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Once, when I was young and sporadically employed and living in a wood-and-shingle lean-to at the back of a sprawling rooming house in the Beaches, there was a weedy dirt parking pad beside the house and one day the landlord paved it. Personally I don’t own a car. A few days later I spotted a pair of big, glossy black ants hob-knobbing on my floorboards. Looking closer, there was a whole army of them. Or more like a two-way highway of them, triumphantly rubbing each other’s antennas as they passed coming and going along a highly geometrical route: they followed the baseboard to the radiator then under its shade hooked hard left into a groove passing under the aquamarine rag rug and then at the other end making a hard right into the kitchenette and scaling at a 90° angle to the countertop where they followed a ledge to reach the middle cupboard. What were they after? I eased open the cupboard door so as not to startle them — I was still in the mode of fascinated scientific discovery at this stage — and there they were, caught red-handed, busily deconstructing a loaf of sandwich bread. They had snipped thru the cellophane wrap. Imagine the scouting, the planning, the organizational talents that went into this.
Obviously the ants were undergoing an ecological crisis precipitated by humans recklessly paving the earth so they were compelled to infringe my space. Be that as it may, I wanted to inhabit a clean, tranquil space, not a creepy Salvador Dali space. How could I ever have guests over? It’s not as if I could convince the landlord to unpave the parking, so there was only one choice. I hurried to the hardware store. The sales guy, who knew his stuff, grabbed a red-orange squeeze tube off the shelf. “This’ll do it!” he told me. The product was pricey, but I coughed up. “O, this’ll be a bad day for the ants!” he cheered as he rang up the sale.
I thought, does he think I’m some sort of insecticidal maniac? My conscience began to bite but at the same time I was resigned to live with the guilt. The product was a translucent gelatinous liquid that had to be applied in dollops on ant “gathering points and pathways”. I squeezed a few dabs and streaks at various junctures along the highway, and then had to rush because I had an interview at Jubbers & Slatherby. I’m a freelance marketing designer. Rumors were that J&S had landed a big contract and needed talent.
When I returned around four in the afternoon, the ants were swarming over the poison like it was going out of style. Their tiny antennae were vibrating, they were sharing ecstatic messages with comrades up and down the line. The product label said they would take the food back to the nest for total distribution. It was, honestly, a terrifying thought.
By next day, there were fewer ants. They were staggering woozily atop the poison jelly and not interested in rubbing antennae anymore, actually not giving a damn about each other.
The day after that, they vanished without a trace. Back to the nest for the final rest, presumably. Maybe a few of them understood what was happening and felt disappointed in the world. From my point of view, my place was bright and clean again as if the invasion never happened. My windows faced south and the sun poured in. Science, that’s the trick. I loosely knotted my tie and donned my medium-blue jacket with the faint pin-stripe. J & S had actually called first thing in the morning, they wanted me for six months, an image revamp for an oil distributor. Not an easy trick, you have to go from wealthy and unpopular to green and technical. The bottom line is that you help to push society in that direction in a miniscule way. Everything is do-able. Finally things were going right. I was in a jubilant mood as I crossed the parking pad and made a sharp right up the street.