September 23, 2006

Retardcapades, or, Stench! The Musical, Part II

I write to you, dear reader, from a motel room not 100 yards from my apartment, in which I will be spending the night and trying to work, having rendered my apartment temporarily uninhabitable. That tale of woe I shall unfold for you, in hopes that you, being wiser than I, will profit from my cautionary example.

Some will recall Stench! The Musical Part I from my old blog, now long defunct, in which I recounted the events of a certain memorable night at my old part-time job folding t-shirts for a well-known national chain of crap popular-culture peddlers. On that fateful night, a plumbing problem which developed in the movie theatre upstairs caused hundreds of gallons of shit to geyser out from a sewer access hole in the middle of the floor of our store, resulting in all of us employees being made to stand until the wee hours of the morning, folding garishly colored highly ironic t-shirts in an eye-stinging, brain-melting miasma of stink while plumbers grunted and spattered from the hole in the floor and the highly ironic CD on repeat at deafening volume played âWhen I See You Smileâ by Bad English, âWe Built This Cityâ by Jefferson Starship, âHigh Enoughâ by Damn Yankees, and the like, over and over. And over.

Unlike that situation, this is primarily of my own making.

An ant problem has recently developed in my apartment. Due to my extreme and slightly hysterical sensitivity to chemical fumes, I have been for several weeks attempting to get rid of them by every non-toxic method recommended to me. I sterilized the kitchen in boiling water and Lysol from top to bottom. I now own no food which is not hermetically sealed in tupperware or its original packaging. I sprayed expensive hippie ant spray made from clove oil, the fumes of which still made me crazy but which apparently pleased and enticed the ants. I distributed two jars of bay leaves around the apartment, which they used as toboggans to slide along the slick of peppermint oil with which I had wiped out their tracks, while drinking cocktails made from the vinegar I had later applied. I also put ant poison stakes everywhere, taping them to the ceiling in the path of their trails, and everywhere I could stick them around the outside of the apartment, but they shifted their trails by a few inches to avoid them. There werenât a ton of them inside at any time, but enough. This morning, however, I awoke to find that they had taken over the kitchen and had also found an entry point in my bedroom. Being a calm and rational person, I decided to go get a cup of coffee from the gas station down the street, and to calmly assess the situation while I caffeinated. But when I went to put on my sneakers, they were full of ants.

In short, I went apeshit. I marched into the kitchen, retrieved the can of Raid Earth Options which I had resolved never to use again, because it smells exactly like someone is smoking a clove cigarette while spraying Raid up your nose. I had put it under the sink because the trash didnât seem like a safe way to dispose of it, and this turned out to be my undoing. With full berserk abandon, through the red film of rage, I sprayed away. I sprayed the ants, their trails, and that place above the lintel in the kitchen which I canât see but know they are coming from. I sprayed the hole in the bedroom baseboard through which they were pouring, and I sprayed the columns marching across the carpet. Unfortunately, this means that I also saturated the highly absorbent carpet. All told, itâs not a ton of Raid, but in an apartment with one working window and therefore no possible means of ventilation, I quickly realized that I had no hope of breathing, particularly if I want to hold onto some brain cells for the next few weeks so I can get through my qualifying examinations and stay in grad school. Because clearly I am a genius, as today amply illustrates.

Unfortunately, I had gone berserk before showering or dressing. I ran outside in the track shorts and t-shirt I slept in, grabbed a big lungful of air, and ran back in to get the first clothes that came to hand. After a couple of tries, I managed to make sure that this included a full set of underwear, shirt, socks, and pants. But I couldnât exactly change outside, so I made several more trips into the apartment, holding my breath while I traded shorts for jeans, t-shirt for some other t-shirt. I swiped at my hair, grabbed my keys and wallet, turfed the ants out of my shoes, and headed out for breakfast. By the time I drove downtown, I was totally lightheaded from fumes, panic, and holding my breath. I ate in a fog, tried to read some part of a book, and went to the cafe to sit outside and breathe fresh air while I tried to think. âA fan,â I thought. âA fan would help air out the apartment.â I havenât owned such an item in several years, and apparently the beginning of fall isnât the time to buy one. I ended up down at the mall, where a nice man from some other country induced me, in my weakened state, to buy cheap knockoff sunglasses. I actually have a consistent need for cheap sunglasses, because I have an amazing talent for breaking any pair of sunglasses, regardless of price, within two weeks of purchase.

I found the last fan, cheap, on a shelf in the clearance section of the Sears housewares department. On a whim, I also bought a heavily discounted air purifier that claimed to filter out any particle down to 2 microns. A micron is pretty small, although I donât know whether Raid particles are smaller. I figured I could always take it back. It turned out, I think, to be the better purchase. Back home, I opened my one working window and the front door, set up the fan, and went outside to read. An hour later the apartment was no clearer, so I set to work prying open the 2 other windows which I know it is theoretically possible to open with great effort and at some personal risk. This task is made particularly difficult when attempted in 20-second segments while holding oneâs breath, but I got them partway open, and the matter of whether they will ever close again I will leave for another time. It was not possible to sit on the gated patio directly outside my apartment without breathing the fumes emanating from it, and although I found this to be an encouraging sign that the fumes might be trying to leave, I went to sit with my book, in my cheap sunglasses, with my bottle of water, outside by the driveway and my neighborâs front door. This proved infuriating.

My neighbor L--- is a very nice young man, and I genuinely like him. He is also always alarmingly stoned, talkative, has just finished his first year in grad school in a different discipline, and thinks he knows everything. He is constitutionally incapable of being home when Iâm outside and not talking to me for at least an hour. Unfortunately, the only mode of discourse which he has mastered happens to be unsolicited advice about everything, which I find to be the most rude, presumptuous, and generally noxious form of conversation. Generally, I respond to unsolicited advice in the spirit of least resistance: nod, thank, disregard. Today, however, while I was desperately trying to marshal my surviving brain cells to stick together long enough to get me through some fairly dense material which I absolutely must read, L--- chose to wax his car in the driveway, a process which took several hours. This was less because his car is enormous than because he interrupted me every fifteen seconds to proffer his advice on subjects ranging from how one should go about purchasing a motorcycle on eBay, why I should hate my current internet service provider, why I should go to the flea market tomorrow, how I should use the blackboard in conducting my discussion sections, and why I should only attempt to prepare for my exams while blind drunk. Partway through this, strictly to get away from him, I went back to assess the situation in the apartment (bad), and to set up the air purifier in the bedroom.

Another hour passed in the manner just described. At the end of it, the situation in the bedroom was actually noticeably better. However, the rest of the apartment was still on Code Awful, and it was equally clear that I was not going to be able to sleep there and that I wasnât going to be able to work outside. I quickly rejected the idea of crashing at a friendâs house, because what I clearly needed was a close duplicate of my apartment: confined, private work space, lacking only the fumes. I waited until L--- was away for a moment, so as not to risk being subjected to his advice on the merits and manner of executing this project, and went to canvas the many hotels and motels in my neighborhood. With relatively little event, I procured a room in a place that I walk past several times a day on my way to and from my apartment. I went home, packed a bag while holding my breath, grabbed the first eight books that my fingers touched in the absolute certainty that I must with equal urgency read them all, moved the air purifier into the kitchen, and came here. I have now managed a shower, a little bit of reading, and am in the enviable position of being forced to go procure Thai takeout before I come back and work like a demon. After my trip this summer I was thoroughly sick of hotels, but thatâs all changed. Thank god for my tourist town and its abundance of cheap, close lodging which reeks of ancient cigarette smoke and vacation sex rather than clove-scented nerve gas.

Posted by katie at September 23, 2006 08:37 PM | TrackBack

yuck. that sucks, man.

if the ants ever come back -- which I sort of doubt, because even I am a little wary of entering your apartment uninvited after this story, and I am not nearly so killable -- try saying the rhyme with your organic methods. that's what makes the hippie magic take effect. like "round the house I strew this mint, that I may see nary an ant." or "I hope these cloves take care of it, cause I'm about to lose my shit."

raid doesn't really need a poem, but I like to use one anyway.

Posted by: didofoot at September 24, 2006 08:31 AM

"I spent 30 seconds spraying Raid, and now I see the price I've paid?"

My god, you're right. I didn't realize that I was missing the incantations. "If ants come near this bay leaf, they will be in a world of grief." It could only have helped, really. I can't think of a rhyme for "vinegar," but I'd appreciate suggestions.

This morning's update is that the apartment is slightly better and I think I'm going to be able to sleep here tonight after I keep the door open and the contraptions going all day. And last night I read through 3 books and then fell asleep watching yet another heavy metal documentary on VH1, whereupon I dreamed that Bruce Dickinson was staying in the room next door and came over to ask if I knew how to get on the motel's wireless network. I did not, but we had many laughs.

Posted by: katie at September 24, 2006 11:29 AM

1) You give yourself too much credit in at least one way: I believe that my ass has played a role in decimating at least one pair of your sunglasses, i.e. sitting on them while mounting the passenger seat in Mrs. Murphy, The Teal Mobile. So I should be forking out for hot glasses.

2) Yesterday afternoon I finally made it to my neighborhood Saturday flea market, at Ashby. Personally, while I adore flea markets in theory, I now think that the space could be better used as precious, precious parking spaces. My neighbor's driveway contractor, for instance, could use some parking spaces of his own, rather than the driveway at my house. But while I was looking over the ways in which the informal economy meets needs not met by the formal economy (feature films from Africa that don't get theater release in the U.S.) I came across the giant booth of hot sneakers. I looked for your neighbor, and he was not there. I now realize that he was in your shit instead.

3) I had a terrible, terrible dream that I needed a liver transplant. You might recall that I got weepy at the dentist when they told me that I wasn't flossing correctly, so you can imagine how I felt in my dream about needing a new liver. And stat. My liver was on its last legs, or whatever, and it was a Thursday, and the surgeon scheduled my transplant for Monday. And a liver came through. I woke from dream as I was calling my mother to ask if she could fly to CA immediately because I was going to need more help than I could get from nice housemates and nice folks from meetings.

4) Lastly, I went to Folsom Fest today. Wow, I'm vanilla.

Posted by: DFH at September 24, 2006 08:45 PM

Oh yeah: At the Flea Market, I almost bought you a massive coffeetable book called "Rugs of the World". But then I flipped through it and it was really about carpets for floors--high quality photos, well-researched (the chapter on ancient Chinese rugs was great, but the chapter on balls-to-wall gold carpet made by oil bazillionares in Dubai was a personal fave), and a delightful addition to any coffeetable, but, alas, not for you.

Posted by: DFH at September 24, 2006 08:59 PM

Did you know that, depending on species, the life expectancy of an ant can be up to seven years? And that queens can live for a decade??! I looked it up to see how many days I would have to wait out the 2 or 3 stragglers who were in the cupboard when I sprayed, in order to be sure it was just them wandering singly onto the counter, and not anybody new. Years? Holy hell!

Mmm carpets, indeed. I am disappointed to hear that it was actually about floor coverings, but thank you for thinking of me.

Posted by: katie at September 25, 2006 08:56 PM

I just thought that you would want to know two things about why I'm about to be relieved of grad. school ambitions and given a consolation-prize masters:

(1) I finally used the word "matrix" in my topics, but I deploy it badly: "I would like to investigate Menippean Satire's diachronic relationship to a multi-generic matrix of classical Latin literature..."

Not to worry, I always use "force field" in my topic.

(2) As MKG was so nice to point out, I spelled an author's name incorrectly every single time I wrote it in a my topic. FYI, "The Golden Ass" was written by Apuleius, and not Apuleis. Strenuously not cute. Do you remember when I've returned papers that misspell an author's name? Whoom, there it is.

Good to dine last night. I had fun with the eggplant bathing.

Posted by: DFH at October 1, 2006 10:20 AM