It's A Pandemic!!!

Few things say Saturday morning like a good cup of coffee and your wife hollering from the bathroom, “The girls have head lice!” It took a moment to register as I sipped from my cup and then paused before gulping. Did she just…

“Did you just say…”

“Head lice.” She finished.

I got up from my chair and walked down to the bathroom where I found Ashley examining several strands of hair originating from Allie’s head. Allie in turn was looking at her mother through the mirror with an expression conveying her obvious lack of understanding over what was occurring.

I however, saw it for what it truly signaled, the final element in a tri-fecta of disgusting insects forming what I refer to as the first phase of poverty. This phase begins with fleas, grows to include cockroaches and then ends with the discovery of head lice.

I had already dealt with fleas. Never mind it was nearly three years ago and in a different apartment unit, the fact it occurred within this same complex mean that technically it counts according to my calculations. Understandably, they were the result of a neighbor’s dogs. When it comes to cockroaches, they are as frequent in the state of Texas as long horn cattle and death row executions, so you’re bound to see a few. Individually fleas and roaches can mean nothing, but joined with head lice they are like symptoms coming together to confirm the early stages of a deadly, long-term illness.

It won’t be long now, I thought, by which or course I meant the second phase of poverty. This phase is the point of no return when it comes to poverty, and it consisting of rats gnawing through the walls, mangy dingoes fighting over fleshy carcasses, and flies buzzing around the children’s mouths and nostrils. (Incidentally, phase three involves, bathing in fecal matter, cannibalism and all humanity digressing to a state similar to that of the Gollum creature in Lord of the Rings). In any case, we were well on our way.

“Well, I guess we know why you kept saying your head was itchy.” Ashley said breaking up my entirely plausible apocalyptic fantasy. “It’s been what, two weeks, Allie?”

Two weeks! Two weeks! I thought, We might actually be closer to stage 3 than I thought. “Where did it come from?” I asked as I started to inspect the walls for tiny claw marks.

“I don’t know. Maybe the hotel when they were in Galveston, or with their dad in Austin? It could be any number of places.” She threw the comb onto the counter where it landed near my toothbrush.

That toothbrush goes in my mouth, I thought and it’s 3 inches away from the very instrument Ashley just used to sift through a mound of hair in search of mini parasites announcing the end of mankind.

“Oh what?” Ashley must have followed my eyes as they focused on the final resting place of the comb. “It’s head lice. It’s not the end of the damn world.”

“You don’t understand,” I tried to reason with her, “It’s poverty. It’s the confirmation of poverty, fleas, cockroach and head lice! Head lice.” I repeated head lice slower and with emphasis like it were a code word she hadn’t remembered but with the right intonation, it would unlock a hidden meaning . “Don’t you see?”

“Stop it. You’re going to freak out the girls. They’re going to think there’s something wrong with them, and when did we ever have fleas?” The severity of the situation was lost on her.

I looked down at Allie. No longer did I a see a sweet, plucky little six year old, instead I saw a specimen that should be quarantined and shipped immediately to the Centers for Disease Control. When little Avery strolled into the picture, I doubled my menatl calculation for postage. “Do you think this one’s infected too?” I said pointing downward; careful to keep my arms close enough so as to not accidently make contact with her.

Ashley rolled her eyes, “We can get some shampoo from the store so just go get ready will ya.”

When I asked if were all going, I was answered with a harsh look that told me Ashley was not about to listen to my argument for keeping the kids here while only one of us retrieved the antidote. I wanted to explain how I really had the children’s best interests at heart in that keeping them contained lowered the risk of sharing it with others.

Worse than having head lice is being the kid universally recognized as “the source” of head lice. No longer would they be Allie and Avery, instead they would forever be recognized as ground zero for the “great head lice outbreak of oh eight.” Classmates would sign their yearbooks with epitaphs like, “To the girl that gave me head lice, have a great summer!” Even at their high school reunions, they would be handed nametags identifying them as Head Lice Specimen A1 and A2. It would be a stigma they would have to learn to accept.

Realizing there was no recourse to taking the children with us to the store, I offered to cover them up for protective purposes. Say something in a hefty bag, oven mitts and a shower cap.

“What is your deal?” It was more of an indictment concerning my behavior than a question. Ashley’s reaction signaled to me that my proposition had been soundly smacked down. “All of a sudden you are some sort of freak!”

It was true. Give me a broken limb or pulsating blood and I can calmly resolve the situation with a Rat Pack sense of coolness. Inform me the younglings have head lice and all sense of rationality escapes me leaving me utterly defenseless against all manner of possible scenarios I can conjure up which usually includes something horrific and painful happening to my genitalia. Suddenly the vision of Allie using my boxer briefs as a sort of Rastafarian hair net seemed entirely within the realm of possibilities. This prompted me to open my top dresser drawer and examine the contents in the same manner a drug lord would scan a briefcase full of money for marked bills.

“Honey, we’re going to need to burn all my underwear.” I said.

“You bet we’re gonna, my Hot Commando.” Ashley was leaning inside the bedroom door, her eyes ran playfully up and down my body.

“This is serious, Honey!” The thought of sex while creepy little bugs were strolling about the loft just creeped me out. “We practically have a pandemic on our hands and you make with the sexy talk to me.”

Ashley mumbled something to the effect of “pandemic this” and disappeared from the room. I headed to the shower, unable to let go of the image of lice living joyously in the land down under, frolicking about as if the nether regions of my body were some sort of Club Med for the wealthy elite amongst lice. The more I could see the little lice playing couples tennis and sipping tiny drinks with umbrellas the hotter I turned the temperature on the water.

My hyper focus was finally broken by Ashley peeking through the shower curtain. “You look like a lobster with mental issues” Somehow, I had managed to sit down under the scalding water from the shower, where I proceeded to pull my knees and ankles close to my body so I could rock back and forth.

As I started to towel off, my wife stopped chuckling long enough to tell me she had good news. “I was doing a little research on the web and you’ll be happy to know it’s not that bad, really.”

“When you say, ‘Not that bad,’ are you referring to the head lice or the maggots those flies will want to lay in the girls’ open sores during the next stage of poverty?” I hesitated for a moment as I reached for my underwear.

“The lice, you idiot. Dr. Sears says that they get a bad rap.” She said it as if “they” were misfortunate souls with good intentions unable to catch a break and that we should go out of our way to lend them fifty bucks.

I was incredulous to the fact that everything in this day and age suddenly needs better PR to including head lice. “If Dr Sears thinks they’re getting such a bad rap then he should spend less time telling everyone on his precious website and spend more time getting the term delouse removed from the English language.”

When you think about it what other filthy creatures out there have their own specific term associated with their removal. After all, you don’t de-flea something. No, fleas get their own collars, sprays, gentle baths and even bombs, while roaches actually get their own motels to die with dignity in. If you have lice; however, then you have to be deloused.

For some reason the term brings to mind images of prisoners in the 1920’s being processed on their first day at the Big House. After the warden’s rote speech on hopelessness , he nods his head signaling the guards to hose off the new inmates followed by a round of white powder thrown on them to kill lice. I wondered where in the apartment parking lot we could find the fire hydrant needed in setting up a delousing station for the girls.

“Oh forget it.” Ashley played at giving up. “Look, I’ve told the girls to stay in their room till we go and they are under strict orders not to touch you.”

This made me feel a little better, and I let my guard down a little, but if I thought my wife was trying to downplay the matter I was mistaken. It was true she had given the girls strict orders not to touch me while at home. At the store was another matter as she had also given them follow on orders to hug me as much as possible and tell me how much they loved me. It had been a trap all along.

After about thirty minutes the girls rubbing their hair on me, we finally had the de-lousing agent, but instead of returning home, Ashley explained we would be okay to head to her sister’s place to drop off the girls so the two of us could finish our errands for the day while the girls played with their cousins.

When I voiced my concern over the spread of lice I was given a run down of facts and figures, no doubt from Dr Sears and his rainbows and sunshine PR machine. I bought in, but mainly because it would mean a few hours of quiet without the girls.

When were greeted at the door of her sister’s place, Ashley blurted out, “The girls have lice, but it’s not contagious.”

“That’s okay,” her sister replied without any discernable reaction. “We have fleas from the dog. No biggie.”

“I’ll wait in the car.” I said doing a one-eighty just before entering in the front door. How do these people live this way? I kept thinking. How can they just lay back and accept the poverty about to overwhelm them?

Later that evening, after picking up the girls we headed home to begin the delousing process. Although I had rehearsed a pretty good tirade on hopelessness to present to the girls I never really found an opportunity to use it. It had been a long day for everyone. Ashley spent several hours applying shampoos and medication before beginning the tedious process of picking bugs from the girls’ hair.

Given my behavior today, I figured it was the least I could do to offer to read stories to whichever girl wasn’t having her hair sifted through by the momma monkey. Avery, grabbed a book and crawled up into the chair with me. As I started to read, she laid her head down on my lap, and I fought every urge within my body not to place a drink coaster under it. When we finished reading, Avery got up.

“Do you like my new braids,” she said turning her head slightly to show off the new do as recommended along with the shampoo treatment.

“Yes,” I said. “They look just lovely on you.” Avery beamed. She’s not worried about the dingoes so I guess neither should I.

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