Well hello, and welcome: On what nicely happens to be the 40th incarnation of Man Overboard!, the column appears this week in its new space — a spot heretofore graced by former City Paper founder/publisher/editor/columnist Bruce Schimmel. For the uninitiated, a quick introduction: Man Overboard! is (mostly) a news column, with a deep, abiding affection for hypocrisy, double-talk and sleazery. But less so this week. It's hot. It's the middle of summer. So let's take it easy, sip the old lemonade. Let's have us a critter story. In honor of Bruce, who chronicled his own adventures in beekeeping, I bring you: the Fable of the Bees.
The story begins — where else? — in the greenery, splendor and quiet self-satisfaction of West Philly, where, one day, a beehive — man-made — appeared in the yard behind my apartment building. I looked out my bedroom window one morning, and there it was, a little rectangular box with a cloud of bright things flitting to and from it: bees. "This guy asked if he could put it there," explained my downstairs neighbor later that day. She had not objected, and there it was. I felt a vague sense of trepidation.
Bees, I soon discovered, are attracted to light — light, for example, from my bedroom window. This, combined with a missing window pane, made for a nightly situation: If I left the light on or the bedroom door open, an errant bee would inevitably find its way in and occasionally — as in, on several occasions — get flustered and sting me.
I like bees just fine. But after rolling over in bed one night only to have the sensation of a little elf stabbing me in the back with a sewing pin — and waking to find a writhing honey bee beneath me — I wanted them out of my yard. But Bee Dude was clever: The hive had no name or contact information. I was trapped by an absentee beekeeper — and the unknowing vassals of his sweet little empire.
And then, just like that, the hand of God intervened. Or so it seemed. A few weeks ago, you might remember, the skies suddenly darkened and unleashed upon Philadelphia — West Philadelphia in particular — a torrential hailstorm, lashing the city with winds that tore down trees like they were celery stalks. Watching from my office window, I wouldn't know until later that those winds had grabbed a massive tree in my backyard and yanked it straight at the little beehive below. But it missed: Two tons of falling hardwood had come straight at the hive, and missed by inches. Were I a man of faith, I would have questioned it then. God, apparently, had sided with Bee Dude. Or so it seemed. But then, building management (speaking of absentee) left a message — on my phone (!): "This is about the beehive," a voice said. "Call us back immediately." Apparently, workers sent to remove the fallen tree had encountered the hive, turned around, and left. Management was pissed.
A day later, the hive was gone. How Bee Dude was located, I'm still not sure, but my neighbor reported that he had shown up to — grudgingly — remove the hive. "He was pissed," she said, and the stupid smile that crept up my face stayed there a long while.
Every fable needs its moral, and this one's easy: Keep your bees, Bee Dude — but mind your own beeswax.
Isaiah Thompson is basically Aesop reincarnated, don't you think? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.