This appointment involved X-rays and various ambulatory tests on my hip. All of this requires disrobing and donning examination shorts.

Apparently, orthopedic practices all buy their examination shorts from the same supplier, a paper company that creates “one-size-fits-all” blue shorts seemingly cut from the remnants of paper picnic table coverings. The shorts have no front or back and, because they fit any and all body types, are quite roomy for me. My body type has been described as spindlemorph.

Having stripped down and put on the blue shorts, I looked like some horrible version of Old Glory. Blue shorts, white legs and dozens of bright red points of interest cascading down my thighs, ankles and on to my feet and toes. As I headed down the hall to the X-ray room,  the staff and other patients did their best to remain professional and polite. Some failed.

The X-ray technicians were sympathetic to my story. However, upon leaving the X-ray room I thought that I heard raucous laughter from inside. On my walk back to the exam room, it seemed to me that the group of staffers at the nurses station was larger than usual. It could have been my imagination. There was an air of nonchalance but I suspect that the word had gone out about “Mr. American Flag” and the curious had gathered. They probably suppressed snickers until I was out of earshot, which, in my case, isn’t all that far.

The doc came in, cocked his head at the sight of me–his look reminded me of the RCA dog–and then he asked how I was doing, the standard doc opening. I launched into my chigger story while his lips twitched subtly until he finally had to bite his lower one. We then went through all of strength and mobility tests. Finally, he wanted to see the hip surgery scar. This required dropping the blue shorts, thus revealing the full extent of my chigger infestation.

To his credit, the doc only made one statement at this point in the exam: “Very festive.”

This whole episode reminded me that I had been meaning to change orthopedic docs anyway. Never having to go back there would probably be a good thing.

Only later did I discover that by the time a chigger bite begins to swell and itch, the chigger is long gone. Therefore, no chiggers died a horrible, suffocating death under the red seal of All Fired Up and Ruby Ribbon. The only thing that died was a large chunk of my dignity.

So, if you get chiggers, do not apply nail polish. My advice, since they hate sunlight, is to get completely naked and lie in the sun on the driveway with a clove of garlic around your neck until the neighbors complain or the police arrive.


Observoid of the Day: As part of emergency preparations for a hurricane, Americans rush to the grocery store and buy a week’s worth of ingredients for French toast.


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5 Responses to When Trombiculidae Come Home to Suck

  1. Bill Grant says:

    I’d forgotten about chiggers. They don’t live in Colorado, at least where we have lived above 5000 feet since 1977.
    Funny story – never heard of the nail polish remedy – we used calamine lotion.

  2. Dolly Jacobs says:

    I’ve finally stopped laughing long enough to comment, Cousin Bruce…….I think either your mom, my funny Aunt Betty, or your own now somewhat senior memory, played a trick on you………I’m pretty sure you use CLEAR nail polish. But you do sound very festive…..nay, I would even agree, Patriotic! Love you, Cousin Dolly

  3. Jennifer Garr says:

    Mimi wore Ruby Ribbon???

  4. Ty yount says:

    Have to 2nd with Dolly…clear was the recommended method of practice by my “maw-maw” when them chiggers came a calling after hours of “playing war” in the woods…but the red option is certainly a technique; not the preferred technique, but one none the less.

  5. Steve says:

    Bruce, you do have a way of bending an embarrassing experience into something from a 1980’s sitcom.
    Don’t think we had chigger’s down in FL. but we did have something like them called no-see-ums as well as fire ant’s and F-16 sized skeeters.

    With all my medical tests lately and since I spend so much time indoors behind a computer screen I can empathize with red, white and blue body theme colors.

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