Will Exterminate for Massage
As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa (Dec 2008)

                  At the insistence of my lower back, I took advantage of my employer’s reasonably-priced “Health & Wellness” division chair massage benefit. The catch? The building’s hallway system was inspired by a cornfield maze. As I wound my way through and climbed the second flight of stairs, just as I was convincing myself that finding this room would soon be worth the trouble, I heard muffled screams, giggles, and what sounded like jogging overhead. I then heard a man’s clear, robust belly-laugh when I turned the corner onto the 3rd floor landing. Had I come at a bad time?

                  The source of this mayhem was the massage check-in room. Out of its doorway hopped the laughing man – backwards – brandishing a powder blue feather duster the length of his arm. A woman followed, crouching, and took shelter behind him as though a bully were on their tails. Still laughing, the man turned his head as he saw me approach. "We're not usually like this," he said.

                  Clearly I had arrived during some kind of morale-building office exercise, but these two would return to their usual, professional selves now that they had a customer. I politely ignored their strange behavior and went about my business. 

                  "I have to check in for a chair massage,” I said.

                  "ITSAWASP," said the jittery, wide-eyed woman, as though I had not just spoken. Before I could respond, another woman whooshed out of the same room and passed the three of us. As I turned to watch her run, she shouted over her shoulder, "There's a huuuge wasp in there! We're trying to get it with hairspray!" Then she leapt into another office. Only her hands and the top of her head reappeared as she peeked around her door.

                  With a mix of hesitation and curiosity, I turned back to the check-in room expecting to see some alien beast-wasp the size of my fist.

                  Did she just say hairspray?

                  Jittery Woman tiptoed around Laughy Man and reentered the office, her right arm extended before her. I followed, only now noticing the red and pink bottle in her hand. It was pump hairspray, and I truly witnessed her spraying it in all directions at a wasp the size of a child’s thumbnail. Laughy stood nearby like a giddy fencer, feather duster at the ready. I looked from one to the other. This place had gone mad. It would not have surprised me at this point to see them link arms and skip around the room singing, "Ha ha ha hee! Tra la la lee!"

                  "You're trying to kill it with hairspray," I said. There was no judgment in my voice. I was merely trying to understand what I was seeing. With a flourish of his duster, Zorro laughed and said, "I think we're just doing its hair!" Tra la la la lair!

                  Given their demeanor and choice of weaponry, Hairspray Woman and Laughy Man would neither rest nor check me in for my chair massage until someone did something about this wasp. Evidently, this task must fall to me. I shrugged and said, "OK, I'll get it." Movement ceased. The staffers marveled at me as though a narrator were asking, "Who is this strange maiden who ventures forth to slay the wingèd creature? Can she destroy the One Wasp?”

                  I scanned the office. In my own building I’ve released bees/wasps/other offending creatures through an open window after capturing them in a mug covered with a notepad. Unfortunately, the windows in this office were unreachable. The main exit downstairs was a non-option. I could hardly navigate the floor I was on; with no one to guide me out but these two bouncing eccentrics, the mug would be jostled along the way and the wasp would escape. I could not risk inflicting this craziness on another department. And someone could be allergic! I sighed, knowing I had to prioritize people over wasps. Sometimes in nature it is kill or be stung.

                  I saw the doomed insect heading for the window (poor, deluded wasp! when will you understand glass?). I stepped onto a chair, reached up and tried to clap my hands over it, but it was still out of range. "I can get it if it comes down lower," I said mostly to myself as the mystified duo watched in silence. Soon enough it descended and, a moment later – CLAP – fell to the floor. Sorry, buddy.

                  Hairspray and Laughy looked at each other, then back at me. "You're our hero," they said in unison.

                  “No worries,” I said as I stepped down and asked for some tissues to pick up the spiky-haired remains of the dearly departed.

                  "You totally deserve a free massage for that," said Laughy. 


                  He furrowed his brow, and his smile faded. "Oh, yeah," he said, then put down the Feather Duster of Death, and sat at his desk for the first time since my arrival. I blinked. Laughy Man was gone, and had been replaced by his professional alter-ego. He click-click-clicked on his keyboard, looked up at me and said, “OK, you're hooked up." Then he left the room, presumably to inform the masseuse of my “hooked up” status. After Hairspray Warrior Princess brought me a burial trashcan, I asked where I could wash my hands and rinse away the last of poor Spike.

                  I hardly recognized the quiet, traditional office hallway I found upon my return. Had it all been a dream? Laughy and Hairspray were now normal, everyday office staff, and Fleeing/Leaping Woman was seated at her desk in the distance. She waved a thank you. I contemplated tipping an imaginary cowboy hat and saying something like “All in a day’s work, ma’am,” but my heart wasn’t in it. I just waved back and sighed, hoping that Philadelphia’s wildlife would take the rest of the day off and let me have my chair massage in peace.

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