making an anthill out of a molehill
It’s funny how things pop back into your head. One minute you’re sitting at a picnic and the next you’re back at a ball field when you were a little kid.
Just because you see an anthill.
I was just a kid and yet I remember it like it was yesterday. Actually, my memory is so shitty that if it happened yesterday I wouldn’t remember much so let’s just say I remember it like yesterday but you know I don’t mean it literally.
I was watching this little kid and his Dad play. The little boy was crashing around and laughing and the Dad was hovering close by to make sure nothing bad happened. This was back when something ‘bad’ happening was he would bump his head. Now it means he would end up on the side of a milk carton smiling all happy while everyone who saw the carton would imagine just how much he cried as he was dying.
Wow, that was a bit of a dark little sidetrack. Just shows it’s dawnest before the dark.
Anyway, the little boy started pointing to the ground and got his Dad’s attention. He was looking at a big anthill and waving his foot over it as if to ask if it was ok to smush it. The Dad quickly ran over and, in a very gently way, moved the child’s foot away from the pile of dirt and sand. He explained in a calm and loving way that the ants had worked very hard to create that little mound and that’s where they lived. “You wouldn’t want to destroy their house would you?” he asked in an even tone, smiling down at his son. The boy, beaming back, indicated that this is the very last thing in the world he would ever want to do.
Then his father saw me watching this little scene. His eyes moved from me to the anthill and then back to me. My eyes followed his during this transaction and when they got back from the quick trip they had shared together we were back to staring at one another. I got the sense that he was suddenly very protective of the anthill and it was his hypothesis that I meant to do it harm.
All from a quick glance.
This after hearing his heart-warming defense of said anthill. Whatever must he have thought of me? I was abruptly and without warning feeling very insulted!
And, I hate to admit it now, also immediately filled with the overwhelming urge to step the fuck on that anthill.
Here is/was the strange part. I was not at the time, nor am I now, anti-ant. In fact I might go as far to say that I am firmly pro-ant. In fact, as proof of this pro-ant outlook, whenever I would put ants in my cardboard ‘coliseum of death’ I would always secretly root for the ants. Unless of course I was pitting 2 types of ants together… then I would find myself pulling for the black ants over the red ones. I guess I always thought of them as the underdogs, what with the fearsome and well deserved reputation of the bad-ass red ants. In truth, the ants rarely needed my support and would routinely wipe the floor with their various insect and invertebrate opponents. In the death matches I would usually try to keep things fair by putting in an equal weight of each participant. That would mean that the ants would get about 20 when faced with the terrible might of the tarantula.
I should at this point mention I lived for a stretch in Texas as a child. You’ll note I said a stretch as opposed to a certain length of time. That what you say when you’ve lived in Texas. You’ve either lived there a stretch or a long stretch. Those are the only 2 options. Just the way it is. Sort of like when you say you did some time in Jersey or lived for a spell in Georgia. Throw out the ol’ Christian calendar and just try to follow the story the best you can.
For you see, there is no place better for a boy to grow up in than Texas. Flip over any board or rock and you will find snakes and scorpions or spiders or lizards. My cardboard coliseum is where I sorted out which ugly-ass creature was superior to all others. It goes without saying that snakes ruled, followed closely by lizards, but after that it was a toss-up which crawly thing reined supreme. It was only after countless battles that the ant was named king of the cardboard. Of course, I’ll admit it wasn’t exactly fair that the poor scorpion was trying to sting these little bastards as they ganged up and nipped off his pincers and eventually his face, but that really wasn’t the point of this particular remembrance now was it?
It was merely to establish that I wasn’t, and have never been, anti-ant.
But the way this guy kept watching me started to really frost me. He was playing with his son but he let it be known to me that he was keeping a wary eye on me in case I made a sudden dash to step on the anthill.
That’s the fascinating part… well, fascinating to me anyway. Why you’re still reading this is mystery to me.
I digress. Here’s the thing. I didn’t want to crush the anthill to crush the anthill. I wanted, for unknown reasons, to live down to this stranger’s expectations. He saw me as the kind of boy who would take pleasure in stepping on an anthill. The nerve! Why the fuck would I get any pleasure in making a bunch of ants have to re-do an obviously difficult job? But the point was that if that’s what he thought of me then goddamn it I was going to be that boy!
The human mind is quite a puzzle. I’m sure this story is a good metaphor for many of the conflicts going on around the world… I just can’t be bothered to Google “the psychology of low expectations”.
So that afternoon passed with me hovering around the anthill giving him the impression that it was my sole desire to do harm to the ants dwelling inside and at any moment I would stomp down on it with glee. His smile began to show cracks. Eventually his son got bored and wanted to leave and what could he do? He couldn’t come up to me and actually accuse me of wanting to step on the anthill or really say anything at all to me. We’d never actually spoken. All he could do was look on helplessly as he walked away and I slowly made my way to the anthill. He kept looking back at me as I stopped right over the anthill, a smile unfolding across my face like a retarded kid unwrapping a pony.
(Ironically my word program highlighted that sentence saying I should revise it because of the “verb confusion”. That’s why I should revise it? Lol)
Finally he was out of sight and I sighed. Briefly I felt his sense of loss, knowing that some rotten kid was going to squish his anthill. Then I realized that I was the rotten kid. You can’t believe how torn I was about what would transpire next. Then I realized it was a lose-lose scenario. I only wanted to step on the anthill when he was watching to validate his low expectations of me. I had missed my chance. To step on it now would only be actually living down to his expectations without him there to see it. And I would be ruining the day of a bunch of ants on top of it.
To not step on it would make the day a wasted battle of sorts. Some unseen Caesar was holding his thumb downward and yet I couldn’t bring myself to finish it. Both the angel and the devil who had occupied my shoulders for the greater part of the afternoon had split, unsure which side each should be taking.
The human mind remains quite a puzzle. So in the end I went to the snack bar and bought an ice cream cone which I then dropped by the anthill for the ants to eat. There was no reason to drag them into this quandary. One they were never even remotely aware of. Living in an anthill that was no doubt stepped on by one of many feet later that same day… ice cream or no.
So I’m at this picnic. Looking at this big anthill that sits right next to a blanket that someone has carefully lain out. The open container of potato salad an easy ants-stroll away from the hill.
I’m standing over it when I catch the eye of a small boy who is looking at me. Our eyes both wander down to the anthill and back up…