Swatting Flies

The other morning I was washing my face when a stray bit of black fuzz caught my eye from the corner of the bathroom floor.  On closer inspection the bit of fuzz was not fuzz at all, but a fly that had come to its unfortunate end.

Finally, I thought. At least one of them is gone.

It is fly season in East Oakland. I lived through a great swarm of spiders that infiltrated last fall, which I successfully fought back with a spray bottle of vinegar. The flies are a little more tricky—just slow enough for me to think I can get them, just quick enough to frustrate my efforts.

I didn’t mean it as an invitation when I left my window wide open in the hopes of retaining some springtime sunlight, ignoring the fact that this part of Northern California doesn’t seem to believe in putting screens on windows.

The flies have been with me for weeks. They buzz around the light over my bed when I flip on the switch after entering the room. They buzz around my kitchen when I’m caramelizing onions and slicing avocados. They buzz in the moments you’d expect flies to buzz, and then also in the moments when you most wish they wouldn’t—in the middle of reading an essay or writing an article, catching up on a Netflix binge, or sharing sacred moments fostered by tea lights and bottles of wine.

“It’s just the flies,” I say, as they zoom in near our ears, breaking the mood I worked so hard to set. “They’ll go away soon.”

And then I hope that they do.

Sometimes I fight back, swatting the air with unread copies of The New Yorker or smacking my bare hands with nothing to show but red palms.

It has been a spring of tending to trivialities—days of doing my taxes, weeks of filing reports and responding to e-mails. There is list after list of to-dos that are never done:

  • order new glasses
  • return workout pants
  • redesign website
  • wash car
  • buy plane tickets
  • write something (really, anything)

I pitch story after story, fill out an occasional job application, make frequent trips to the grocery store, and confront the never-ending hassle of accidental parking tickets. I argue every citation. Respond to every email. Call over every late fee. I swat fly after fly with the belief that I’m doing some good, creating a space in which “real life” can happen once all of these little pests are dealt with.

But in the time that I spend on hold with the IRS or trying to convince the SFMTA that no, I did not exceed their two-hour parking limit in that stretch of gravel on Kearny, I probably could have finished two chapters of that book I haven’t looked at since…when was it? November?fly_on_the_wall_by_triaxtrooper


The middle of April I decide to visit my sister in Las Vegas. I have the time. I need a break. I want her to meet this guy I’ve been dating for the past couple of months and if we don’t do it now, who knows when we’ll get the chance?

So we make plans. I book tickets and a week later I’m standing in the security line at SFO, trying to tap out emails and finish phone calls before leaving my metaphoric office for five days. The trip is a good one, even better than I had anticipated. While in Vegas, we go shopping and play Bingo; sip coffee over crossword puzzles and drink dirty martinis while watching Skyfall. It is not epic—it is not even you’d expect from a trip to Vegas—but it is enjoyable. It is exactly what I didn’t know I needed.

Monday night I go back to Oakland and find this fuzz that isn’t a fuzz on the bathroom floor. There is another behind the toilet and a third a few inches from my fridge. The little bits of bother died mid-flight. No swatting or flytraps or DIY needed. Left to their own devices they simply ceased to be.

That night I sleep in blissful silence.

The next morning I sit down at my desk, flanked by untidy piles of paper. I am hoping I can focus on the task at hand. I promise myself that this morning I will write something (really, anything).

I take a breath as I open my laptop and hear the buzz of a newfound fly.

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