You bug me

The Thursday evening Castle Hill Concerts at the Crane Estate in Ipswich are a very big deal, attended by thousands every summer, and I was hugely honored that The Trustees, who operate the Estate, invited me to emcee this year.

But I’m not really an outdoorsy person. I’m known as the “Outsidah” but that’s about being a newcomer to New England, not about hiking Bradley Palmer or kayaking on Hood Pond or even sitting around a campfire. I grew up in the Chicago area, where people stay in buildings. As far as I can tell, humans are meant to exist indoors, where they can keep an eye on their cats.

Emceeing the Castle Hill Concerts puts me at risk of encountering insects in their natural habitat, where they have the advantage. Mosquitos owned the Crane Estate first, and as far as they’re concerned, they still do. The idea of fabulous concerts on the Grand Allée is offensive to them. But they are an enterprising species. They make the best of a bad situation by feasting on the blood of the concertgoers. When life gives you humans, make humanade.

For many, mosquito bites are simply an annoyance, but in my case, they’re something closer to a crisis. My skin has a wretched allergic reaction to mosquito spit. Other folks get a little pink bump and a few minutes of itching. I get a major red welt, big enough to be seen from New Hampshire, then a week or two of burning itching, during which time my skin — eh, never mind. It’s too gross.

Bottom line, mosquitoes for me are agents of torturous evil. So in preparation for emceeing the first concert of the summer, I sprayed myself with DEET. Many insect repellants proudly advertise that they’re DEET-free. I, on the other hand, search for maximum DEET content. You’re not supposed to be able to buy anything that’s more than 30% DEET, but if I could get it pure and unadulterated, I’d buy it by the gallon.

Even DEET, however, doesn’t deter greenheads. The greenhead is the official Town Insect of Ipswich. Or if it isn’t, it should be. This vicious variety of horsefly is going after the same blood as a mosquito, but forget that tiny needle-nose strategy. The greenhead chomps its way in. I believe a greenhead thrills to the sound of human screaming.

My first night as emcee occurred at the height of greenhead season, between the two full moons of midsummer. So I headed over to Conley’s, the iconic Ipswich drugstore, and stocked up on the only truly effective greenhead repellant, an Avon product called Skin So Soft. The name tells you it wasn’t originally invented as armor, but someone somehow discovered that this smooth, soft oil makes greenheads gag. Conley’s offers you a free spray nozzle so you can turn your bottle of Skin So Soft into a gun. I would have preferred a showerhead, but I took the nozzle and doused myself. By the time the concert began, I was encased in a two-layered oil slick of DEET and Skin So Soft — still nervous about invading the insects’ environs, but determined to do my emcee duty.

Of course, if you miss even one little spot, the bugs will find it. I had stopped short of spraying myself directly in the face with these poisons, and before the concert was halfway over, I had a massive glowing red bug bite in the middle of my forehead. At one point I went up to the roof of the Great House, and a passing jetliner changed course.

At home afterward, I was eager to de-slime myself. But in the shower I discovered, to my dismay, that the combination of DEET and Skin So Soft forms a compound impervious to soap and water. I recommend a paint scraper or, if that doesn’t work, a blowtorch.

See you Thursday night at Castle Hill. I’ll be the guy whose sunglasses keep sliding off because his face is so slippery.

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, about as far from greenhead territory as you can get and still be in Ipswich. Follow him at

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