My dad was good at a lot of things. He was a math and engineering whiz (back in the days when Chinese math and engineering whizzes were still a relative novelty in the States), he could cut up a chicken like a master chef, karaoke like there was no tomorrow, played a mean game of pool and had a wicked jump shot.
But his most distinctive talent – one that I have never seen emulated by any other dad, or human being, for that matter – was his superhuman ability to kill cockroaches, mosquitoes and even flies with a simple rubber band.
This deadly art was honed in Taiwan, where he spent his definitive childhood years after the war. He and his closest older brother (my uncle Bill) would shoot down all manner of birds and small creatures with an arsenal of slingshots and small stones.
Years later, in the late 1970s, my dad was assigned to work in Singapore with our family in tow (I was around five at the time). It was here that I first became fully aware of his amazing powers.
Like all Southeast Asian countries, Singapore is populated by a host of exotic creepy-crawlies, not least of which is a winged variety of domestic cockroach whose primary defense mechanism is to fly straight at your head when provoked. Suffice it to say that these were truly terrifying creatures in the eyes of us kids, and they seemed impervious to all manner of sprays, traps and insecticides.
But not my dad. If we were to stumble upon one on the kitchen wall at night, a cry of “Roach! Roach!” would instantly alert him to whip out a rubberband from the nearest drawer or cabinet handle and assume his classic insect-killing stance: the band wrapped around his thumb and cocked back on his pinky as he closed one eye to aim. Then, at a precise moment, he would release the trigger and the band would fly with an uncannily accurate force and velocity.
Half the time the bug would be completely obliterated – all that remained was a smeared carcass. Otherwise it would fall to the ground, stunned, where my dad would make quick work of the critter with a rolled up paper or his slipper. Either the way, the results were the same – a gruesome, miserable end to our crawling friend.
After we moved back to Houston, dad’s bug-killing prowess expanded to include large mosquitoes (the really horrifying looking ones with the giant legs that breed in the swampy areas of the South) and even on a few occasions, horseflies. His only limitation was numbers – he could only shoot and reload so fast before any other bugs in the vicinity would scurry or fly away. Given time, though, I’m sure he would have evolved the enhanced capability of rapid Gatlin-gun style firing.
I’m not sure if super aim and accuracy runs in the family (the gene has surely skipped me), but for my father it was second nature. It was as if his engineer mind could actually compute distances, angles and trajectories with the precision of a protractor. He wore glasses for almost his entire life, and was extremely farsighted without them – but when it came to killing bugs, his sharp-shooting eyes were unparalleled.