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Like Ants to Costco Toiling After the Metaphorical Pinch of Sugar

Like Ants to Costco Toiling After the Metaphorical Pinch of Sugar
October 14
14:17 2014

ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
for Kim Jong Un, who gave us quite a scare

Before leaving home I noticed a string of ants zipping through my living room, along the baseboards, into the kitchen, up the wall, over the counter, straight up to the ceiling, along the top of another wall, and into a cupboard to where hundreds of them swirled around a sticky jar of honey.

When I arrived to Costco, I felt like I’d made the same cloying journey, but to a more complexly filled container of sweetness.

Somebody had found an enormous patch of nectarous goods, and once the word spread, we’d all taken off, one in front of the other, traversing the diverse landscape to finally descend upon the mother lode, from where we’d load up and haul it home.

Yet, I didn’t feel like an ant, despite the similarities. So I had a conversation with one of them. A man named Bo Branson. He didn’t look like an ant, either. More like a pro wrestler ten years after his muscle phase; a decade of binge eating cheap meat, fried food, and drinking 16 ounce cans of beer.

Outside the consumer palace in the Inland Empire, while our fellow humans scuttled by, we chatted. The subject of ants arose spontaneously, and I attempted to create an ‘extemporaneous teaching moment’ for his son as I helped Bo stow his bulky bargain goods into the back of his truck so he could hit the trail home.

Isn’t that in the Bible, Leroy?

“This is my boy,” he said, and patted the back of a boy who looked like a miniature version of the Michelin Man. “Leroy.”

Corn_Dog_Mustard“Leroy?” I asked. “Where did you pick up that name? I haven’t heard that since I met an old gay couple at the Abbey in West Hollywood. Leroy and Leon.”

The boy held a corn dog on a stick in one hand. With his other he wiped his sweaty hair and then replaced a red and black baseball cap celebrating a race car driver. The driver, it appeared, celebrated Pfizer. All of that complexity was perched on the head of a boy ten years of age, and probably only ten years off from a massive coronary no drug company could stave off.

“It’s from his grandpa,” Bo said. “Leroy. But it’s also biblical.”

“Yes,” I said, and nodded. “I’m sure there was more than one prophet named Leroy. But don’t search too hard in the sacred book, the name probably gets mashed up in English translation to something like, I don’t know, Moses. Or Elijah. I read somewhere not long ago they found an ancient belt, maybe from 5000 BC that had LEROY inscribed into it. So there’s proof out there.”

“Probably,” Bo said, “probably you’re right. I hadn’t read that, but probably so.” He turned to his son. “Leroy, be a good boy and back the truck up here, would you?” Bo patted two 20-lb bags of charcoal in the cart. “Let’s get it loaded.” He faced me again. “I’ve got an older grill at home for that special barbeque flavor.”

Behind him he rolled a new stainless steel grill. Five burners. An igniter for every one. And an infrared back burner. If Bo hadn’t felt like a man before, he would now.

“You could grill a whole steer on that baby,” I told him.

Bo laughed and a squealing sound came out of his mouth. “Almost have to,” he said. “Two burger patties for the wife. Two for me. Three for Leroy. Then you got chicken wings you gotta grill up, and sweet corn while the wife mixes coleslaw and heats two cans of baked beans. We like dinner the old fashioned way. Hearty and flavorful.”

“Is there a safe rack with less cooking power where a person could heat one thin black bean veggie burger without exposing it to the juice of the meat?”

Bo squealed again. “Are you a comedian?” He shook his head and wiped his eyes. “How can you make a burger out of beans?”

“Doctor says he’s fat…”

The boy waddled away. I watched him climb into a purple Chevrolet Silverado, extended cab truck. He nearly backed into a Toyota. The lady shot him an angry glance, then sped away. What saved her was the ear-splitting beeping mechanism Bo must have installed on his truck as an alert every time he put it in reverse.

“He’s far too young to drive, is he not?” I asked.FatKidRulestheWorld

“He ain’t driving anywhere,” Bo said, “he’s backing her up to help his daddy.”

“It’s a blessing to have disciplined, healthy children,” I said.

“You don’t know how good it is to hear that. But do you think he’s healthy? Doctor says he’s fat. Says he’s knocking on the door for early diagnosis of diabetes.”

The heads of other customers turned toward us. The flow of shoppers continued unabated, however, as people carted their goods out of the compound and over to their parking spaces.

“Who hasn’t heard that from his doctor before? But listen,” I told Bo, because he looked worried, “you can’t stress about these things. You know the health establishment isn’t legitimate. Oh sure, they throw their pyramids of health around like it was handed to them on Mount Sinai.

The First Lady goes on a nationwide speaking tour about healthy school lunches. Republicans blast her for ‘tyrannizing our children’s lunch’. So she loses it and throws ten thousand dollars worth of corn dogs and frozen German chocolate cake into the industrial-size dumpster while the cameras are rolling. Health is a mess these days.

“‘Thin and lean!’ they always holler. But they don’t know,” I said. “I’m predicting a big turnaround in the health establishment soon. They’re going to start saying, ‘You know what? It’s OK to be grossly overweight. Two, three, four inches of fat padding your organs insulates them from the cold, the heat, and the horrors of the world.’ There are rumors that most stabbings in Texas and Mexico are not much worse than pinpricks since the blade has such little chance at breaking through the fatty tissue barriers and actually puncturing an organ.

“Plus, carrying so much unnecessary weight on your frame builds better muscles and heart integrity It’s perpetual exercise. Doctors are going to have to significantly update, I’d say, to adapt to this nation’s situation.”

Leroy turned into a lane between parked cars. He was aiming the wrong way. A few horns honked. Bo raised a hand. He let it fall onto the top of his head as he watched his son maneuver. “Sometimes I question that child’s decision making skills,” he said.

The purple truck’s back lights lit up and the beeping sound cracked the air and our ears.

I continued:

“This is what governments do. They adapt standards to their people. In fact, that’s what they did for Fukushima. Radiation blowing in from the West. All of us Californians sucking it into our lungs.

Nutrition-pyramid“Normally, according to standards set decades ago, this is not healthy. But officials realized they had two options. Deal with the issue. And how do you deal with radiation blowing in the trade winds from Japan? So they took the other option. Raise the levels of what is a healthy dose of radiation. Now we feel good about the world again. Or at least the nuclear power plant issue. It’s all relative,” I said, and slapped Bo on the shoulder.

Bo stuffed his pointer finger into his right ear and wiggled it. “I’m not sure but I think I feel better. I mean, it ain’t like Leroy’s the biggest kid in his class. Juan Hernandez has him by I’d say forty or fifty pounds.”

“Must be a beast of a child,” I said. “Now Leroy’s got something to shoot for. Why be second when he’s gaining on the competition? If he can squeak out another hundred pounds or so, he’ll securely clinch the honor.”

“I feel bad for some of them thinner kids in his class. Probably don’t get even one square meal a day,” he said. “Well hell, look at you.” Bo smiled. “Like talking to a bean pole with long hair.”

I frowned. “I think you’re trying to describe a mop.”

“You trying to create an ant trap?”

How do these misguided conversations begin?

I’d met Branson and his son after pushing my shopping cart outside and stopping for a moment to gather my goods. I’d purchased two 58-oz boxes of Quaker’s Oatmeal Squares, three giant cans of killer ant spray, one 50-oz jug of Brazilian nuts, and a pumpkin pie with a circumference larger than the tires on my car.

“You trying to lure them ants into your yard with all those goodies, then you’re going to blast them to hell?” Bo said before he introduced himself.

It was like he’d read my mind.

“Those ants will sniff out a treasure like that from miles away,” he said. “Then they’ll stream in like nobody’s business. Like the whole world is just about how much you can carry home with you. No end to them, neither. You’d think all they live for is to steal the crumbs off your cupboard or spoil the cake on your counter. Selfish little bastards. Sugar and mating. That’s about it.”

Even though I was going to lay down thick lines of formicide around my apartment door and along the baseboards of my kitchen, I still didn’t appreciate Bo lambasting ants with such broad brushstrokes. Such a precious creature, the ant. Their community building techniques. Their brilliance in carting home raw materials. Their unbelievable strength. Their advanced system of navigation. The way they use their heads to shield the opening of their nest from intruders.

The speciocide I’d been mentally and emotionally preparing myself for would not be done hastily. I’d weighed the options. I’d even made a heartfelt pitch to one caravan along my wall, asking them to leave. This is my house, I’d said. I know you don’t value human property laws, nor does the word ‘rent’ mean much to you, but please, for the sake of universal goodness, leave my home at once.

“Tell me about it,” I’d finally answered Bo. “Humans are no better. We’re swarming this store like it’s a fresh jar of honey.”

beep, …Beep, …BEEP!

We were mulling on the dietary requirements that might thrust Leroy to the head of his class when the bumper of the purple pickup truck slammed into an empty metal table next to us.

“Goddamnit,” Bo said, shaking his head. He marched over to the driver’s side and berated Leroy for not glancing behind him. “Daddy coulda gotten sued if there’d been people sitting at the table,” he said.

“What table?” Leroy asked out the open window.

“The table you hit, son!” he said. “Why didn’t you look behind you? You think they make them mirrors so you can check your make up? You think God gave you a neck that swiveled so you don’t have to use it to check behind you when you’re backing up a luxury vehicle?”

“Go easy on the boy,” I hollered from our carts. “God inspired the folks at L.A. Nails company to mix a purple polish just about the exact color as your truck. You can slop some of that over the check mark scratch in the tailgate.”

Bo’s eyes widened. “I just bought this truck.” He hurried to the back and bent over to check. His thumb slid smoothly over the scratch. “Can’t even be buffed out! You dug her right into the metal, Leroy!”

Leroy hopped out of the truck. His budding breasts jiggled beneath his turquoise polo shirt. A stain, either ketchup or grape juice, had soiled most of the front. He took off his hat, wiped down his sweaty hair, and shrugged his shoulders.

The Mark of Social Disease

While Bo examined the scratch in his purple tailgate, I took Leroy by his shoulders and asked if he’d ever watched ants work.

He nodded.Ant_Chain

“I mean really watched them,” I said.

“Who cares?” he asked.

“Snap out of it, Leroy.” I shook his shoulders. “This is real life here. Your innards have been pickled by preservatives. Your blood is sludgy from too much high fructose corn syrup. Your eyes dulled by eight hours of TV and computer screens a day.” I put a finger in front of his face. “Focus. Tell me. Have you seen ants at work?”

“Yes!” he said, with no respect in his voice for me, his elder. “Ant Blaster 3000. You have to shoot them with spray before they eat all the peanut butter.”

“Good, Leroy! Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s an artificial connection you’ve made, but still, it’s something. What did you notice about the ants?”

“There’s a ton of them,” Leroy said.

“No, no,” I said, “what else? What about their social structure? What about their diligence? Their concern for each other? How they make trails? And leave scents behind to create what is known in more scientific terms as an ‘ant freeway’? What about their keen sense used in detecting sugar or sweet spots on the counter?”

Leroy sighed. “Basically you just gotta blast the ants but each level gets harder and there are more ants and by level ten there are three peanut butter jars you have to defend so it’s almost impossible to win. Juan Hernandez at my school beat level ten but nobody else can.”

“What level would this be?” I asked, and pointed at the store. A few feet from my finger we also saw Bo’s backside as he inspected the damage.

“I see your dad over there, and I fear you’re going to turn out just like another worker ant, lured mostly by lower energy pleasures, from a Hershey’s bar to online pornography, and you’ll spend your whole life toiling after the metaphorical pinch of sugar, and always in a constant state of base level titillation.”

“That ain’t an apt metaphor,” Bo hollered from behind the truck. We joined him. I helped him load his six dozen frozen beef patties into the bed. “Humans aren’t ants.”

“That’s true,” I said. “Ants are more efficient, more connected to the earth, they don’t have identity crises. They don’t question their genders or create nuclear weapons. They don’t manipulate hundreds of millions of ants through mass media systems, and condition them to hate one or two groups so they can get public approval to drop bombs and fire missiles at them.

“I’ve also never seen an obese ant, or an ant that buys a loud motorcycle or pickup truck to covertly attempt to extend his manhood.” I scratched my nose for a second. “Let me say, though, that you’re right. Some humans are very smart and ingenious.” I turned to Leroy. “Does your dad ever use a GPS system?”

“He did on the way here,” Leroy said. “He got lost.”

“That’s enough,” Bo said. “The truck is equipped with it. Not sure how it turned on, but I know the roads.”

“That’s my point exactly, Leroy.” I knelt beside him. “I’m sure your father is a bright man. Just look at him. He knows how to fire up a stainless steel grill with built-in ignition and fuel lines. An ant can’t do that, however, an ant can find its way through your parents’ bedroom, traverse the tricky terrain of your mother’s underwear drawer, and finally end up in the kitchen, and circling the cake crumbs you left on the counter.”

“Eww,” Leroy said. His face turned into a wad of wrinkly dough.

“Well, your father made his choice,” I said. “But you can’t choose your mother. Anyway, they do this just by using their antennae, or by following the trail of pheromones dropped behind by other ants. That’s why you see an ant freeway on the side of your wall, and it looks as busy and tidy as the 405, except there are not ant law enforcement agents, traffic departments, or road signs. Could we govern ourselves with such efficiency?”

I helped Bo finish loading his truck. He tried to scoot his son into the vehicle, but I stopped him. “I’m not finished, yet,” I said. “This is important information that junior here is not going to learn by going to public school.” I continued: “The other great aspect about ants is they carry their heavy loads with their mandibles. Imagine,” I said to Leroy, “if your father was man enough to carry all this home on his back.”

Leroy’s face perked up in a smile. The first one I’d seen. “They can carry fifty times their size!” he said. “If dad was man enough he could carry the whole pickup home.”

Bo tried to interject, but Leroy kicked a rock with his sports shoe. The rock clinked off the truck’s silver tire rim. “Leroy!”

“People will say,” I told Leroy, “that we’re better than ants because we create trucks to carry our loads. And combustible engines to power machines that can move mountains, and dynamite to blast rocks and dams. And clever medical breakthroughs to hide the symptoms of our chronic illnesses. So in that way we’re advanced.”

Woolworths_Closing-down_Sale,_Grimsby_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1076911I shook my head. “But the question remains, ‘Is that really progress?’ What have we done with the engines? What have we done with the dynamite? Why do we have so much illness in the first place? Who is in control in this world? Who’s setting out the peanut butter traps for us?”

Bo examined the shiny rim for scratches. “Don’t kick rocks,” he said, “especially at the truck.”

“I don’t think it’s progress,” Leroy said to me.

“If we can’t maintain any semblance of community and care for our own, then I don’t think any invention in the world is worth a damn. If it’s undermining our social structure, our family unit, and our need to feed, house, and protect every single one of us before we can move on, I wouldn’t call it advancement. Imagine if the various civilizations of ants wired their nests for satellite television, the Internet, and endless high-definition gaming consoles. We’d never see them out in the sunlight again. They’d rather play games about creating new nests and foraging for food.”

Leroy turned the pockets of his brown and white striped shorts inside out. He left them that way. “Fuck it,” he said.

Bo stood. “Get in the truck, Leroy.” He grabbed Leroy’s puffy arm and forced him into the passenger’s seat.

“More of a mouth than a mind on that kid,” I said when Bo came around to the driver’s side.

“If his mother hears him talking like that, I get more of a beating then he does.” Bo pulled a pair of BluBlocker wraps from his breast pocket and slid them on his face. “I think we’ve preached enough to the kid,” he said. He thanked me for helping load his grill into the back. “You’re too liberal for my blood.”

“I’m a fascist libertarian,” I said. “But I’ve been flirting with neoliberalism. Somewhere down the road they merge.”

Bo reached in and turned the ignition. The truck fired up. He climbed in and closed the door. “Bye now,” he said.

The gears clunked beneath the purple exterior. Bo slung his arm out the open window. I watched him pull forward. The brake lights came on. The truck jerked to a halt. “This too is progress, Leroy! You want to carry all this stuff home on your back?” Bo hollered in the cab. “Now put your seatbelt on.”

______________________________________________________________________________________________

When the mistress gives birth to her master

[block]

“You kids are so rude today,” an old woman said to me. She’d parked herself at the table Leroy had hit only ten minutes prior. She set an unopened sack of bleached, enriched flour next to her feet. The hair on her head looked like a puff of dirty white cotton candy. What flavor could that be? I wondered.

“Tell me about it,” I said, and pointed to the purple Silverado inching its way across the parking lot. The stainless steel grill strapped to its back. “They say the end times are coming when the mistress gives birth to her master.”

“Don’t worry about the end of times,” she said. “They’ve been saying that forever. I’ve been alive long enough to know.”

“The question is,” I said, “is if that means the Mideast and African civilizations, arguably the first in human history, eventually gave birth to the tyrannical, colonizing Western civilization, or if it means that in the later times children would be so undisciplined–”

[/block][block]

“Disobedient,” she added.

“Contumacious,” I asserted. “That they would control their parents, which subverts the natural order of the family unit, which signals a vast upheaval of a traditional cornerstone of humanity.”

The woman fluffed her puff of hair with her untrimmed finger nails. She turned her head toward the sun. “Worry about the end of your own time. I guarantee it’ll arrive before Armageddon.”

“Well, maybe for you,” I said, and scurried away with my loot to join the others in the long, bumper-to-bumper line home.

[/block]

[French cartoon by Théodore Maurisset (1803-1860); corn dog photo by Twodollarwhore; health pyramid graphic by Spmallare; store’s closing sales photo from David Wright; chain of ants from Kevinsooryan]

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