Ants and the Karamazovs

the author fleeing from an ant attack

the author fleeing from an ant attack

I’ve spent June with the Karamazovs.   In the literary category of most-fucked-up families, the Karamazovs rank right up there with Faulkner’s Compson clan and the mother-and-son team of Mr. and Mrs. Oedipus Rex.[1]   With the Karamazovs, we’re talking a toxic Freudian stew of father/son rivalry; religious/existential angst; vigils over putrid, decaying corpses; parricide – you name it.

paperbackFlipping through the yellowed pages of my 1957 paperback, I’ve been hanging out in monasteries, crumbling estates, filthy hovels, roadhouses, and prisons. Dostoyevsky’s celebration of suffering dwarfs whatever current troubles the reader tends to be enduring – in my case defending our household from an invasion of sugar ants (Monomorium pharaonis).

That’s right sugar ants, or, if you prefer, pharaoh ants, hordes of them, hundreds, if not thousands, marching dutifully in single file until they make the vertical descent from windowsill to counter top where they break up and swarm into earthbound clouds of tiny six-legged locusts.

If Dostoyevsky’s world is God-haunted, our bathroom is Darwin-haunted, man-versus-beast, and am I ever outnumbered, pitted against a very insidious, well-adapted enemy equipped with three types of pheromones, remarkable navigation skills, nesting strategies that subdivide colonies into non-competitive satellite campuses. To make matters worse, the colonies of these ants contain many queens, making it more difficult to eradicate a colony.

Monomorium pharonis with sugar crystal

Monomorium pharonis with sugar crystal

Sugar ants are tiny, a mere 2mm, about the size of a gnat. I first noticed them in the sink, feasting on a careless dropped dollop of toothpaste, so I guess you could say my carelessness caused the invasion.[2] Anyway, dispatching this first wave was as easy as retrieving tissue and wiping the intruders away. “Ha! Let that be a lesson,” I thought.

What I didn’t realize is that these fallen scouts had left a well-marked trail of pheromones pointing out to kinsmen the path to my sink. My next strategy was to spray the counters with peroxide, which instantaneously dispatched the unwanted immigrants, and I thought the puddles might act as a moat to dissuade others from visiting, but then again, I was mistaken.

The third strategy was successful. I mixed some Borax powder with fig preserves, placed the concoction on a piece of cardboard, and laid it on the counter. Man, what a cluster feast. It looked as if they were drunk, hundreds of them, inert, seemingly stuck, but still others were marching in single file, going and coming beneath the windowsill and through the screen.

That night I was shocked to discover that except for a few dead non-souls stuck in the preserves, that they were all gone, and the morning after no one returned, and now it’s been two days, so I am on the verge of declaring victory. Praise be for that slow acting poison borax, which the workers took home to their queens, who ingested it and with those royal deaths, the colony ended.

So now I can return in triumph to the Brothers Karamazovs — Dmitri, Ivan, Alyosha — and to the illegitimate Smerdyakov, whose stunted, dim-witted mother Lizaveta Papa Fyodor had his way with, impregnating her with the offspring that one day would put an end to him. In other words, return to a world far less organized, wholesome, and, dare I say, moral than the ant colony I destroyed.


[1] AKA the House of Cadmus.

[2] Or as Dmitri Karamazov might say, “”We’re all cruel, we’re all monsters, we all make men weep, and mothers, and babes at the breast, but of all, let it be settled here, now, of all I’m the lowest reptile.”
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