Driven to Distraction by Stinkbugs

By Michael Kaufman

This week I planned to write about a recent letter to the editor published  in  Orange County’s lone daily newspaper. A woman who said she is a public health worker wrote to complain about being pressured to have a flu shot. She said she doesn’t want one because it contains beta-Propiolactone and, according to a certain anti-vaccine organization, “beta-Propiolactone is a very irritating liquid that is also used in anti-rabies vaccines.”

“Now,” she continued, “the state wants to make it mandatory for all state health employees to get the flu shot, or wear a mask at all times. This is absurd, since the flu shot does not guarantee that all inoculated employees will not get the flu, be a flu carrier, or transmit some other disease. I consider this a dictatorship.” But no one ever said the flu vaccine will protect everyone against becoming infected or transmitting the disease. It has, however, been shown in scientifically validated studies to protect a large percentage of the population. In people at highest risk (e.g, babies, infants, and the elderly) flu shots have saved countless lives. A public health worker who refuses to get the flu shot and considers it a dictatorship when encouraged to do so (even when offered the option of wearing a mask) is a public health menace.

Her final paragraph gives further testimony to her ignorance: “As for myself, I consume yogurt almost every day, or use a supplement known as acidophilus and lysine or both. I also take a multi-vitamin not more than 100 percent of the RDA to prevent overdosing. This is not a guarantee that I will not get the flu, but neither is a flu shot.” Consuming yogurt, vitamins and supplements may arguably be good for her overall health but they have nothing to do with a person’s susceptibility to the influenza virus, which is spread by airborne droplets.

So I was going to explain that in more detail and also lambaste the newspaper for publishing the letter in the first place because the misinformation it contains is intended to discourage readers from getting inoculated against influenza. The newspaper is not obliged to publish every letter it receives. I know this firsthand because when I wrote a letter in opposition to proposed cuts to Social Security a while back they didn’t publish it.

But just as I began going through some educational materials I have on file about influenza prevention I noticed from the corner of my eye a stinkbug on my office window. Maybe that shouldn’t have stopped me from carrying on with my work but there is something in my nature that does not allow it. The moment I see a bug in my house I act on it immediately. Back in the day, when I lived in an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I became so adept at killing cockroaches that I fancied myself a matador of sorts. I was the great “El Judío.” I used several techniques, foremost of which was a barefoot stomp. When I executed a clean kill with a single stomp I heard shouts of “Olé!” in my head. When I botched the kill I heard jeers and whistles. In time I developed a kind of respect for roaches that gamely eluded me and forced me to work harder for the kill. But unlike a real matador, who has the option of sparing the life of a “good” bull, I never spared a good cockroach.

I am similarly skilled at killing flies and delight in snatching them barehand in midair. (Fly swatters are for amateurs.) I feel proud when eyewitnesses, including my children, express admiration, although I had a hard time with the flies in Atlanta when I visited my son Kenny and his family there. “These flies aren’t like New York flies,” he said after I’d swiped at a few and came up empty handed. “They’re a lot quicker and smarter.”

A couple of year ago I found the fruit flies in our kitchen even more challenging than those speedy, intelligent Atlanta flies. The tiny little buggers seemed to have a sixth sense, anticipating my every move and flitting away just when I thought I had them. It took me awhile to figure out their behavior patterns—time that no doubt should have been spent working—but I was driven and refused to let some little speck of a fruit fly get the better of me. In the end I showed them who was boss, although I seem to remember causing some property damage when I smacked a cabinet too hard. Or maybe it was the wall. I’ll have to ask Eva-Lynne. She’ll remember. The fruit flies drove me crazy but my obsession with them drove her nuts too.

We had stinkbugs last year but they proved to be no challenge other than being repulsive to look at, especially when perched on furniture or a plate full of food. But they had no survival skills to speak of. Once in a while you would see one take to the air but for the most part they just stayed where they were and let you catch them. No skill or artistry was involved. You had plenty of time to grab a piece of paper towel or toilet paper and return to the site and—to borrow a phrase from Henry Miller—squish squish. They were gray and I never noticed an odor upon their demise.

This year we have a stinkbug of a different color. They are darker in hue and somewhat aromatic. They fly more often than they did last year and when they do it makes a loud buzzing sound. The first time I heard it I thought there was some work going on outside, maybe someone using a buzz saw. Then I saw that all the noise was from one damnable stinkbug flying around the ceiling fan.

Let me tell you something: These guys are a lot more elusive than their gray cousins were last year. Oh, they’ll stay still for you if they’re within reach, but they also like to set up shop in high places, such as our two skylight windows, where many have been congregating lately. Getting at them proved no easy feat.

I tried using a stepladder but got dizzy before I got to the top step and by then I knew I wouldn’t have been able to reach them anyway. Then I remembered a technique I’ve often used for moths with considerable success. I grabbed one of Eva-Lynne’s Country Living magazines and heaved it up at them. But I didn’t get it high enough and when it crashed to the floor the binding loosened and a couple of pages fell out. I stuffed the pages back in and put the battered magazine in the middle of the pile. I tried again with a different issue of Country Living. This time I heaved it just high enough to disturb several stinkbugs, inducing them all to fly at the same time. The ensuing loud buzzing was terrifying and another magazine had taken a beating for naught.

Then I tried using an extendable feather duster I found in a closet. When fully extended it was long enough to reach the skylights. Hoo Ha! I aimed the business end of the duster at one of the remaining stinkbugs, but it simply shrugged it off and moved slowly toward a corner for cover. The feathers (actually synthetic fibers) were too soft to inflict damage. I tried again, pushing harder, to no avail. Then I tried whacking the flying ones, swinging the duster like a baseball bat. But they simply buzzed away on contact and I’d swear they were taunting me by flying near my head and weaving in and out of striking range.

And then, almost serendipitously, I discovered the technique. I lifted the duster and held it directly in the flight path of a stinkbug. The bug flew into it full speed….and was trapped. I opened the front door, shook out the duster and voila! Mr. Stinkbug landed on his back and I finished him off with a foot stomp. I tried it with the other fliers with the same result. And then I tried pushing the duster into the skylight next to an immobile stinkbug, jiggling it gently around and over the bug. It worked. And one by one they allowed me to take them outside to meet their maker. As Lawrence Welk used to say of Geritol “Take it from me folks, it really works.” Try it yourself. And if you prefer, you can release the bug into the wild as I do nowadays when I trap daddy long legs spiders in our house. Not stinkbugs though.

But in any case don’t forget to get your flu shot this year.

Michael can be reached at





Tags: , ,

3 Responses to “Driven to Distraction by Stinkbugs”

  1. Lee Steup Says:

    Wayne Hall, an environmentalist who writes for the TH-Record, told me to erect a light to shine on a dish of soapy water. The bugs are attracted by the light and fall in. I’ve heard that the smell of mint repels stink bugs, so I plan to pick armfuls of the orange mint that has taken over the yard and stuff it around window sills and in the attic. In the meantime, we keep a clear plastic cup and a piece of cardboard handy and using it, take about a dozen stinkbugs a day out to the Great Outdoors.

  2. Michael Kaufman Says:

    Thanks for the excellent suggestions, Lee. The methods recommended by Wayne Hall are a lot easier and less time consuming than mine….but also less fun. Since writing this piece I’ve further refined my my expandable duster technique for removal of immobile stinkbugs in high places. Twirling the handle of the duster seems to bring results in fewer passes.

  3. Sherry Svec Says:

    I’ve sent five of them to a whirling, watery grave when
    i discovered they had breached my bedroom! I don’t know why but they look really old, a throwback from a biblical plague?

Leave a Reply