The first attack of the ants came three weeks ago. We had gone away for three days to visit family, and when we got back, there they were. On the kitchen counter, little tiny fellas, dark skinned, very industrious. They seemed very busy, following one another nose to tail from somewhere under the coffee maker, across the counter and down into the dishwasher and back.
Usually, when you see this kind of behavior—those going this way in the left lane and those going the other way in the right lane—you think they’d been ordered to take something from Point A to Point B, or the other way around, but, watching closely I couldn’t figure it out. Nothing seemed to be going either way. Also, there didn’t seem to be more of them going one way or the other, so it wasn’t some overland migration or anything. Whatever task it was, was not clear to me. Often you just can’t figure out ants.
Having watched this going on for a little while, and having observed some of the ants peeling off from the main trail to have a look around elsewhere, I got a second instinct. Get Thee Out of My Kitchen. So I befell a disaster upon them by getting a paper towel and squishing them one at a time with my thumb until there were no more. It was of interest that after the first one fell, the others did not scatter in alarm. They didn’t even notice what was going on. They just marched on to their doom, disciplined soldiers that they were.
I did know, of course, there would be more to take their place. And, of course, they would follow the scent and take the same path. I had succeeded in only a momentary ambush.
My next thought was to check out the cereal in the pantry across the way. Some of the boxes, Special K, Cheerios, Muselix, etc., were open for the checking. They’d been at it all night for sure, these ants. I looked. They had not found the cereal. Yet.
My wife appeared. I didn’t at first tell her about the ants. There were, at this time after all, no ants about. So we ate breakfast, and then I did casually tell her we had ants, and I told her that since she was going shopping after breakfast could she stop at the hardware store and see what they could give her to get rid of the ants. I had no doubt we would, in the end, be victorious. You do not see, in homes in the Hamptons, for any length of time, invasions of ants making it impossible for the owners to maintain residency. At least not many of them, anyway.
My wife returned with two products. She had these little metal ant houses with the open doors. And she had a goo that you could squeeze from a tube. I suggested we try the ant houses first, since we have a dog and ant poison goo and dogs do not go well together.
The ants were back by this time, at least a few. It seemed they were scouts, sent out by the queen in our coffee maker or dishwasher who wondered what had become of the earlier battalion she had sent out. I placed several of the little houses alongside the path the earlier ones had trod—and the scouts looked at the houses, sniffed at the doorways and moved on.
Perhaps they will come around to going in there later, I thought. So we left the houses there all day. And in the evening, when we came home, the ants still were not interested.
The next morning, my wife got up before I did and had placed the goo on little yellow sticky notes behind the houses. The ants were feasting on the goo. Again, I checked the cereal and some other containers and so forth and saw all was okay and so we ate our breakfast, a little nervously, but anyway.
By that night, the ants were gone. Either we had gotten them all, or the word was out and the retreat order issued. A few days later, we removed the goo and the houses.
We remained without ants for about a week. But then, one morning I came into the kitchen to notice a few groups of slightly larger, tan-colored tiny ants walking around on our kitchen counter. These ants had wings. Wow, I thought. I watched them for a while, hoping to see them take off or land, but none of them did that. I also noticed that there was no organized behavior going on. They wandered this way and that. It was as if they had been in a squadron going somewhere and had come down into my kitchen to land on the counter because they had run out of gas. Indeed, they didn’t seem particularly vigorous as they wandered about. Or maybe they were just lost.
I think there were six of them on the counter. It was our counter. They had not been invited. So I gave them the old sneak-up-from-behind thumb treatment, and that seemed to be the end of them.
After that, I prepared our breakfast—my wife had not come down yet—but this time did not feel it necessary to check the cereal boxes. I wondered why I felt no urge to do that. The answer was that I felt they would not want to get in there. They had wings, after all. You wouldn’t dive into a box of loose, dry cereal flakes with your wings on. Would you? I wouldn’t.
Anyway, we ate, I mentioned the few flying ants and that there seemed no more about, and we discussed other things and then she went off. It was while I was cleaning up that I noticed a whole herd of them occupying space quietly on the upper half of the glass sliding door that leads out to the deck.
Aha, I thought. I did quietly sneak up on them to confirm whether they were on the inside or outside of the glass—perhaps the herd was just passing through—but they were indeed on the inside.
Something had hatched, I thought. Well, good for them. Too bad it was in the wrong place. I looked further at them. They were sitting quiet, facing every which way, hardly even moving. My thumb was not an option, obviously. And no house or goo would do any good. This was a job for Raid.
I went down to the basement and got it out of the laundry room and headed quietly back up. They had not moved. I looked around. No dog around. I could let them have it, and so I did, spraying them in a kind of circular motion to cover the entire window.
After a moment, one flying ant fell. And then a second and a third, and then in the span of 30 or 40 seconds, more and more.
I hoped they had fallen painlessly, that they had become dazzled by the spray, maybe numbed by it, maybe just quietly fell asleep, painlessly, and then after falling into unconsciousness and losing their grip on the glass, fell down to the floor without having any memory of what had befallen them.
Of course, only the chemists at Raid know if that is true.
I left the room. Before I did that, though, I opened some windows so there would be a cross ventilation to get rid of the mist. And then I was gone, to look for the dog, intending to take him by the collar outside if he were found. He wasn’t.
Twenty minutes later, I came back to the kitchen. The dead bodies of the warriors lay motionless on the wooden kitchen floor. But then I noticed that about five feet up, there was a place where living flying ants were still hanging on.
I think there were about 20 of them there. Had I, in my circular motion, missed a spot? Or had I gotten it and here they were, these heroic few, talking to one another, urging one another to hang on, that help was on the way. We can do this. Just keep breathing. Keep trying to stay awake.
These 20, making their final heroic stand on my kitchen slider, are no doubt memorialized in the history books of flying antdom, heroes all.
In the end, they fell. But it had been a heroic fight and they will be remembered forever for what they did for the ant kingdom and its queen and all.
So let us bow our heads for the next 30 seconds and just think about them, the unknown soldiers.
I hope there is no reincarnation. I wouldn’t want this to happen to me.