Could everyone write one simple essay about something that once happened in Saltaire…that they saw or were a part of…and put it on one big website? Somebody should collect a lot of stories before we all forget. Otherwise it is like a line in “On The Beach” : The history of the war that now would never be written.” -(JO'H)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It was Mosquito Day

It was mosquito day.
No, not a day to celebrate mosquitoes. Kind of to destroy them.
But more than killing mosquitoes it was a day to frolic in clouds of DDT spray.
Every few weeks in the summer in the 1950’s a yellow truck would come around from the Suffolk County Mosquito Control Commission.

Actually, the crew came over on a boat, THE HELEN MARION. I think they must have kept the yellow truck somewhere on the island 24/7. The crew was old men with boots and rain slickers.

At the height of the mosquito season in a bad year, you could walk into the ball field and in seconds be attacked by hundreds of mosquitoes. You couldn’t slap them fast enough. Instead of Whack-a mole you would be a human whack a mosquito game. You smack two on your left leg and three would start biting on your arms. All at once. There were times that classes had be rerouted to the ocean front.
Forget abut sunset or dusk. This could be all day long. But even when they were not at their worst, they would be pretty much everywhere.

So the mosquito truck would drive up and down the boardwalks with big hoses spraying a fog of DDT up into the air. Did you ever see fire boats spraying cascades of water up into the air in New York harbor? Same thing with the mosquito truck. Big hoses left and right spraying up into the air as the truck went slowly up and down the boardwalks. And kids on bikes would sometimes follow right behind the truck as it made it rounds. Kind of neat, for a few minutes at least, riding through a cloud of wet haze. It kind of smelled like gasoline. Everybody was relieved when the mosquito truck came by.

Then the mosquitoes would be gone. At least for a week or two.

Then they started coming back. In another week or so after that the HELEN MARION would tie up at the Saltaire dock and the yellow truck would go around again.

I remember kids saying DDT wasn’t poison to people since nobody died when they played in it. Sometimes when the DDT settled on puddles around the village it would leave a neat sheen of little rainbow colors. If you swished the water, or launched a toy boat into it, it would show little brownish-red rainbows. Push the boat fast on the water and it would have a colorful little oily wake.

I didn’t notice if some kinds of birds started to disappear as years went by. I was not a kid birdwatcher. A lot of friends noticed that the blue claw crabs were less and less as years went by. When you were little you could get a bucketful with a net just walking along the bulkhead on the bay. They started being less and less. I don't know if there was any connection.

One day in 1964 or 1965 the old guys from the HELEN MARION were sitting at the dock and complaining. They weren’t wearing rain slickers anymore, but they had boots. “No more DDT,” they were told. They had to stop it because “some bird watchers don’t like DDT.” From then on, all they could do was put pellets into standing water. “That will never kill ‘em like DDT,” an old sprayer complained.

I don’t know if the pellets gave off a sheen on standing water or were colorless. By then I was too old to play in puddles of greasy water.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Forgot all about the HELEN MARION and the truck loads of poison we all frolicked in. Great story! I am sure our later problems had nothing to do with breathing and playing in poison.

I also remember the swarms of mosquitoes, especially on the ball field. Someone thought if you could flex your arm tightly enough you could capture them in your arm and then watch the little guys expand until they exploded.

Sadly I apparently was not sufficiently buff to actually explode a single bug. But as often happened I realized that New Yorkers were much better at setting up us out of towners than we were at doing the same to THEM.