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I thought we lived above the gnat line

By Walter Geiger I noticed the first one while walking the pitch at the soccer complex in Zebulon where I spend a good portion of my life these days. It hovered under my nose and then tried to get into the space between my eyes and sunglasses. Having been raised below the gnat line, I instinctively extended my jaw and bottom lip and blew hard upwards. The gnat disappeared but he and several friends returned and dogged me for the rest of the practice. I thought that was just a freak occurrence but the gnats have found us here – a result of all the welcome rain. I have since been tormented by them. I can deal with mosquitoes, wasps, bees and other winged terrorists but gnats drive me crazy. I don’t really follow baseball anymore but, growing up in Savannah, we played baseball in someone’s yard nearly every warm day. Cold days were for football. I fell asleep many nights with a transistor radio under my pillow broadcasting the exploits of Hank Aaron and Rico Carty on the diamond. Baseball lost me with metal bats, designated hitters and the slowed pace of the game. Every batter has a 45-second ritual of scratching, probing and readjusting the cup between pitches. Pitchers groom the ball like they are giving Bill Clinton his $1000 haircut. There are too many breaks in the action. It seems even the old lady on the pump up music organ gets a break to pass gas. I mean, hurry up already! But, I digress. During the summers of my youth, my brothers, neighbors and I played on peewee, little league and pony league teams as we grew older. One of the places we traveled to was a settlement called Sandfly – another moniker for gnat. It was appropriately named. Sandfly has been overgrown by Savannah’s sprawl and today is a funky little community of neat shops, restaurants and bars. Back then it was a crossroads with a sandlot baseball field and a close right field fence which we loved. It was there I saw the worst gnat infestation ever. Apparently the DDT trucks which held the creatures at bay had broken down in the days leading up to this game. Gnats swarmed as we warmed up. They were in our eyes, ears and everywhere else whether we were on the field, in the batter’s box or dugout. The inevitable happened. A batter launched a line drive that caught our second baseman, a red-haired, freckled-face boy named Jay, square in the face. He had been focused on gnats not the ball and went down in a heap. The coaches and parents were hysterical. The home plate umpire stood over Jay. He, too, was tired of blowing gnats out of his face mask. A nasty welt rose right between the ill-fated second baseman’s eyes and, when he finally came to, the ump told him to count backwards from 10. Jay couldn’t even get the 10 right. The ump called the game right there. Both coaches, needing a win, protested. One offered up his scorebook in open hands to strengthen his plea. The ump grabbed a pencil and scrawled ‘˜Called due to gnats’ across the page. He stormed to his car, threw his umpiring gear in the trunk, took an opener to a can of Schlitz, struck a match to a Marlboro red and fishtailed out of the oyster shell parking lot. I can still see his tires slinging dust and shell particles. Yes, I hate gnats with good reason but they have an even more evil cousin. Don’t even get me started on no-see-ums. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of the Herald Gazette.

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