When I was five, my family moved to a big old hotel for several months in the Rockies. On one of the last warm days of fall, my dad found a big old wasps’ nest while replacing some roof shingles, and after making sure all the inhabitants were dead, he showed me the nest and asked what I thought of it. It was bigger than my head, and I told him I thought it was “really cool.” I asked if I could keep it in my room and he said “sure.” He knew I was fascinated by insects.
Late that night I was awakened by a half-dozen huge wasps crawling on my face and hands, and in panic I began to scream and flail, which only encouraged the little bastards to sting the hell out of me. My bedroom door was flung open with a crash, and there stood Richard Dawkins in a furry dog suit, bearing a croquet mallet in one hand and a thick sheaf of paper bound with three shiny rings in the other.
As he swatted the wasps (and my stung face and limbs) with the heavy manuscript, he bellowed, “Why would the nesting behavior of a stinging insect strike somebody as ‘really cool’? Isn’t it fun to be a living demonstration of how one creature’s genetic makeup can so thoroughly affect another creature and its environment?”
He made a few bucks when he published The Extended Phenotype a couple years later, and I might have profited from possessing that somewhat bloodstained manuscript, had it not been utterly destroyed with the rest of the hotel when the boiler blew up.
And I have a crippling fear of insects now.
Oh, and croquet mallets.