“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”
~ Henry David Thoreau
Casual dress: loafers – no socks; cargo pants, and a loose fitting shirt not tucked in. Errands to run. Formal attire not required. Managed to get a few blocks from the house, while the “do it” list scrolled across my mind. Felt it was a good day, and had plenty of time for my chores, so was in no hurry. Further, there was not a single thing on the list that was urgent or necessary, or that could not have been postponed, if not ignored altogether. In other words, it was the kind of day a younger me never knew existed…past the age of ten.
What started with an itch on my ankle soon became more itching on both ankles, then the stinging started. Felt something crawling on my arm, my ear, and the back of my neck, and soon in a panic mode feeling creepies all over me. It was time to immediately pull over to the curb, and I did so without hesitation.
Ants! The cab of my pickup truck was full of ’em! What? Where’d they come from, and why are they in here? Not just any ants, mind you; these were fire ants! Put it in park, and leaped out of the truck. Hard to sit still when you have ants in your pants, and I did. I began a series of gestures and gyrations unbecoming of a sober man of my age in broad daylight unless some ceremony preceding a live sacrifice was in progress. Felt I was the sacrifice.
The festive dance was a spectacle, I’m sure. Just glad the police didn’t ride by, as they would’ve hauled me to the looney bin. I believe my coarse epitaphs scorched some nearby wildflowers, and no doubt would’ve offended anyone in earshot. But I was alone except for a passing stray cat, who quickly went to the other side of the street. I didn’t blame him, as I’d have done the same in close proximity to some animal exhibiting bizarre behaviors. I’d invite you to imagine, but most imaginations might not be that flexible. Sometimes it’s hard to interpret the incomprehensible. It was motion of quantity without quality defined.
Went back to the truck. Observed some ants crawling on the floor and driver’s seat, but noticed the console and ashtray were teeming with them. A pipe and an old cigar butt gave support to the image of ants chewing tobacco. I knew grasshoppers did this, but never read any review or critique of ants doing it. Now, I have seen ants chewing on a grasshopper, so with some stretch, it’s possible to extract the idea that eventually the ant might get around to a chaw, I don’t know.
I’ll admit to some sloppiness, and have often left crumbs about, as my habit of eating on the move has allowed for lots of crumbs. No doubt, there are bits and pieces of hamburgers, hotdogs, chips, French fries, and other snacks permanently ground into the upholstery and carpet. Surely sweet nectars have spilled without any serious cleanup other than to wipe at them have occurred.
Looking in the cab, I saw them busy as if trying to locate all such prizes, and also watched as they gave special attention to the heads of some matches lazily resting in the cup holder. Perhaps they were just fueling up. Thats when I realized their attention was mainly directed on some other object: a regular tin of breath mints–ants were all over it. With some bravery, some wiping, huffing and puffing, managed to clear the ants off so I could look inside the tin. To my surprise, the closure of the package had been no serious deterrent to the ants.
The peppermint Altoids inside the tin were covered with a frothy sea of churning ants. Each ant in the box had a mouthful of high octane peppermint that seemed to excite them. If I’d been able to see their ears, I’m fairly certain a mist of steam would be coming out of them, but my bifocals are not that refined. The pepper-like candy had evidently gotten them electrified, and me opening the container also opened the circuit. Evidently, it was motive enough for action. If you will, envision a thousand fire ants clumped in an area of a few square inches, and imagine them all spreading out over a few square yards in less time than it takes a firecracker to rupture when the fuse burns down to the quick.
As they charged up my arm to do battle, I dropped the tin of peppermints onto the seat of the truck, and began singing a song in some foreign language I’ve never heard before. The dance began anew, then the religious ceremony followed–at least in as much as some of the same conjuring words were put into use. The literary anathema may have started out like a hymn, but transfigured itself into a level of depravity that would’ve offended a congressman. I’ll not likely live long enough to atone for such coarse and troubled cussedness, but those who know me well realize I crossed that threshold years ago.
After some success brushing most of them off, the stragglers that remained let me know unquestionably why the name “Fire” had been sewn on to the label of that species. Some of my friends educated in the sciences tell me the pain from the venom is caused by formic acid. That may be true for some ants, but my recent discovery brings me to believe the species that lives in my pickup truck get their potency from match-heads, burnt tobacco, and peppermint Altoids.
As you’d expect, I vacuumed and washed the truck, but never did discover where the queen, her nest, or hatchlings were hiding. Next day, the ants were back as if I’d done nothing. I thought about all the fine places a self-respecting ant colony might set up housekeeping, and remain amazed they’d still choose to hang out with my old truck. The only thing I can think of is that the occasional trip to the grocery store and the cargo I bring back appeals to them. Additionally, once there, the parking lot around the truck being full of delicious snacks an ant might take delight in having is also brought into the bargain. This would be a diminished benefit, of course, if human beings ever figure out how to use nearby trashcans. As it is, candy wrappers, soda cups, sandwich wrappers, and chicken bones tend to drop from hands as soon as they have reached the point of diminishing return.
Since the experience of discovering ants in my truck, I’ve come to approach getting into it with both caution and dread. But one thing disturbs me: instead of maintaining residence inside the cab of the truck, they seem to now camp on the outside. I see them outside of the windows, and marching back and forth around the edges of the cargo bed. The worrisome idea now emerges, that now with enough peppermint to fuel an inferno, they have decided to eat the paint off my truck, as if such as that might be an antidote for any gastric reflux the peppermint might’ve caused.
A few years ago, I took note of the apparent disappearance of Fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) mounds on my property. A few neighbors had remarked about it, as well. Some theories were that they were driven out or killed by infestations of other ants that might eventually eat my house as well as take over the lawn. But now I know where they went. With the prospects of finding matches and peppermint so readily available, the logical thing for them to do would be to relocate to my vehicle. Not only would they find plenty to eat, but the opportunity to take off on an excursion was probably more than they could resist.
So, there you have it. Altoids and matches in my truck are the true source of the fire. Now if I could just figure out a way to harness it, the next time I’m told the truck is due for new spark plugs, I’ll be able to tell ’em…“never mind.”