Insects divide people; we either love them or we hate them. I firmly fall on the hate side, with a phobia traceable to an incident when I was eight years old. I was awoken in my bed at 3:00 A.M. by a tickling on my chest. After initially assuming it was a simple brush of my blanket, the tickling continued and I was forced to investigate. Turning on the light, I stared straight into a long red centipede that was slowly crawling up my chest. At that point I began screaming.
That initial encounter along with another incident involving a fly landing in my ear and dying worked to cement a lifelong phobia of insects. That is not to say that I don’t respect and appreciate their role in nature and ecosystems. It is just a simple fact that if I see a spider or ant or fly in my bedroom, it can expect to be promptly beaten with the nearest book, wallet, or 3-hole punch available.
What is particularly odd about my insect aversion is that I have never been stung by a wasp, bitten by an ant, or harmed in any direct way by an insect. I have however, been reprimanded by an employer for them.
The incident occurred when I was sixteen and working at a local grocery store called Sobeys. I use the term local in a relative sense, as the store was a fifteen minute drive from my house along stretches of road peppered with traffic light and frequently under construction. Combined with my own procrastinating nature, I often got to work on the razors edge of when my shift was scheduled to begin and rarely met the “ten minutes early” rule that management encouraged.
One day, my mother had offered to give me a ride to work and we quickly became stuck in traffic. With two minutes to spare before my shift began, we had reached the final hurdle, a painfully slow turning light that blinked only long enough to allow at most 3 cars through (if all the drivers were on the ball) before returning to red and allowing cross-traffic through for five minutes. We unfortunately were not one of the 3 cars and I now sat at the intersection assured that I would be late to work. I found myself taunted by 60 metres the simple tract of tall grass adjacent to the intersection separating me from my employer’s parking lot.
Suddenly, I was struck with an idea to escape my fate. Turning to my mother and in such quick succession that she did not have time to object, I thanked her for the ride, undid my seatbelt and hopped out of the car before sprinting off through a river of cars rendered stationary at the traffic light. The tall grass proved easy to navigate and with the exception of small ditch, nothing stood me and maintaining my employment.
Then I ran into the grasshoppers. Not one grasshopper, but a sea of them that began to bound all around me as I ran. A few landed in my Sobeys, apron, but the majority propelled themselves in front of me, behind me, or over top of me. Though surprised, the tunnel vision of arriving to work on time allowed me to push aside my phobia and maintain my pace.
The problem I later realized was not how I reacted to the insects, but how customers and fellow employees did. The sight of a boy clad in the white, brown, and green hues of a Sobeys company uniform sprinting through tall grass engulfed in a dense sphere of insects was not what your average Sunday morning shopper expects. I learned at that moment the general public shares holds a phobia of insects, or at least of teenage boys that are seemingly able to manipulate insects like some sort of entomological sorcerer.
As I left the tall grass, my sphere of grasshoppers ceased being replenished from the throngs in the grass and quickly dispersed. From a customer’s perspective, my sphere of insects promptly exploded in all directions, the grasshoppers covering nearby vehicles and granting me ample personal space from customers and employees alike.
My boss was not impressed. I received a scolding from my boss as soon as I entered the store, a reprimand intensified by the fact that a straggling grasshopper leapt from my apron in the middle of our conversation. I tried to point out the merits of my timely arrival to work, but my plea fell on deaf ears. I learned that day that in the field of customer service, it is better to be late and not serve the customer at all than it is to be timely, but terrifying to those around you. Words to live by.