An odd addiction

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I haven’t seen a moth in my house for years. In fact, if there is an official definition of a "moth-free zone," my house is it.

As far as I can tell, moths are an endangered species that can only be found on certain summer nights at Vet Stadium. The moths at Vet Stadium are big enough to have chased the bats away (which may explain the lack of Phillies offensive production).

Despite the dearth of moths, we use roughly about half of our household budget on moth crystals. This isn’t easy, because my wife purchases just about all of our moth crystals from the dollar store. At a dollar a box, you would think a few boxes of moth crystals would go a long way. In my house, you would be wrong.

My wife prefers moth crystals over moth balls for reasons that may have less to do with substance than style. I have no such strong preference so, as with most things connected with the household, I go along. But the pertinent question that begs to be asked is, why do we buy so many boxes of moth crystals?

Logic could dictate that the reason I don’t see any moths around my house anymore is that the small, neat piles of moth crystals lurking in every nook in and outside of our house have chased them away. I am ready to concede that much. But our bombs chased Saddam out of Iraq and we don’t keep bombing Baghdad. At some point even Donald Rumsfeld figured enough was enough.

We don’t seem to be able to reach the point where we can declare victory in our house. New shipments of moth crystals keep arriving long after the point where the moths have obviously declared their unconditional surrender.

The truth is that having run out of moths to battle, my wife keeps discovering new uses for moth crystals. Apparently camphor can ward off assorted other pests and vermin, too. Just as the president yearns to ring our cities with an anti-ballistic missile system, our house is encircled by moth crystals. Any burglar that would come within 10 feet of my home would instantly be overcome by the odor of camphor. The feeling of security is almost mystical.

Each year at our house, we greet spring not with the first sight of a robin on the wing, but a new sprinkling of moth crystals. (It is my belief that robin redbreast has fled our area along with the moths and every other living creature). I can usually tell that spring has arrived when I retire for the night and breathe deeply an intoxicating mix of industrial pollution that floats outside my window, mixed with the unmistakable smell of camphor.

I must admit that the first couple of springs when this ritual took place, I got angry when I found out that my wife had sprinkled "just a few" moth crystals in our bedroom closet. Some of my comments were over the top, particularly the one where I claimed that she used camphor as an aphrodisiac. I became even more annoyed when my wife claimed she couldn’t smell the camphor, implying that the burning sensation in my eyes and throat was a figment of my overactive imagination.

At this point in the column, dear reader, you have a right to know where all of this is headed. Will you soon be reading headlines in the Daily News of a sensational divorce case where the husband claims that he is being poisoned by his moth-hating wife? Is the Sierra Club suing us for rendering the environment in a 2-mile radius around our house inhospitable to wildlife?

Is there more poetic justice to this ongoing tale?

Maybe the smell of camphor is finally bothering my wife.

Just last week, when I smelled the presence of moth crystals in our bedroom for the first time this season, my wife acknowledged the legitimacy of my complaint. In the middle of the night, I saw her furtively removing a box of moth crystals from our bedroom closet and spiriting it away. The problem is, the odor still lingers. She admits she stuffed some moth balls in the pockets of her wool slacks and hid them away in the closet, and now can’t find where she put them. The explanation sounds weak, like the president trying to rationalize his tax cuts.

I am terribly shaken. She has found a new use for moth crystals. Our dog has been urinating on the carpet near the wrought-iron railing. She has heard that camphor will keep the dog from returning to the spot.

All the signs of addiction are here: the little deceptions, the money missing from the household budget to feed her camphor fix, the revived interest in Frankie Avalon.

Camphor has made my life a living hell — and I think I’m getting hooked, too.