Donna Tavano: Beware The Corn

Halloween is again on the horizon, and new scariness appears each day as we suffer bogeymen in the guise of politics, dread the inevitability of months of darkness and bone-chilling cold, and threats of three-foot tall vampires and witches extorting us for chocolate. But I am here to speak of the most horrifying of specters – corn.

What? Corn, the 10,000-year-old staple found in 65 percent of our food, which brings us vodka martinis, polenta and ethanol, beloved corn mazes and its sweet manufactured reincarnation, candy corn. And where would we be without our corny jokes: What do you call a buccaneer? A good price for corn. Corn aka villain? Why so?

Sit down, my friends, and I will tell you a tale of terror. It all began innocently enough in my sewing room, when I decided to sew up some hot/cold pads in whale, seahorse and octopus shapes. I had to fill them with something that could be microwaved to hold the heat. I considered kitty litter, but found no info to support that idea. Suggestions were lentils, rice or corn. I went with corn, but what kind? There is sweet corn, Indian corn, dent corn, flint corn, etc. I imagined my seahorses bursting into popcorn kernels as people nuked them. I was well assured, however, that popping corn is a separate variety whose extra hard hull captures steam until a certain temperature, whereupon it explodes. Indian corn, multicolored, is not sweet. We like to hang it on our doors as harvest décor, but it’s also used for tacos and colorful corn chips. It doesn’t have a dent so it stores more safely without rotting.

I purchased a 50 pound bag of livestock feed corn at a garden center and set to work filling the critters. I must say it was dusty, so much so, that any corn processing people not wearing surgical masks better keep a lawyer on retainer for the suit they’ll file when they develop a corn dust lung condition. I finished stitching them and trial zapped them in the microwave. All was good. Days passed, and then it began. A moth showed up in the laundry room. No biggie, I promptly dispatched it. Later that day, a second one appeared, just an anomaly, I thought, must have come in through an open door. By the seventh, I was gripped by fear, then it struck me, they had come from the corn – my Trojan horse of veggie terror! What kind of corny calamity was this? I closed the bag tightly and weighted the top with a bucket of nails. Were my adorable whales and seahorses, now masquerading as Trojan ponies, harboring tiny worms, presently plotting to eat their way through the fabric to freedom?

Ghostly images of past pantry moth infestations haunted me. Moths continued to appear. My husband, with the better set of eyes, spotted clans of clandestine caterpillars convening in the ceiling corners. We dragged the bag of corn outside and vacuumed up the little buggers. As fluttering insects continued to make guest appearances, I researched corn and moths. I read cautionary tales of fly paper, pheromone drops, chemical bombs, peppermint oil and bay leaves. Was our pantry next? Our closets? Recent memories of gypsy and winter moth sieges shook me to the core. Why did these insidious intruders even exist? Apparently with good reason, I discovered.

There are 160,000 species of moths. They feed birds and bats, plants whose leaves they eat evolve to become more resistant, and they are the “canaries in the coal mine” for scientists monitoring the health of our environment. Suddenly, the moths were gone – or were they?

Jarred from sleep last night, I shook my sleeping husband and yelled, “Did you empty the bin in the basement?” (Where the central vacuum debris is sent.) What fresh hell was this, upon entering the cellar, would we be met with Mothra or something akin to the ominous (size of a mouse) death-head hawk moth, said to have driven King George III to insanity in his bed chamber? Still with the corny jokes, I just can’t resist: Why did the caterpillar cry? He heard the moth bawl. I recalled the vintage horror movie “Children of the Corn” featuring kids with zombie-like, haunted expressions, now I knew why. It was all my fault. They always say go with your gut, no question, should have gone with the kitty litter – nothing survives in that. Be care what and who you invite into your house this Halloween season, you just never know what may lay therein, bwah…hah…hah…hah.