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    The last time I posted this was in 2015. It’s a newly edited version.

    Years ago, when I worked at the Weiner King in Flemington, New Jersey, my boss, Jack Little, laid me off during summer months, usually some time in June. Former employees, high school grads, now in college, would return to their old jobs. It was a wonderful opportunity for them to work with their friends and a great opportunity for me to paint houses and businesses, and to soak up the sun and fresh air. I made a decent living doing it, I was quite good, and it was therapeutic, so it was a win/win for everyone. Come September, I’d be back slinging burgers and dogs.

    One particular summer, I was painting the Weiner King at Turntable Junction, a touristy area in town with Colonial-style storefronts. Some of the people who worked there dressed in 1770s attire. Not at the Weiner King. We wore aprons. Anyway, behind the restaurant and down the embankment were railroad tracks. An old steam locomotive with antique cars would take people on scenic rides through parts of Hunterdon County. Called the Black River & Western RR, it still runs today, and the old Weiner King is now a Mexican restaurant.

    Along that embankment were countless nests of ground hornets. I remember setting empty syrup bottles out the back door and they would fill up with the darn things, but it never seemed to put a dent in their population. They pestered customers but we just couldn’t get rid of them.

    Generally, the hornets — we called them bees — were pretty friendly unless provoked. I got used to bees and hornets from all of the outdoor work I did, and they didn’t bother me at all. Except for this one particular afternoon when I was painting an area above the dining room. I was on the patio roof.

    At some point, I decided to break for lunch. Despite having the restaurant beneath me, I had packed my own meal that day. Probably a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I unwrapped it and started to eat. Of course, the smell of food always attracted these little hornets and I’d gently wave my hand. Peacefully, of course. Eventually, they’d get the message and fly away.

    But not this one pesky guy. He just kept buzzing around me and my food. No matter how much I tried, there he was. Finally, he took the message and off he went. Or so I thought. I distinctly remember that fateful moment; the kind of moment filled with so much pain, you know you’ll never, ever forget.

    I took a nice, big bite out of the sandwich and was chewing away. Chewing and chewing and breathing through my nose. Mmmm… tasting and enjoying my lunch when, JUST LIKE THAT, Mr. Bee decided to buzz the right side of my face. A wing lightly brushed against my cheek, and…

    I sucked him right up my right nostril. Deep into the sinus cavity. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. I knew what was about to happen. You know, when bees get angry. I gripped myself, and then, THE STING!


    Oh, the pain. Such excrutiating pain deep inside my sinuses. They swelled shut almost immediately and tears flooded down my face like a gushing waterfall. This wasn’t funny at all! But it was. I jumped up and tried to walk it off, pacing violently back and forth on the 6-pitch roof. That was all I could do. No ice or anything would help.

    You know, it’s a good thing that, as a child growing up, I got over bee stings in no time. Wasps, too. I had a great immune system and never caught poison ivy. Without this innate protection, I would have been in serious trouble.

    I would say it took about 15 minutes and, then, the pain was gone. My nose opened up and I was able to go back to painting, as if, nothing happened.

    As I continued to paint, the bees came around again and never seemed to wonder what became of their buddy. I don’t know what happened to him, either, because he never came out. Not that I’m aware of, anyway. All I know is that, after that day, I developed an urge to eat honey and pollinate flowers.

    Until the fire ants came along….



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