Williams column: The skeeter sprayer
By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
Although it is not quite yet summer, the present heat and humidity bring summer to mind. When my daughter, Rachel, was a baby, my late wife, Diane, Rachel and I visited Wilmington and experienced the U.S.S. North Carolina battleship and its outdoor, evening sound and light show. Rachel proved to be a deep sleeper, as she slept through the taped “fireworks” of the U.S.S. North Carolina’s participation in the World War II battles of the South Pacific.
As we were heading to the terrestrial bleachers across from the retired battleship’s aquatic setting, we encountered a man seated at the entrance. In front of him was a table filled with cans of spray and tubes of cream. This man earnestly advised us to spray and daub the contents of those cans and tubes onto the exposed parts of our bodies in order that we not be eaten alive by mosquitoes. We did so, taking our seats, infant Rachel’s “seat” being the one that we brought with us.
Not long afterwards, the motor of a small boat was heard, and then that small boat was seen in the water not far from where we were seated. Another motor, within the boat, in addition to the one of its propulsion, was also started, and then a misty “fog” spewed forth upon those placid, stagnant waters. This marine scene brought back to me the memory of something similar, but much further inland, out on the Old Concord Road in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In the summertime, everyone is familiar with the ice cream truck, its happy tune announcing to the children that something delicious and cold is approaching on a hot day. In addition to that harbinger of deliciousness, there was another sound associated with some late, summer evenings which I would sometimes hear on those nights of my youth when I had not yet found sleep.
I once saw the source of that sound on an appropriately late night as it came down the Old Concord Road. Since it was “road-faring,” it had lights, of course, but I could see a misty, exuded “fog” being illuminated by the truck”s rear lights as it made its way closer. It made the most frightening noise, which increased accordingly, in the number of decibels, with its approach.
This strange-looking, strange-sounding apparition, past my bedtime, was referred to as the “fog machine.” Its appearance was meant to be very late in the evening, when no one would be out and about, because it would spray a “fog’ consisting of water vapor and poison meant for mosquitoes. I remember it specifically spraying the adjacent ditches of country roads where stagnant water might be present, such water providing a nurturing home to the mosquito in its larval form, the “wriggler.”
The fog machine, mounted on the back of a truck, made an ominous sound from its approach in the distance. The motor used to propel the poisonous mixture, to me, had a sound reminiscent of one of those pulsating engines of the old V-1 “Buzz Bomb” launched by the Germans across the English Channel toward London in World War II.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, World War II was not yet far removed in time. One could see old bits of wartime newsreels added into WWII-themed movies and WWII-themed television programs of the day. In addition to the V-1 Buzz Bomb’s image, its unique sound was also preserved on the audio track of film, so we were acquainted with both the sight and sound of it even after its cessation as a weapon of war.
In the final analysis, the “fog machine” was not meant for creatures who could use their minds to write about it, enveloping it in an aura of late-night mystery, or drawing analogies of it’s sound with the sound of former weapons of war. It was meant instead, for small, deadly, brainless things which spread disease, misery and death; and it did its job well. It killed a good many of them.