Barney, Betty, and the Beetle
by Matt Slick
Bernard P. Rumpford was an unoffending, briefcase carrying, accountant. He worked hard at the financial firm of Brokke, Bangst, and Redline and played on the firm's soft-ball team, mostly keeping the bench warm. He was an average guy liked by average people.
The odd thing about Barney was that his love of life was the study of insects, particularly beetles. In short, he was absolutely fascinated by them. Practically all his spare time was devoted to insect research. Breakfast was usually accompanied by an examination of Insect Weekly, lunch with a perusing of Moth World, and dinner with Beetle Americana, his favorite of all magazines.
But then you might ask, "Why doesn't he become one of those people who studies bugs instead of being an accountant?" Quite simply, it wasn't until after accounting college, and an encounter with a neighbor's ant farm, that his love for insects, and ultimately for beetles, was discovered. Besides, he was secure where he was. Accounting was such a safe job and it paid the bills.
There really isn't much more to say about Barney because his existence was marked by few, if any, real events of importance. If his life had consisted of nothing more than accounting and insects then everything could be handled with practiced ease. But as is often the case when boy meets girl, love complicates life. Such was the case with Barney.
The occasion was on a train as he traveled between two cities in the State of California. He was returning from a trip to see his beloved grandmother, Eunice, who insisted on a visit once every other month. The train ride was about two hours long and he would spend the time contentedly reading Beetle Americana.
On this trip, the train car was sparsely populated which occasioned him a private sitting in a lone compartment. This pleased him immensely and allowed him to pour huge quantities of mental energy into learning the difference between a Bowler Beetle and a Bolker Beetle, the latter being able to offer a rather sharp sting. He sighed a self-contented sigh and smiled to himself. "This is the life," he said and then lazed back into his magazine. He was content.
So there you have it. Barney was a satisfied young man who needed only a bug magazine to occupy him. But all that was about to change forever.
About half way through the third page of a beetle dissertation, just when the article was focusing on beetle eyes and becoming exceptionally interesting, the door to the train compartment slid open and a young woman entered. Barney was so engulfed in beetle facts that he scarcely noted the feminine intruder. She was blond, about five foot six, carried a purse, and clutched a book which she immediately began to read upon sitting. With scarcely more than a driblet of attention given her, he delved further into the beetle article and simply ignored the disruptive intruder.
All went well for about fifteen minutes until the train bumped slightly. Providentially though, this was no ordinary bump, for with it, love followed. You see, as the train bumped it caused Barney to lose his concentration and look up. Apparently the same thing had happened to the young lady and their eyes met. Barney instantly felt a whizzing kind of sensation located somewhere near his heart which was followed by considerable nervousness, and, he thinks, an audible "whoosh". That was all it took. His heart was lost to this young lady. There was nothing he could do about it. He stared at her in utter amazement attempting to make sense of his emotional turmoil. He realized he was sinking fast and no longer in control of his own destiny. The room was spinning around him and his heart was bursting inside. He was in love.
She, of course, after had stopped looking at him and was reading again, oblivious to the control she had gained over his very being. In comparison to the soft blue eyes of the woman sitting only three feet away, beetles now meant nothing to Barney. His heart raced. Barney was in awe. He was paralyzed.
She had no way of knowing that he would swim the largest ocean, climb the highest hill, walk the hottest desert, and accomplish any other impressive masculine exploit for a simple kiss from her perfect lips.
Barney was distraught. He was down right depressed. Here he was minding his own business reading about beetles when this random girl walks in and steals his heart. It wasn't fair. What could he do? The train ride would soon be over and he would lose the love of his life without ever even knowing her name. If he were to tell her about this sudden divine revelation she would surely move to the next car in haste and his true love would be gone. But there she was, right in front of him, beautiful, and reading a book. What was he to do now?
His eyes slowly drifted back to the magazine and a fascinating picture of an enlarged hairy bony insect head with lots of bulbous eyes and angled antennae, but that didn't matter. It just couldn't compare with his new found love. He stared at the picture only because he needed something soothing to focus on while he attempted to regain his wits, which had been thoroughly scattered. He started thinking to himself.
What am I going to do? How could I love her? I don't even know her name. I've never seen her before. This is ridiculous. This is absolutely ridiculous. No one falls in love at first sight. This just isn't possible, not for me, not for Bernard P. Rumpford. I am too level-headed for this. I don't need a woman. I don't need to be involved with a whining female who is probably terrified by a simple lady bug. No. I am over-reacting. That's it. There is nothing to this love thing. I'm not in love with her. I don't even know her. She probably loves wrestlers or something. She looks the type...
Barney rambled on to himself for a few minutes attempting to coax his emotions back into their proper place. But he made one terrible mistake. Just when he was about to extricate himself from this love limbo through a quick series of mental deductions about his emotions being a reaction to the donut and cheese sandwich he had earlier, he chanced another look at her to "test" whether the same reaction would occur. To his utter dismay it did. Only this time it was worse. This time love was accompanied by a definite bout of dizziness and this time the "whoosh" was louder. He was in love. He knew beyond any doubt. An odd mixture of love and despair mingled in an emotional knot as he realized he would end up eternally devoted to a girl whom he never even knew. It would be horrible.
He needed a break from the intensity so, even though he didn't feel like it, he forced himself to reach into his small bag and pull out a thermos of hot coffee. He opened it and began to pour, nervously, of course.
The girl, distracted by the movements, chose this moment to glance up at him. This coincidental look resulted in a rather painful reaction, for it caused Barney no end of nerves which manifested themselves in a rather strong shaking of the hands. With that, the very hot coffee sloshed over the side of the cup and down onto his trousers.
"Aaagghahaghg!!" he shouted. The sudden surge of pain caused him to jump fiercely, which, in turn, resulted in a further spillage, and another twitch, another spill, twist, spill, jump, spill, jerk, spill, turn, spill, etc., etc.. All the while he was making a series of noises that sounded like a large flock of hawks in heat.
Needless to say, the young lady noticed.
Barney sank into his seat, after managing to elude further hot coffee sloshings, and combined a sigh of relief and dismay in one slow release.
The young lady was staring at him now with a look that was a cross between concern and laughter. "Are you alright?" she said politely.
Now Barney had been around. He knew the sound of laughter and crying, birds, frogs, and even of a few bugs. But his circles had never brought him within hearing range of an angel.
"Yes," he said in a gushy amorous timbre. Then again in a controlled monotone, "Yes, I'm fine."
He slumped down further into his seat and gathered himself together slowly, assessing his predicament. His embarrassment was matched only by his deep love for her.
There isn't much a young man can do in such a situation except to resign himself to months of emotional anguish in the broken heart department. No girl in her right mind would even dare to romantically consider a guy who couldn't pour coffee. He was thoroughly crushed by the incident. What was the use of studying beetles now? He tossed his magazine aside.
"Is that Beetle Americana you're reading?" she asked.
Barney was shocked. "Uh, yes. It is..." and then carefully, "Uh...do you read it?"
"Of course I do. I read it from cover to cover every month. I am studying to be an entomologist. I think it is a great magazine."
Barney was incredulous. He absolutely was astounded. "You read Beetle Americana?" he queried disbelievingly.
He looked about the room and out the window. He was feeling somewhat like a person who has just been told a rich uncle has died and left him a large sum of money. For a moment nothing seemed real.
For want of something better, he asked, "What is your name?"
"Betty," she said with a smile as she leaned forward handing him a kleenex retrieved from her purse.
"Betty," that is a nice name," he said receiving the offering. He began dabbing his pants.
"Thank you. What is your name?"
"Barney. I mean Bernard Rumpford. But you can call me Barney. All my friends do." His heart was racing.
He stared into her eyes, falling deeper and deeper into their blue stillness, captivated, and ruled by them. He became aware of his pounding heart, his dry mouth, and the euphoria that was permeating his whole being. Love is grand, he thought. It is wonderful. It is great to be alive. His thoughts drifted to courting her and then marriage. He thought of buying her a wedding ring and...
"...and that is why I like insects." He was suddenly aware that she had been talking. "What about you?"
"Uh...I like insects," he said with the skill of picking up a fumble and making a touchdown. "I don't know why, but they fascinate me. Maybe it's because they are tiny and mysterious. They seem friendly and unafraid. I don't know. But I like them, especially beetles. They're my favorite."
Barney wasn't sure, but he suspected that he saw a glimmer in her eyes. She had been looking straight into his for the past minute and she had been smiling slightly.
"Ants are my favorite," she said. "I have an ant farm at home. There's Betty, Cindy, Mary, Agatha, Susan, Tracy, Barbara, Patty, and Sarah. I only have nine because I don't want them to get crowded." (The reader should note here that the ant names are all feminine. This is because all worker ants are females, hence, the names.)
"How do you tell them apart?" asked Barney inquisitively.
"I don't. They all look alike to me and they get all mixed up. But I like to name things. My plants are Fred and Sam. They are Spider Ferns."
Barney was a bit surprised by her openness but not intimidated. "I have a confession to make," he said. "I have a beetle-arium. I guess you could call it a beetle farm. There's Michael, Romeo, Caesar, and David. They are easy to tell apart."
Ants and beetles were the mainstay of the conversation for about a half hour. Betty would recount an interesting fact about ants, like how drones are males produced only for the purpose of reproduction. Barney would counter with an equally fascinating tidbit like the Bombadeer Beetle that can actually shoot a bit of caustic gas out of its rear quarters. They were politely balanced tidbits, of course, and delved appropriately in the esoteric idiosyncracies of ant-dom and beetle-dom. In all, the conversation was rather electrifying. And Barney, throughout the whole affair, was becoming more and more a mass of emotional mush.
The discovery that this woman was a fellow bug lover had sent him hopelessly and permanently over the edge into romantic oblivion. He was no longer his own. She was beautiful to him, everything that a bug loving accountant could want. And what's more, she read Beetle Americana; she was perfect.
Barney never considered himself to be particularly appealing, which had been verified on several occasions by appropriate shuns from various females. At first, such rejections had served to injure his masculine self-confidence. But later he learned to handle the standard rejection and take cover in a memory of a beetle-seeking forage through the woods or the re-savoring of a particularly interesting beetle article. This is how he handled many awkward moments; that is, by retreating to beetle-ology.
But, Barney found himself quite at ease speaking with Betty. He even took special note, and self-appreciation, of a few particularly well placed witticisms and beetle anecdotes that, he was sure, had impressed her. He was not being conceited, just observing the facts. Besides, she was still smiling and talking to him.
As mentioned earlier in this story, Barney was studying the differences between two beetles, one being noted for its ability to offer a sting, that was the Bolker Beetle. Now, one of the absolutely last things any normal human being would expect to find on a train in California in a railway car was a Bolker Beetle. They preferred the brush and rocky areas of the desert and had not been known to care for trains. They are easily spotted because they sported a green and orange shell and occupied the space of about a quarter of an inch, ending with a nicely placed pointy stinger.
As Barney was speaking to Betty, little did he realize that a dreaded Bolker Beetle was making its way up Betty's beautiful blonde hair. To be more precise, it had suddenly emerged from the back of her hair and mounted itself on top of her unsuspecting head in what appeared to be an attack position, which was important because every beetle-ologist worth his salt knows that Bolker Beetles are rather easily agitated and won't hesitate to use their stingers.
Barney is not a rash young man. He is very calm and is quite able to react with controlled ease at the presence of a suddenly unexpected bug, wherever it may be. However, the appearance of a Bolker Beetle upon the head of his beloved, and that in an attack position, elevated this love struck mush of a man to instinctively protect her. At least, that was the intent.
"Look out! A Bolker Beetle!" he screamed as he pointed to the top of her head and raised his hand for a quick swat.
Betty had been enjoying the conversation immensely up to that point. But now, things took an unexpected turn for the worse and she found herself being yelled at and attacked by a rabid Beetle lover. She responded appropriately,
Barney fell to the ground.
One of the unfortunate discoveries for Barney was that Betty was a sensible woman, particularly in the area of self-defense. Earlier in her life she had made herself available to the tutelage of one Hutso Matsomoto, the town's leading Karate expert and gardener. She had learned well and responded in kind.
Basically, as far as Barney can recall, as he shot toward her, he found a sudden surge of pain occurring in his solar plexus; it was extremely uncomfortable and sufficiently debilitating to render him a limp rag of a man on the floor. He groaned loudly, "Uuuaghghghahgh," and then coughed.
The Bolker Beetle, aroused by the sudden escalation in activity, decided on a rather rash instinct. The result was a very sharp pain in the top of Betty's scalp.
"Aaaahaha!" she shouted and placed her hands on the top of her head.
Bolker Beetles are not fond of being mushed on top of someone's head, so it again reacted in instinctive form.
"Aaahaahaaaaah!" she yelled again, this time clutching the wounded hand with the good one.
The beetle, at this point, had discovered that the compartment was not very safe and decided to take flight, which had the same affect as a bee in a car full of passengers.
Barney, setting aside his pain to respond to the shrieks of his love, managed to right himself. Betty, sporting a smarting hand, also managed to regain some of her composure. The beetle, a bit annoyed at the recent screams, flew around searching for a way out.
Barney and Betty both became rather excited at this point. Barney grabbed the magazine and began swatting the air. Betty grabbed the book and followed in suit. The beetle ducked, dodged, dove, dropped, and darted with the skill of a hummingbird and reduced the flying literature to nothing more than fans. Betty screamed a few more times and Barney, quite unexpectedly, was caught across the cheek with the side of her book. He went toppling to the floor again.
From every point of the compass a crowd had been assembling outside the door obviously concerned for the welfare of the occupants. As they gazed in, what they thought they saw were two people, donning weapons, swinging at each other furiously. This explains why a very large man threw open the door and hurried in to save, what he concluded, was a helpless female being accosted by a villain. He grabbed Barney by the shirt and jerked him off the floor, deflecting a swat.
The Bolker Beetle seized the opportunity and exited swiftly.
Betty soon stopped swinging and noticed a large man holding Barney by the scruff of the neck causing him to tip-toe to reach the ground.
"Is this guy bothering you miss?" he asked in a deep protective voice and then glared at Barney.
Betty straightened her clothes, checked her hair quickly for the beetle and responded, "No he wasn't. There was this beetle and it stung me and we were just trying to swat it when you came in." She looked around for the beetle. "I think it's gone now."
Barney, who looked like a scolded puppy, was patiently waiting to be released. He was and sat. The man apologized for jumping to conclusions and the crowd slowly dispersed, mumbling and laughing.
It took a minute or two for Barney and Betty to regain their composure, but only after checking cautiously about for the menacing culprit. Barney straightened himself and Betty perused her purse in search of feminine trinkets to freshen-up with. They managed, after an awkward moment, to exchange glances.
"I hope you weren't stung too badly," he said propitiatorily. "I am sorry if I frightened you. It's just that that blasted beetle shocked me so and, well, our conversation was so pleasant, and, well, I simply didn't want to see you hurt. I suppose I over reacted."
Betty checked the sore spot on her head a few times with the tips of her fingers and winced twice. "I figured that much out. I guess I owe you an apology for kicking you when you were only trying to help."
"Perhaps. But you didn't know I was trying to help. I don't blame you for defending yourself the way you did. It was the only decent thing to do."
They exchanged apologies, checking again occasionally for the beetle. After a while, they were back to their normal selves and normal conversation.
"...so the University has courses at night and that is why I am taking them," she said. "That way I can work and go to school at the same time."
Barney nodded approvingly.
"Since you like insects the same as me," she continued, "why don't you look into taking some night courses too?" Then, slowly... "maybe we could take some together."
If his heart had not been buried so deeply in his chest it would have jumped out and danced. "You know, I think I might just do that," he said with a controlled calm.
Betty looked down a bit, smiled shyly, and unconsciously primped her hair. She looked into his eyes and he into hers. It was chemistry.
They talked for the rest of the trip and became more and more interested in each other, engulfed in insects, and a laughing recount of the recent events. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Shortly thereafter, the train came to a stop. Barney and Betty gathered their belongings and headed out. I would like to add that there was a very pleasant hurdle cleared at this point. You see, as they walked out of the compartment, Betty slipped her hand into his. Barney, gently tightened his grip and the two walked out oblivious to everything except each other.
In fact, they were so oblivious that they didn't notice the man and woman in the next door compartment swatting at something in the air.
Copyright, Matthew J. Slick 1996.