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IDYLLOPUS PRESS : BIG SOFA : Guest Writers : Ann Tatalin : the bugman cometh

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dish of acorn ants

From the web.
A colony of acorn ants wonder what they're doing in a petri dish. Learn more about these interesting little creatures by clicking on the above pic which will take you to an article on them.

honey ants escaping by Linda Currie

From the web.
"Honey ants escaping"
painting by Linda Currie. Click on the pic to visit "Tobwabba Art's" Australian Aboriginal Art Gallery

The Bugman Cometh
(copyright © 2000 ann tatalin)

Everyone, so I've learned, has a passion. Even those with the most vapid stares, People you might even dismiss as 'slow' or unintelligent, even those whom you think have not yet found their purpose.....(whom am I to determine this for another anyway?).....and until you know someone's passion and engage them in may never know their true essence.

Take the bug man for example.

He is a nice enough, pleasant sort of person. Coming by the church each month at his appointed hour. Very quiet about this business of spraying poisons and toxins into the nooks and crannies of the innermost recesses of the church. Not even the kind of guy you would think of as a 'contract killer'. He shows up in the office when he is through with this business of killing lower life forms. He and I don't speak of the ghastly chore he has just completed. We are pleasant to each other, I sign his work order, he leaves me a copy of it.

Sometimes we talk about the church's computer. People often strike up conversations with me about computers. I am usually sitting in front of one at any given hour. And that's okay....that's one of my passions. I'll talk animatedly about my relatively new Dell Celeron. Ooops...did I say mine? I mean the church's Dell computer. But the poor bug man doesn't always know how to respond. It's not on his list of passions. So, we soon fall silent and he bids me farewell and takes his leave until the next time.

But me, I'm a nosy sort. I like to draw people out...find out what makes them tick. I suppose that is one of the reasons I like it at the church, I don't have to seek folks out. They come to me, right up to my desk with their many questions, requests and inquiries. You can learn a lot about folks working in a church office. But sometimes it is a matter of asking the right question.

I love the UPS man. He brings me things. New, bright white copy paper, bright and gaily colored paper for my monthly newsletter and the signs I print for various church activities. He's attractive, quick with a laugh. I hate to see him go. And when the weather is warm and he wears his shorts, I'd like for him to stay for lunch. He pretends to be angry when I order lots of heavy things. And I fall for his charm each time, telling him I order things only to see him. Then I realize he plays out this scene in probably every building he steps into each day and I remember myself and get back to work.

I love the elders and church members. They are old friends. They come into the office and we talk about children, grandchildren, the weather and upcoming trips and vacations.

But I never knew what to say to the bug man. Until just recently. His name is Mike. Last time he came to the church he showed up with another exterminator in tow. This immediately piqued my interest. Did we have a larger need than we were aware of? Was this bug man hiding the truth? Did he go back to his office and say, " should see the size of them at Rock Lake! It's too much for one man to handle. I'll need back up next time!"

Me, I've never seen so much as an ant at Rock Lake. Ooops. Did I say ant?

This fellow he brought with him, he had an interesting look. Well, he had interesting hair is really what I mean to say. Sort of a Beatle cut. You know the "She-Loves-You-I-wanna-hold-your-hand" kinda cut right off the album cover of Beatles '65? With a mustache. Except his hair was red. And this mustache really ruined the Beatle effect. He really looked more like a cross between Adoph Hitler and Moe from the Three Stooges.

When they were finished they both showed up in the church office to get their work order signed. At this time the director of the church preschool was there. She and Mike always talk a bit more comfortably than Mike and I do. I should have asked her the secret to his passion a long time ago. She knew the key.

" you see many of them?" he asked her in a quiet voice. Them...the nameless, many legged victim of Mike's occupation. Them....the ones the more squeamish of our species don't refer to directly.

"No. No problem at all." Joellen responded. "You've really taken care of them."

He turned to me to tell his story.

"We couldn't figure out where they were coming from. Sometimes it takes a month or two to track their path."

I am confused now. This was the difference between sitting in a dark room in late afternoon when even the strong sunlight isn't enough to read a book and flipping on a bright overhead light to stave off the night. Something clicked inside my head...she's found his passion! I perk up now.

"You have to monitor the site for a month or two and ask folks to help you find their entry point. Then every month you work that entry point until you take care of the problem. Sometimes there is more than one entry."

I nod for him to go on, afraid to ask just what kind of 'bug' we are talking about here.

"Here the problem was the heavy moss around the far side of the building. Took me several months to figure out it was the moisture under the heavy layers of moss there that was attracting and protecting them!"

I had newfound respect for the bug man. Could a Rhodes scholar have been that dedicated and persistent in nailing the origin of those...those bugs? I imagined him on a 'stake-out' silently waiting for the many legged ones to come and steal the crumbs someone missed from cleaning up after a preschool snack or the Men of the Church dinner.

"What...what are they?" I stammer.


"Ants." echoes the Moe/Hitler exterminator, speaking for the first time. "I've always heard vinegar or bay leaves will repel ants." I say. Am I superior or what? Thinking I can match these skillful professionals! They look at each other and think their responses through carefully before answering.

"Yes", Mike finally responds, I've heard about bay leaves, too. You try it?"

I nod yes. It works.

Now I've met him and his passion and have gained entry into his world. But Hitler takes the stage now...the passion in his voice unmistakable. "Except that you have to know what it is they are going after. Vinegar won't always work. See, there's sweet eatin' ants and grease eatin' ants. You gotta know the source! Me, if I was an ant, I'd be a grease eatin' ant." he tells me pointedly.

"Guy we know did an experiment. Took an unwrapped twinkie and laid it out on the floor. Took exactly three days for the same group of ants to dismantle and remove that twinkie. You jest can't imagine the dedication and continuous hard work that goes into something like that. They are unbelievable."

Do tell.

Mike pulls out the many cannisters on his little bug man tool belt. "This here is for grease eaters and this one is for sweet eaters."

"Man I know swore up and down that there were thousands of ants on the second floor of his house. Everytime I go there, I don't see nothing."

Moe continues. "Call me next time they are here, I told him, I don't care if it is midnight. I wanna see this. So he calls me. And damned if there isn't about three thousand ants upstairs in his house, a carpet of black."

I am visibly repelled by this vision. But you know men like that sort of effect. He goes on.

"I watched those suckers go right under the doors and into his daughter's room. I walked into her room trailing them right into her closet. You know she had mixed up some cookie dough and took it up there to eat right out of the bowl! Damn kid left the bowl right in her closet. That's what they was after! 'Here's your problem, buddy--I tell him'. Yep, sweet eaters."

They fall silent for a moment, each themselves and to each other at the sweet satisfaction of a job well done and a mystery solved. My mystery solved as well. The bug man has his passion after all. Ants. I think I'll read up on them in preparation for his next visit.


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