From Houston to the Gulf of Mexico the land lays flat as a flood plain, a flood plain for the Sea.
Halfway between Houston and Galveston Island, on I-45, you come to Dickenson Bayou; a creek that meanders lazily to the east about five miles to Dickenson Bay, which opens on the Houston Ship Channel. Next to the Interstate is the town of Dickenson and in the town is an apartment complex of 306 units called Tall Timbers. The bayou loops thru the apartment complex and is crossed a couple of times by picturesque little footbridges. Standing on the bridges you can see Blue Crabs going about their business as the regular tide raises the water level from six to twelve inches.
On July 25th, 1979, Tropical Storm Claudette dumped 42 inches of rain in 24 hours on the countryside around Dickenson; combined with the storm surge, this put six feet of sea water thru the Tall Timbers complex, shorting out the transformers and flooding two-thirds of the units; the second floor apartments stayed dry but still lost their power.
The tenants in Tall Timbers were the most eclectic group of people you could assemble in one place; rocket scientists who worked up the road at the Nasa Space Center, college professors, artists, shrimpboat crewmen, roughnecks from offshore oil rigs, truck drivers, store clerks, strippers, and one or two “women of abandoned character”. Potheads and Sunday School teachers; Baptists, Methodists, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists mingled freely among the white, black, brown, yellow, and a few of indeterminate color renters.
286 of the units were occupied; 286 iceboxs were packed with every conceivable perishable food when the electricity went off and stayed off for two weeks that summer of 79. By the end of the first day the heat had caused the icebox doors to pop open; day two and three saw the packaging of the perishable foods swell and split. By the end of the first week every insect known to man; or at least those native to the sub – tropical climate around Houston; had laid their eggs in all of these 286 perfect nurseries.
My brother and I, in our youthful confidence and ignorance, undertook the renovation of the apartment complex. The first task in such an endeavour is a thorough inventory of the complex and the damage done by the water; you wind up making innumerable lists. As long as we were making the lists, one more didn’t matter; so I started a list of food that wasn,t eaten by the larva filling every icebox. My only criteria was that the food stuff had to be accessible to the maggots; it was uncovered or the packaging had ruptured giving access to the contents. It seemed like a valuable piece of information at the time.
The tenants were an eclectic group and their choice of foods was even more so; pizza to pomegranate, wine to waffles, beef to boulebaise, and petit fores to pistachio ice cream. Fast food and deli, catered and home-made, gourmet cheeses and cheese whiz, If it could be eaten by man or beast it was in an icebox somewhere.
After the first dozen or so apts. two things began to stick out; if either or both of these items were in the boxes they were untouched. Every thing else was consumed, completely. The first was Margarine, any brand and any form; in a tub, stick or single pats. If it was in the box and open it was uneaten. One of the grocery stores in the area sold a baked potato in their Deli; the potato was split with chives , bacon, cheese, and a pat of margarine laid on top. You took the spud home, microwaved it for a minute or so and had a fully loaded baked potato without having to heat up your kitchen. I’d eaten a couple of them while staying in the local motel, so I recognised the packaging. A lot of these things showed up in my survey; the potato, peel, chives, bacon and cheese were all gone with the pat of margarine sitting alone on the plate.
The second thing a maggot won’t eat is chocolate in any form. If peanuts were open they were eaten; if they were covered with chocolate they were untouched. Chocolate cake, pie, fudge, cookies, syrup, or ice cream; solid bars of chocolate and chocolate coatings were left alone while all around them the larva consumed any and all things.
So, out of 286 ice boxes, selected at random, [ you can’t get much more random than a hurricane ] and filled with every possible type and form of food, the only things we could find that maggots would not eat was margarine and chocolate. I should like to end this on a cleverer note, but nothing comes to mind.
It’s not the most important piece of information you will ever receive, but it is worth knowing I think.
[ I thought of including a few pictures of maggots, but I’ve seen all of them I care to.]