Thursday, August 2, 2012

Doin' it wrong with operant conditioning and pest control

Today I'm putting my curtains back up. I took them down at the beginning of June when my husband pointed out that they were serving as a nursery for tick larvae.  We spent a frantic and disgusted weekend washing curtains and bedding, vacuuming every milimeter of carpet and upholstery in the house, and spraying every crevice and surface with a combination of purportedly environmentally-neutral pesticides bought at a do-it-yourself joint. 

Yeah, yeah.  Chemicals shmemicals. 

Those of you who know me outside of Bloggerland know how I feel about bugs. I never liked them, and I really screwed myself up several years ago in a behavioral psychology workshop during a demonstration of virtual operant conditioning or some such thing.  The group was instructed to imagine a thing we fear, in the most vivid manner we could, while touching together the thumb and index finger of our left hands.  Then we were instructed to imagine, in an equally vivid manner, a peaceful and comfortable setting, while touching together the thumb and index finger of our right hands.  Being me, I screwed it up.  I got stuck on Thing-I-Fear, and did the whole Right Hand thing wrong.  This only exacerbated my fear of bugs.  Observe:

I once thought I saw a large bug scoot across the carpet in the doorway of my office, and began thinking immediately of the possibility of climbing out the window, and whether the screen popped out easily, or if I'd have to tear through it.  Turns out it was a pen cap that my client had been fiddling with, and shot across the room accidentally.  It was all very amusing for him, but I'm not kidding about thinking of climbing out that window.

Another time, I was out shopping with my friend Amee.  I discovered a palmetto bug crawling around on the floorboard of my car when we returned to the parking lot.  I got out, closed the door, and loudly declared I needed a new car.  I don't remember how we got home.  I'm sure Amee had to chase the bug out of the car.

When I saw a German cockroach in my office one day last year, I told my boss I might have to resign. He had the pest control guy in the same day. I'm not kidding. I really hate bugs.

So when, this spring, I began to fear I'd permanently lost the war with the creepy little parasites, I was considering how I might burn down my house, and get the two 75+ year old live oaks in the back yard to go up with it.  I had even silently and regretfully thought that I might have to give up my dog.  You remember my dog, right?

He's so sweet.  He didn't even murder me for this cone-head incident. He totally could have; I'm a very sound sleeper.

The weekend of the ferocious scouring I took the dog to the vet for a bath and tick treatment.  The vet called me to find out what wildernss I'd abandoned my dog in that caused him to be so virulently infested.  "My backyard," was my only reply.  After about 30 minutes' lecture, the vet suggested a new super-tick-and-flea-control product.  Seeing how my next idea was Napalm and the SPCA, I was game.  She only had one dose, but I happily bought it.  The dog was a sleepy lump for three days, but that could have been due to the overwhleming trauma of having been left at the vet for 8 hours.  He hates that place.

The good part of this story is that the magic product worked!  For a few weeks I found only dead ticks in the house, and, although I fear to say it aloud, I haven't seen any in 2 weeks.  Shh.  Don't repeat that.  I know those little bastards are still in the yard, and I don't want to jinx myself.  Those stupid curtains have been hanging in the laundry room for 2 months, and I'd like my pants hangers back now.

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