Their Finest Hour

MARK MILLER

April 20, 1993|By MARK MILLER

I'm old enough to remember Vietnam, and you'd think I'd know better than to mire myself in a guerrilla war that some say I can't possibly win. You'd think I'd know better than to believe I could subjugate an indigenous population determined not to be subjugated. But here I am, ignoring the past, and no doubt bound to repeat it.

Day after day, week after week, month after month I engage my tough, stealthy enemy in fierce fire-fights -- massing my considerable firepower against their primitive defenses.

No matter, they always come back for more, despite a body count (non-inflated -- you hear me, General Westmoreland?) that numbers in the hundreds. That's a lot of casualties spread over a 4-by-15-foot battlefield: my kitchen.

Sometimes the war spills over into my bathroom, bedroom and living room -- my apartment's DMZ. This being a war of attrition, not containment, I pursue the enemy there too, firing my big cans of Black Flag, laying down my traps and baits during search-and-destroy missions.

Presidents Johnson and Nixon didn't know their enemy until it was too late. But I know mine, know they've been around 350 million years, know they can survive on almost anything (dust, electrical wiring), know their females lay packets of 12-25 eggs in inaccessible places, know that untold years of efforts to destroy them have made some of their species virtually immune to anything we can throw at them.

Late last year, management made tenants empty their cabinets in preparation for the Big Kill, a massive offensive by reputable exterminators covering 272 apartments on 18 floors. They sent tenants sanguine notices touting the effectiveness of the operation. The enemy would be made to capitulate through massive bombing and the severing of his supply lines.

It didn't work, at least not in my apartment, which, by the way, I keep spanking clean and as dust-free as possible. If anything, the enemy seemed to gain in strength and numbers, counterattacking everywhere with a vengeance. Call it Tet Two.

Normally a creature of the night, the enemy began to rear its brazen, ugly head during the day as well, scurrying up my kitchen walls and along my sink and stove and dropping in on me (uninvited, of course) when I was lying in bed. Luckily I was able to blast him with Blag Flag as he made his escape from my mattress.

Launching my own counterattack, I increased my nightly patrols, sprayed in places where the so-called exterminators hadn't and tested new weapons systems. One was my own version of napalm, a mixture of Black Flag and fire which I used mostly in the morning to clear my stove's burners of insurgents. I'd turn the gas on, pinning the enemy down, then spray Black Flag over the flame and . . . poof! -- those insurgents became crispy critters faster than I could say military-industrial complex. By turning on the oven, I could flush the enemy from its bunkers and blast it with Black Flag as the guerrillas poured out into the open.

Trouble is, I could never flush out the entire enemy, which always seems to replenish its depleted ranks with new blood, growing and reproducing exponentially in cracks and crevices that sprays and heat can't reach. So lately I've been planting poison-filled baits, a product designed to destroy the enemy from within. The idea is for insurgents to carry the poison to their bunkers, where others feed on it and die. It works pretty well: Intelligence reports a 60-80 percent drop in enemy sightings.

Still, I won't be satisfied until there are no sightings, until my place is insurgent-free. Management, meanwhile, just announced that it will launch a Big Kill every 18 weeks. I plan to tell them they'd have better success trying to win the enemy's hearts and minds.

Mark Miller's bugs are Baltimoreans.

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