Years ago, when I worked at the Weiner King in Flemington, my boss, Jack Little, would lay me off during summer months, usually some time in June. Former high school students, now in college, would come home and want to go back to work for him for two reasons: to make money and to work with their old friends and him. You see, Jack was, quite simply, the best boss ever. He would hire 3 or 4 kids in my stead and I would go off to paint houses and businesses. I made a decent living doing it, I was quite good, and it was therapeutic, so it was a win/win for everyone. Come September, I'd be back slapping burgers and dogs into buns.
One particular summer, I was painting the Weiner King at Turntable Junction, a touristy area with Colonial-style storefronts. People who worked there dressed in 1770s attire. Not at the Weiner King. Anyway, Jack's father-in-law hired me. Behind the restaurant and down the embankment are railroad tracks. An old steam locomotive with antique cars would take people on scenic rides through parts of Hunterdon County. Called the Black River & Western RR, it still runs today.
Along that embankment were countless nests of ground hornets. I remember setting empty syrup bottles out the back door and they would fill up with the darn things, but it never seemed to make a dent in their population. They pestered customers but we just couldn't get rid of them. Oh, back to my painting story...
Generally, the hornets - we called them bees - were pretty friendly unless provoked. I got used to bees and hornets from all of the outdoor work I did, and they didn't bother me at all. I had to paint an area above the patio one afternoon. Sometimes, I'd eat Weiner King food for lunch, but I got used to packing my own. I don't remember what I chose to eat that day and it's not really important, but when I decided to break for lunch, I unwrapped what I had and started to take some bites. Of course, the smell of food always attracted these little critters and I'd gently wave my hand. Eventually, they'd get the message and fly away.
Except for this one pesky guy. He just kept buzzing around me and my food. No matter how much I tried, there he was. Finally, he took the message and off he went. Or so I thought. I distinctly remember that fateful moment; the kind of moment filled with so much pain, you know you'll never, ever forget it.
I took a nice, big bite out of my sandwich and I was chewing away. Chewing and chewing and breathing through my nose. Mmmm... tasting and enjoying my lunch when, SUDDENLY, Mr. Bee decided to buzz the right side of my face. A wing brushed my cheek, and...
I sucked him right up my nose. Deep into the sinus cavity. Oh no.
I knew what was about to happen. You know, when bees get angry.
Oh, the pain. Such excrutiating pain in my sinuses. They swelled shut almost immediately and tears flooded down my face like a gushing waterfall. This wasn't funny at all! But it was. I jumped up and tried to walk it off, pacing violently back and forth on the 6-pitch roof. That was all I could do. No ice or anything would help.
You know, it's a good thing that, as a child growing up, I got over bee stings in no time. I had a great immune system and never caught poison ivy. Without it, I would have been in serious trouble.
I would say it took about 15 minutes and then, the pain was gone. My nose opened up and I was able to go back to painting. I know I didn't finish that sandwich because I had lost my appetite.
As I continued to paint, the bees came around again, but I left my sandwich on the other side of the roof. Just for them. And me. My bee buddy never came out. I didn't swallow him. I think he ended up down in one of my lungs but by then, he was a goner. Interestingly, it wasn't long after that incident that I switched from syrup to honey on my waffles, and I've been like that ever since.