So sure, of course, there’s the antique clock guy with the Civil War replica cannon out in front of his two bedroom ranch with the drawn curtains and the little narrow walkways between piles of old newspapers—newspapers on the floor and on the couch, newspapers all over the kitchen table and counters, piles of newspaper stacked up in the sink. But the truth is I’ve never found a successful way to write about that guy. About finding his terse little ad in the classifieds, “Clocks repaired,” and calling the number listed, penciling down the painstaking directions by phone—“You’ll know it when you see the cannon out front”—knocking on that water-damaged, laminate-peeling front door and standing out in the August heat and cicada-buzz, while the uncertain seconds ticked, my old schoolhouse clock balanced against my hip. That place was back out behind the dead mall, the ghost mall with the synthesized music playing to no one and a saturating air of failure all but discouraging every last shopper from venturing too far inside—back on those little windy, forgotten streets off the old highway, streets all named for trees that don’t grow around here anymore: Sycamore, Hickory, Slippery Elm—streets lined with identical ranches, postwar era slap-em-up sheds for the working man, Sears aluminum siding, trompe l’oeuil shutters, same after same modular layout, only a half-barrel full of red geraniums or an inert facsimile of armament to set one place off from another. But no. I can’t write about the clock man or leaving my clock behind and never going back for it, it spooked me so. Well, not “spooked” exactly—not like he seemed dangerous at all—though Hollywood would cast him that way, a shut-in serial killer indulging in light cross-dressing and bondage—but this guy was gentle, and kind, I’m sure. A little acid. A little old fashioned and seeming all out of sync and maybe disgusted with the times, with the people bringing their busted quartz movements to his doorstep. All those winding keys with nothing fit left to turn. Weights unstrung and no chime following. He didn’t spook me so much as leave me with a lingering bollix, a vague, disquieting sense that the glossy facade of things was fundamentally ruptured. That newspapers leaked out. Men living in twilit rooms under low ceilings, rarely glimpsing another human being. Old clocks going unrepaired and silent, still. But I don’t know how to write about the clock man—
So instead I’ll write about ants. Ants and their hymenoptera antics—or if you’re frenchy-wannabe, their antiques. So the ants, God bless their little soulless carapaces, are slaughtering themselves upon the altar of my Britta water pitcher. I’m not quite clear on the why and wherefore, what everlastingly irresistible pleasure obtains from climbing a slick plastic tower and shimmying your tiny ant self down through crannies and charcoal filter to, lo, ultimately drown yourself in a reservoir of just exactly what you could find in any old puddle outdoors. Every day I have to dump and disassemble the entire contraption, washing in the process hordes of tiny black cadavers, and squirming live ones, down the drain. A less sadistic person might just put out chemical traps already—this routine’s been going on for a couple of weeks by this point—but I just keep hoping some simple dissuasion will serve—or for the weather to turn at last and put this first-spring frenzy of self-sacrifice to an end. The thing is, it’s not even like we’re parched—like they’ve got a really good reason to crave the water. Back in the drought days of San Francisco in the early ‘90s it made some amount of sense when the ants paraded in and couldn’t seem to slake their thirst sufficiently at the kitty cat’s water dish. I thought at first, back then, it was the food that drew them, like picnic ants in cartoons on t.v. I watched their progress and noted the route, attempted a number of dissuasive measures before settling on one that worked: finally rigged a whole trapeze apparatus out of twist-ties and a rectangle of cardboard out of the recycling. Elevation proved the key. Those few centimeters of air served conclusively to flummox the whole ant regiment—turned ‘em around to head back into the wall and out to wherever else there might be the next source of hydration. To be honest, I don’t know why I don’t just break down and buy some traps—not like I’ve never used them in the past. Not like I have some philosophical goddamn position against offing the little pests outright. I mean, I’ve squished plenty fast enough with my finger when I’ve caught lone ones scooting along the counter. And it’s not just the disinclination to bring poison, however contained, into proximity with my drinking water, either. Somehow I just feel I owe the critters—as blind purpose-driven and incomprehensible as they may be from a homo sapien vantage point—a fighting chance. At least to make a different choice, not tricked, who’s to say if the right choice particularly—just different. Seems the least I can do for my fellow planet inhabitants. Least indeed. Every time I turn that pitcher inside out under the faucet my stomach takes a sick turn at the sight of all that scrambling. Maybe it’s just plain time I kept my water in the fridge.