ANT FIGHT 2017, PART 2

May 3rd, 2017

I was at the dentist, fantasizing about my ant problem, also possibly on a stronger-than-usual anesthetic, when I finally came up with a solution for the pavement ant infestation. The kids and I had been talking about Eragon or one of the other books in the Inheritance Cycle by my good pal Christopher Paolini, and realized he could probably help me. So I called him:

Me: “Hello . . .Chris?”

CP: “Yes?”

“This is Ben.”

CP: “Who?”

Me: “Your friend, Ben Hewett.  Soon-to-be-famous author.”

CP: “Uh . . . how did you get this number?”

Me: “Your agent. Listen, I just need a little help. Shouldn’t take long.”

CP: “Er. . . okay. Anything to give a fellow author a boost, I guess.”

Me: “Actually, the writing’s going fine, thanks. I just need help killing ants.”

CP: “Wait. . .Who is this?”

Me: “Ben Hewett. And it’s not unrelated. It’s hard to write when the ants go marching across your fingertips. While you’re typing.”

CP: “Listen man, you’re a writer. Write a  letter to your HOA. They’re responsible for animals that enter your home from the exterior.

Me: “Um. Yeah. How’d that HOA letter thingy work for Thorin Oakenshield?”

[Awkward silence.]

CP: “More like, ‘How did it work for Smaug…’ ”

Me: “Of course you’d side with Smaug.”

[Even more awkward silence.]

Me:  “Listen, Chris. What I really need—besides your endorsement on my next book—is for you to send Eragon over to my house real quick. He can just sort of… you know… do that thing he did in Eldest.  It seemed like a pretty weak plot device at the time, but this idea of sucking the life-force straight outta the entire ant colony has really grown on me in the last few weeks.

CP: “Eragon isn’t like that anymore. He carefully considers the impact of each action and . . .”

Me: “This is sort of important. The pavement ants are recolonizing faster than my neighbors and I can poison them. Faster than Galbatorix learning new, obscure languages, actually. Your guy wouldn’t even have to kill that many. Just like. . . eight ant queens. And anyways,  My neighborhood would be more grateful to him than the whole continent of Alagaësia. Remember how much crap he got just for blessing that poor purple girl? Come to think of it, pest control’s a great fallback position for him. It’s safe, fun, and he could definitely minimize the environmental impacts of pesticides like Termidore and Anthrax.”

Click.

Me:  “Um, hello? Chris?”

See what I mean?

Nobody wants to help.

ANT FIGHT 2017, PART 1

January 1st, 2017

 

The rattle and crack of Russian-grade fireworks in the backyard wakes me up.

It takes me a minute to realize the kids are traveling with their mother, and that the detonations are in my neighbor’s yard, not mine.

Ahhh. Good. Not my problem.

I put a pillow over my head.

But it is my problem, because the new neighbors are West Coasters still acclimatizing to the dictates of Central Standard Time.  The detonations continue.

At 2 AM when wake up yet again, I realize that it isn’t just about New Year’s. This is payback. Both to the HOA, and the pavement ants that the HOA has refused to deal with. I say a few hurrahs and stack another pillow on my head. Can’t think of a better use for fireworks.

To understand this attitude, you have to understand pavement ants. They don’t bite, but they’re into everything: crawling across the kitchen counter, drinking from the toilet bowl upstairs, and tripping through my leg hairs while I write this post.

According to the Pest Control guy, our townhomes are parked right on top of a “super colony,”  a quarter-mile, underground ant complex complete with multi-lane traffic signals and 8 different queens, who all argue about whose day it is to wear the pANTs. (Juvenile, I know.)

The Pest Control guy says I’ll need some ANThrax to kill them, but I’m pretty sure that’s illegal, even in Texas.  Termidore is a close second-choice, but Termidore costs more than Anthrax, says the HOA, so they’re not going to spring for it, and their level of engagement only declines from there:

ME: Please? There are, like, a billion ants inside my house.

HOA: “It’s a town home, not an apartment, sucker. Everything inside is your responsibility.”

ME: “Um… but the ants are coming in from the outside.”

HOA: “That’s what you think.”

ME: “No! I’m serious! Here are three videos of them peeking through the windows before they work the latches. It’s really creepy.”

HOA: “Mr. Hewett, please stop trying to give us evidence. We’ve already hired expensive attorneys to help us avoid this responsibility.”

Now you understand why my neighbors have resorted to ant-bombing under the cover of New Year’s.

But this isn’t over.

Personal Essay: Swimming Cell Phones

What drew me to Fantasy and Science Fiction as a child was its emphasis on possibility. You can slay (or tame) that dragon. You can destroy the ring. Good triumphs over evil. New technology forces us to grips with our shortcomings and helps us remember our humanity. Though both genres offer examples where this is NOT the case (I Am Legend, Richard Matheson and A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin), this focus has often pushed me to ask the question “what if . . .” in my own life. Why not challenge overwhelming odds?

“Why not try out for the middle school starting fullback position on the football team? Never mind that I’m 90 pounds, sopping wet.”

“Why not ask that girl out? So what if she is out of my league?”

“What if I audition for the high school musical? Who cares if I’m I a senior and have never taken theatre before?”

“What if I self-publish this story?”

My best experiences come from dreaming big and following through. So when your Nokia 5310 GSM goes for a swim, dream big:

Saturday, November 6, 2010
The lifespan of your average cell phone is longer if it doesn’t go swimming in Clearlake, which is exactly what ours did last week, and all our contacts with it. (Not my fault.)

On Saturday I decide to mount a recovery effort. I pack up the kids and some essentials—socks, flippers, flipper-booties, snorkel mask, trunks—and head on back to the dock. Just so you know, the mask isn’t to see better.  The bottom of Clearlake is actually buried in 8-inches of mud, oyster shells, and alligator droppings. It’s murky as all getout down there. The mask is actually for keeping the icy salt water off my cheeks and eyes.

I get all that stuff on, leaving the kids under a pile of clothes on the dock for insulation.  They promise me they’ll sit. Unfortunately, the water is colder than I’ve anticipated and they giggle and run for high ground when I thrash in the water. They settle down after I assure them I won’t splash anymore. By now I’m too numb. They resume their assigned tasks of watching for alligators, keeping my emergency towels dry, and not falling in.  Some of them shout helpful hints like, “You’re probably not going to find it,” and “I’m cold.”

I agree: it’s cold. I’ve only found a beer bottle. There’s nothing to see. It’s dark and cold down there and the only comfort is the fact that the mud is a few degrees warmer than the water. I climb up onto the dock.

“Get back in the water dad,” my five-year-old daughter, Eve, insists. She’s already said a prayer to help me find the phone, and she’s not about to let me give up. She uses her sweet-and-matter-of-fact-voice: “You need to look a little farther out.”

So I make a few passes a little farther out. I’m 8 feet under and about 10 feet from the dock now. The water is icy and the mud is still black. The oyster shells are still scratchy. I swim as low as I can and hold my breath. This isn’t very long, because my chest keeps shriveling up and forcing the air out of my lungs thanks to the cold temperature. It’s been 15 minutes and staying out any longer would be foolishness. A SIM card is not worth this. . . .

My hand brushes over something rectangular and hard, right where Eve told me to look.No kidding.

I get out and strip down to my trunks, ignoring the “NUTJOB!” looks from passing motorists.

Eve hands me my towel and I hand her the phone. “Hold it carefully,” I say ineffectually as the phone slides down the slanted dock ramp. Luckily, it snags on a traction rail. This time I zip it into the jacket that Carter (7) has reluctantly returned to me.

“I’m cold.”

“Yeah, me too. Can you help me carry some of this stuff?”

Olivia (3) hops around gleefully on the way back to the car. “You did it, daddy! You did it!” Eve’s carrying the wet mask. Carter’s got my pair of corderoys wrapped around his neck like an extra-long scarf.

After a short operation at home, it’s obvious that the SIM card works. I know because we put it in a somewhat drier, older model phone that we’d been using as kid bait for the last few years.

When my wife gets home she is shocked to see the old phone operating under brain transplant. “I thought that phone was gone forever!”

“Some of it may be,” I respond, “but the contact list isn’t.”

Dream big.

Nokia GSM 5310 (2)