Attack of the killer ants!

Brian Tiemann has an ant problem. No surprise there; I think it’s on the Universal New House Checklist, right after “otherwise quiet neighbor with yapping dog.” What surprised me, though, was that he was willing to accept their presence in the house as long as they didn’t get too aggressive.

Not me. Slaughter-and-sanitize is my motto, and their right to life ends with the very first bread crumb.

I had the occasional run-in with the little bastards back in college, which should come as no surprise to anyone who saw how I lived in those days. Even the fire that burned down two-thirds of my apartment building didn’t slow down the ants much, although it did a good job on the neighbors.

When I moved to Silicon Valley, my life was blissfully ant-free for the first few years. The concrete bunker on Moffett had been bug-bombed before I moved in, and I think that insects were just afraid of the house on Charleston, which had cracked in half and was gradually sinking into the ground.

Then I moved into a place in Sunnyvale with a friend, and ants were just part of the lifestyle. The place was an old Eichler clone, and the only thing the shoddy construction protected you from was cool breezes in the summer. An astonishing number of ants would turn up in the kitchen once one of their explorers discovered an empty Pepsi can. Also in the shower stall, although I never found a smoking gun the way Brian did to explain their devotion to it.

My roommate was the practical, tolerant sort: spray soapy water to eliminate the current opposition, then follow the trail of bodies back to their latest entrance and give it a good squirt of poison. A few days later we’d scrub out the massive pile of corpses, and wait for it to start again.

This tactic proved less effective against the mice and rats who turned up occasionally, but that’s another story. Really shoddy construction on this place.

Not too long after I moved into my brand-new house, I noticed a few ants tentatively gathering in the kitchen. “Oh, no you don’t!”, I cried, and ran out to the store for the finest in name-brand insecticides. Over the next few days, I tracked down various points of entry and hardened my defenses. They hadn’t found anything exciting in the pantry yet, and my previous experience had taught me to rinse and remove the Pepsi cans.

Suddenly I remembered that I make lots of money and value my free time, so I called up Clark Pest Control and said “I see ants. Make them go away”. Apart from their habit of losing my payments occasionally, this has turned out to be a beneficial relationship, but the first date was a disaster.

You see, the person they sent out insisted that since there had been only a few ants so far, it would be sufficient to spray the exterior of the house. He’s the expert, I thought, and left him to it.

The next day they were everywhere. The kitchen, the bathrooms, the office upstairs. Every crumb, every candy wrapper, every bottle of cooking oil and poorly-sealed food container (of which, fortunately, there were only a few). Every time I cleaned them up, they found a new place to emerge. Rooms I hadn’t even used yet were suddenly infested.

It took three days of increasingly irate phone calls to get Clark to come back and spray the interior, and the new guy was just baffled. “Of course the house filled up with ants; they were already in the walls and had nowhere else to go. What was he thinking?”

Clark comes out every two months now and sprays the exterior. I’ve seen exactly one ant indoors since then, and I think he came in with a bag of onions. I killed him before he had a chance to link up with the partisans, so I think my regime is safe for a while.

Ma Nature isn’t one to take these setbacks lightly, though. Every plant in my yard is now infested with whiteflies, and as fast as I kill them, a new batch blows in across the fence.