At the time of this writing, I am down in Phoenix waiting for carpet guys. One single fly had gotten into the house and had found its way to annoying me as I sat on the floor, just waiting for a phone call and writing while waiting. I tried brushing the fly away, but it had decided I guess that I was the most interesting thing in the empty house. I decided I would just go ahead and catch it and throw it outside. Yes, I can catch flies. I confess though that fly catching is not a skill that has ever made it to my resume (oh no, I saved that for the whole world to read).
The fly was easy – I quickly scooped it up, got up from my place on the floor and then walked back to the sliding back door where I opened my hand and allowed the fly to escape. As I was setting up to catch the fly, it reminded me of how I actually even attained this ability and another associated skill – fly training.
Mentioned before, when I was a kid, we didn’t have cell phones or Ipods to keep us entertained so we typically would invent a myriad of games and other activities to diverge our attention away from what we should have been doing, (like paying attention to our teachers). I learned to catch flies in junior high school, Section 1C, where fly catching was as normal an activity as matching pennies, (and as I’m sitting here writing, it strikes me – why did we have so many flies? Was there something wrong with our hygiene?). I can remember having contests in classes where we boys would challenge each other to see who could catch the most before the starting bell rang (the girls never partook in this activity – you have to be really smart to catch flies!) 😉
To catch a fly you had to first visibly single out a victim. Then you have to wait for the fly to land. Once it lands, you move your cupped hand up slowly above the fly. It does not work very well to come to the fly’s front – approaching the fly from the rear or side always is best. Also, they just hate it when you taunt them – I’m gonna’ catch you, you million-eyed little bastard, (seriously, try it). Getting close to the fly is key, the closer the better. Once your hand reaches the proper point, your next movement needs to be very fast. I like to imagine I’m bringing a bite of Grandma’s German chocolate cake to my mouth – that helps increase the speed, I just had to be careful I didn’t really finish my thought in practice. You next move your cupped hand very quickly above the fly and as your hand is passing the place where the fly is perched, you close your hand simultaneously. If this were just a capture and release attack, your next move was to slowly open up the hand to watch the fly leave. Add another to the count and move onto the next victim. Don’t worry about cheating by catching the same fly again – once they were captured they got the hell out of Dodge.
On several occasions we boys would entertain the girls with our fly training abilities. Only the best catchers could train a fly. First you had to acquire a leash. A fly leash consisted of a single strand of hair from the head of a girl. All girls in the 70’s had long hair so any girl would do. Usually the girl was willing and would supply us with the leash, but if one was not, we merely would ‘steal’ a suitable leash by carefully sneaking up on a girl, stealthily isolating a single strand of hair and quickly yanking it from the girl’s head. When you acquired a leash without asking it was very important to be a fast runner. Typically a hand coming around to slap you in the face was not far behind the leash theft.
A partner in crime would hold onto the leash and would make a simple loop at one of the strand ends, being careful to leave it wide enough to slip around the ‘neck’ of the fly. The other person would catch a fly and then work it to the finger tips, being careful not to kill the fly or damage its wings. You’d hold the fly at the end of your fingertips and then try to get the noose around the fly’s head. This was typically the most difficult part because the fly could see the hair and would take its little legs out in front of its head and try to thwart our attempts to slip the noose around its neck (and I swear on the lives of my children that I am not making this stuff up). Once successful though, the noose would be pulled tighter but careful not to get too tight and actually kill the fly.
If we managed all of these steps, we had a trained fly who would zip around the small space, limited by the length of the leash. Yes, that was actually entertaining to us kids in 1970. Ok, so it’s not really “training”. It sounds stupid as all get out to me today, but hey, junior high school boys are not always the brightest bulbs in the closet….but we were always imaginative.
Submitted for your approval,
Rob Wyatt, Fly Catcher
One Final Note – Please don’t judge me. I am much more kind to flies than Herbert Marshall & Vincent Price