Although we first moved to San Diego almost ten years ago during a warm and inviting summer season, the holiday decorations going up all over town have reminded me of our first Christmas here. El Niño had been a recent occurrence, so San Diego hillsides were particularly lush and green back then. The skies here were quite blue by comparison to that which we left behind in the City of Angels. They still are, comparatively. And, nearly ten years ago, traffic in San Diego was not what it is here today, and even today it is still 1,000,000 times better when going from one place to another in San Diego than that with which we coped commuting from the west side to any place else in L.A. But we did have to learn to contend with one element in San Diego that didn’t really seem to hit our radar in Beverly Hills: All Creatures Great and Small. I’ve shared the story of the Raccoon Incursion of 2000, and the Bee Ball Formation of 2003, so, in the spirit of the holiday season, I will share the story of the Ant Invasion of 1998, and the Christmas poem I wrote for Tom subsequent to the event.
You may have guessed that when Tom wants something done, he is accomplished, goal-oriented, and, uh, er, um, hmmm, tenacious. In a good way. Really. Well, usually. So when we came to the conclusion that the house we had just moved was actually a life-sized Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm, Tom wasn’t going to stand by and watch the little ebony invaders take over without fighting back. It seemed like every time we’d leave the house, only to return a short time later, we’d find that replacement troops had been sent in for all of the ants that had only just been sprayed or squished before we’d left. Tom stood his ground against the rebel forces from the dark side, but he didn’t care to be in the trenches without a unit to command. And so Tom took it upon himself to draft Kristen and Courtney in the battle to kill the oppressive Iridomyrmex humilis army and turn our home back into a democracy. The children’s conscription into what Tom called “ant patrol” came one day after he’d returned home to find them watching T.V., oblivious to the long, thick line of black ants that had begun marching across the kitchen floor and into the dining room. “Kristen and Courtney,” he barked with authority, “You can’t just sit on your butts watching T.V.” The kids looked up at him glassy eyed. “Every twenty minutes or so, you have to get up and do an ant patrol,” Tom commanded. The kids were able to keep straight faces, I think, because their brains had been numbed by reruns, and maybe because they could read how serious Dad really was. (In Tom’s defense, the territorial battle had become daunting at times.) Tom continued, “And if you see any ants, don’t just kill them. You must extend your thumb, press down on each ant one at a time without smearing it, and then wipe the ant body from your thumb with a napkin. That way there’s no mess.”
Now that the ant invasion is long behind us, we can laugh about it. Well, the kids do. And I hope that Tom can. I’ll know after he reads this. Of course, I started laughing about it a day or so after the last ant had met its maker, and so that same year I wrote this poem for Tom for Christmas:
‘Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
not a creature was stirring,
—except for an ant!
Though the stockings were hung
by the chimney with care,
no one thought a black creature
would be found lurking there.
The cuddle kids were nestled all snug in their beds,
while Nick at Night reruns filled the space in their heads.
But the mere sight of an insect the color of coal,
made it clear that these children had neglected their ant patrol.
With Cheri in her flannels and Tom in the buff,
we feared that this battle soon would get rough.
Using their thumbs the kids smashed them at will,
but the ants were winning since we lived on their hill.
Then out on the street there arose such a clatter,
Tom sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window like a flash he flew,
tore open the shutter – pausing, of course, to admire his view.
The moon on the windows of the tract houses did glow,
and Tom thought once again, “I love San Diego.”
When what to his wondering eyes should appear,
but a Terminix truck filled with poison so dear.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
we knew in a moment, Tom would stop being a ______.
More rapid than eagles, his courses they came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:
“Now Chemical! Now Compound! Now, Polluntant and Toxic!
On, Cyanide! On, Hemlock! Agent Orange and Arsenic!
Spray the backyard! The kitchen! Get inside the wall!
Now pass away! Pass away! Pass away all!”