Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
Be careful out there that you aren't drygulched by a bunch of fire ants. It happened to me last week. I was out absently wordsworthing some of the fall scenery, and stopped to admire a white-oak acorn or sweetgum leaf or some damned thing, and a passel of the little sons-a-bitches numbering maybe 200 swarmed my feet and legs and might near bagged me and bore me home before I valiantly fought them off.
The thing about fire ants, once they attack you, there's no persuading them to disengage. They're like pit bulls in that respect. They don't know pity or mercy, and have no time for such sentimental considerations as taking it easy on the portly anthropoid geezer who stumbled on them without malice, certainly intending them no disrespect.
They don't care why you've intruded into their sovereign territory. They only want to punish you for it, and go on punishing you until you die or they do. You can't brush them off or swat them off or hose them off or pry them off with a crowbar or hack them off with a machete. It might get rid of some of them if you soaked your pants and lower torso with gasoline and set yourself ablaze, but it wouldn't get them all, and it's incontestable that their only response to such an inferno would be, “Bring it on, you big ape. Bring it on.”
And I suspect the big ape would lose practically all his enthusiasm for self-immolation before they lost their utter indifference to it.
In my encounter, I wasn't reduced to setting myself afire, but here's what I was reduced to: trying to shoot the little whorehoppers off my ankles one at a time with a single-shot .22. This is not an efficient or particularly effective way to battle fire ants, or, I would think, any other variety of venomous insect. Or the zombies that I'll be mentioning later on.
You can't take good aim when fire ants are stinging you. You just can't. Not even a Klingon could do it. Not even Wayne LaPierre could. I suspect fire ants mustering probably account for the famous misunderstanding in which the vice president missed the bird and felled the host. They sting you faster than you can shoot them, and you have to be careful of the shooting angle as there are bony tarsal nodes and protrusions that don't react agreeably even to being grazed by hollow-point ammunition.
But the .22 was the only weapon I could lay hands on in the short-lived interval of lucidity between when the fire-ant vanguard first started harpooning me and I was obliged to choose between Option A, passing out from the pain, or Option B, going mad from it.
Fire-ant bites turn into big ugly pustules within a couple of hours, and these go on festering and poisoning your blood for about two weeks, after which, if there aren't complications, you can begin to think of recovery. If there are complications … well, it's best not to think about that. You've got a 50-50 chance, so why not see the glass, or in this case the beaker, as half full?
Only a couple of days after the pustules form, the intense pustule pain turns into an unbearable pustule itch, and for a short time that's actually a relief, but then very quickly the itch becomes such to make you nostalgic for the pain. The pain-vs.-itch preference debate continues unresolved for at least 72 hours. This is a dangerous time for the fire-ant victim. It's the time when he's most likely to veer into alcoholism, hopelessness, Last Days eschatology and such, as he's meantime obliged to cope with seizures, convulsions, paralysis, coma onset, and other ponderable hypochondriacal symptoms. You might want to lash yourself to the spar there for the duration of this delusional phase, when people have been known to do some mighty foolish things — pledging fraternities, voting Republican, first-time-calling talk radio.
Know your enemy, it says in the Bible or somewhere, and I've been doing my homework on these little boogers.
Fire ants weren't a part of the original creation 6,000 years ago. They weren't aboard the ark. They're newcomers on the critterly scene, in fact, having derived from someone in a white smock at the old Pine Bluff Arsenal leaving a beaker uncovered that contained a smoky, sinister-looking radioactive draught that some ordinary Jefferson County pismires promptly got into, as ordinary Jefferson County pismires will. As I understand it, their consequent transformation was a species parthenogenesis similar to Spiderman's or The Hulk's. If your religion allows you to believe such a thing.
There are by actual count more than a trillion fire ants in this bailiwick alone, or about five per corrupt mortgage banker. One thermonuclear explosion per anthill is the recommended eradication method and dosage, or broadcasting granular hazmat in a concentration that will make the surrounding area for about 20 leagues uninhabitable for approximately 300,000 years.
Or if you prefer a greener approach, a voodoo exorcism ceremony has shown field promise, though it has the unfortunate side effect of raising large numbers of unruly zombies, which, or who, according to the Extension Service literature, can be harder to do anything with than the fire ants.
Bob Lancaster, one of the Arkansas Times longest and most valued contributors, retired from writing his column last week. We’ll miss his his contributions mightily. Look out, in the weeks to come, for a look back at some of his greatest hits. In the meantime, here's a good place to start.
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