Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cry Uncle

I have accepted the fact that it would be an ecologically poor decision to rid the world of all bugs. By accepted, I mean I actually thought about it. I decided that if bugs were the price to pay to ensure earth has flowers and we don't have to walk down streets covered with dung, then okay. Invoice accepted.


Inside? I employ an exterminator who visits my property once each quarter to ensure that any creature with an exoskeleton, more than four legs, transparent wings and other such scare tactics that tries to enter my home dies painfully from acute asphyxiation or chemical burns, or both. It's a truce. It's a treaty. Here is the line. And kind of along the lines of an American military base: I can come into their world, but they are not allowed into mine. Embassy Row mansions notwithstanding.

So it was with some new level of open mindedness that I encountered an ant strolling across my glass cooktop last spring. Instead of turning the burner on high at just the right moment (I know. I have issues) or swooping down on him with a crushing paper towel, I had a conversation. It went sort of like this:

"Look. I know you're a scout. I know you're going to go back to the others and report. You listen to me. Those crumbs? I just fed my babies. They are not always there. Nor is that dollop of sauce. I haven't wiped down the stove yet. There's nothing here for you, understand? I am letting you live so you can deliver this message to your leader. She is not to send another scout. Got that?"

Hand on Bible, I swear that ant turned around and marched away. If disappearing into the crack between the stove and the countertop can be considered "away". I figured he was going to meet the reinforcements, the team. I thought he'd delivered the message and they'd all go back outside to rethink life beneath the deck. I erased all thoughts of ants from my mind.

Sure, I saw more ants now and then. I figured it was the same one, just checking on the treaty. You know, like an ambassador. I'd see a lone ant and remind it: We have an agreement. Go away. Don't make me get ugly.

Fast forward three months. I went to bed one night seeing a lone ant here and there, and woke up the next morning to find a complicated network of ant beltways being navigated in various parts of the kitchen. I got out the raid, conducted a few drive by sprayings, and considered the matter closed. I imagined the six o'clock Ant News leading with the story of the Blue House Massacre. Hundreds lost. There would be memorial services and funds set up for the survivors.

Perhaps I thought this through too thoroughly.

When my exterminator showed up for his quarterly application, he specifically inquired after the ants. I assured him I had it under control. He gave me that knowing look, the one a mechanic gives someone who swears the car operates just fine despite that sound its making, but said nothing. I thought nothing of it. I was Empress and Dictator Supreme, had made my military strike, and had nothing to worry about.

Two weeks later I came down to the kitchen to find my spice cabinets had gone condo for the ants. The sugar, I understood. But pepper? A sealed container of Old Bay?

I assembled my toddler twins and the dog for a consultation. The leaning seemed to strongly favor calling in bigger guns. I was deflated. I was America! I was the big gun!

An ant crawled across my foot to reinforce the fact that I was not America. America was who I needed to call. My exterminator, Ameriguard. There were too many ants. It was time to cry uncle.

The exterminator eliminated ants from my home in one day. Scouts. Armies. He identified and annihilated an urban city center of ants, and three outer suburbs. Complete with highways in between and, I assume, public transportation and infrastructure. They had lived off the land, farming toddler meal droppings and juice spills missed by both the dog and the Hoover.

I reassembled my war torn kitchen and collected my thoughts. I went to the sliding glass door to let out the dog. Clinging shyly to the screen there was a member of a new regional menace, a stinkbug. I cautiously opened the door, and it made no move to enter. Apparently, the terms of the treaty had been reinforced throughout the insect world. Here is the line.

I think it's pretty fair.

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