Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Follow the Trail

Chomp It Up, Fuzzball
Chomp It Up, Fuzzball
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I look around the disaster zone which is my daughters' dorm room and ask my husband, “They're joking, right?”

He shakes his head: sad, frustrated, mad. “I don't think so.”

It's Sunday. Sunday at Chicken House is a Day of Work. We take this weekly opportunity to clean the house from end to end, load up the pantry with groceries, engage in serious, hard-core exercise, and study study study. I don't know that we ever consciously set out to position ourselves 180 degrees from our Christian neighbors and friends, but it's not an unhappy coincidence. There is an agreement that in addition to the toilet, shower, kitchen floor, and laundry, everyone is also required to straighten up their personal space with an eye towards removing every possible temptation to the local ant population. So DrC and I are standing, fists clenched tightly and propped aggressively on hips, to survey the results of their effort to achieve a Minimum Standard of Cleanliness.

DrC and I are not unreasonable in our fanatic insistence on cleanliness. Our concern is not founded in anything as silly as a fear of germs and bacteria; We actually welcome challenges to our immune system in the form of random strangers, poor personal hygiene, and water from suspect sources. The problem is Chicken House.

Chicken House is constructed on top of an enormous infestation of alien attack ants. These mutant black creatures have the ability to detect microscopic bits of pain au chocolate and honey drips, establishing a one inch wide trail stretching from the back door, down the hall to the living room, up on to the coffee table, over a casually draped jumper, and directly to a chunk of scone lodged in the starboard couch cushion. I sit down in the morning to finish my latte and grind my inbox down to zero. When I glance up a few minutes later, the kitchen counters are literally awash in a roiling mass of small dark invaders. They know our house schedule, architectural inadequacies, and eating habits with Google-level privacy invasion precision. If we wait patiently enough, I know eventually we'll catch the Ant Street View vehicles roaming the house snapping 360 pictures of everything we own. I'm hoping I'm not naked at the time.

Do not under any circumstances protest that ants are not sentient. If you can say that with a straight face, you've never lived with ants. Ants know all, see all. They are more clever and more ubiquitous than any omniscient deity. Like human babies, they can defy physical law and pass through openings that are considerably smaller than themselves. Ants are adaptive – block their entrance with poison gas or paprika, chewing gum or bait traps, and your average ant community will reroute faster than Internet backbone servers.

Ants are also stubborn, even more stubborn than teenagers. Our ants – and I say “our” with no small degree of irony – refuse to give up their basic contention that Chicken House and all its contents belong to the Ants. Like college roommates, what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine. It's not enough that we carefully compile all our vegie scraps into a bucket and pile it in the backyard for composting providing an endless source of food. No, it's also necessary to drink our last beer, eat the last batch of microwave popcorn, and borrow our last clean towel.... ant-iphorically speaking.

Alien Attack Ants
Alien Attack Ants
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
All winter long we've waged urban warfare against the ants, attempting to create safe zones within Chicken House. While conceding to the complete lawlessness of the kitchen wherein we just hope to eat our meal fast enough that it doesn't get carried away, we have been able to fight the ants back in the parental bedroom, my office, and the rooms which serve the bath, toilet, and shower. The living room and kid dorm, however, are a standing source of extreme familial strife. On the one side are parental edicts: no eating, no dishes, no candy, no cookies, nothing edible period no exceptions ever. On the other side is childhood rebellion.

So the ants are winning.


judith said...

Ants are just bad, from your ants who lay down their own highway system to the microscopic "I'm hallucinating" ants in Key West to the Fire Ants in Texas. They are up there in the 'don't wish this on your enemy' category.

Brian W. said...

Toast, I have long enjoyed your blog for a million reasons, but I must say, this post is about the best damn piece of writing I have read in a long time. Funny, clever, sophisticated, true, erudite, and worth every second of reading it. Thank you for putting the time into such a fine piece of work. And from one sailing family to another, keep up the great parenting and adventuring.

Carolyn Shearlock said...

Got to your web site from your post to C&A and read about your ant problem. I had a big ant problem on our boat, and now living ashore in Illinois. Granted, they may be different from what you've got, but what finally worked -- after all the traps and sprays didn't -- was cloves. Whole cloves in my sugar, ground cloves and oil of cloves in cracks and on counters.

Ants pretty well disappear within a day. The clove smell goes away in a couple of days, but the effect lingers for several months. When I start seeing the little buggers again, I know it's time to re-do the cloves (yes, I try to remember to do it before then, but "out of sight, out of mind.")

Good luck in the battle!