Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fire on the Front (yard)

The battle against the insects continues on another front. I am waging war on the army that has been massing these past few weeks. Through some unintentional reconnaissance, I discovered a large camp housing several battalions of my particular foe.

I found a big mess of fire ants on the side of the house. I was pulling up a tall weed, and as the grass parted, the mound became visible, and in half a second, a brown tide of angry ants came boiling out toward me, covering the adjacent fence boards and climbing the stalk toward my hand frozen on the stalk.

When I was a kid, we had two kinds of ants to contend with; little black ants and red ants. The black ants were innocuous little societies, running and gathering and burrowing all the time, and I was content to watch them for hours (cumulatively) over the kid years. They were even OK to gently pick up to traverse the acre of your hand.

Red ants were the ones to watch out for. They were aggressive and dealt a painful sting. Their hills were a bit higher and their pace was more deliberate and ominous. The only redeeming aspect of their existence was that they are the primary food of the Texas horned toad.

This was all before the advent of the fire ant invasion from South America. Google it if you want to know more about the origins of these murderous little devils. Back before they came to oppress us, a kid could lay in the shade of a tree right there on the grass. For a half hour or more at a time, with no idea of being overrun by ants. Nowadays (how’s THAT for a geezer expression) one would be hard pressed to stand still in a yard of any kind for more than a few minutes for fear of attracting a traveling scout party of fire ants ready to kill and drag anything smaller than a Brahma bull to the (most likely) nearby ant hill.

I have seen baby birds knocked from the nest by an evening storm suffering on the ground, covered with biting, stinging, dismembering little terrors. Evil creatures. Their sting is where their name is derived; it burns like fire almost immediately, and even after you mash the deliverer to butter, the fresh bite still feels exactly like it is still being stung. The wound takes an overnight break, then develops into the characteristic little blister surrounded by an itching ring of fire. I think this is what Johnny Cash may have been inspired by…

I suppose the most frightening thing about them besides their toxicity is their teamwork. What happens when you step on (or near) the hill, phalanxes of heartless little soldiers are dispatched to swarm your foot, climb your leg and bite at the same time. The victim is suddenly compelled to start the “ant dance” in a futile attempt to dislodge them from their post. Feet are slapped, ankles are rubbed, shins are skimmed, shoes come off, heck I have seen pants come off in an attempt to repel the stinging hordes.

My Dad’s remedy, though not completely effective, is more fun to watch. His method is to take a spade full from one mound, place it next to another mound, take a spade from the second mound, place it in the original hill and likewise with the first shovel full. This technique pits the innate aggression of both “families” to maximum effect, and if he’s lucky, a soldier ant gets in to the queen’s chamber and delivers a fatal “check mate”.

It’s often the little things that bring one pleasure in the battle for yard dominance. My Dad has found one.

Now where did I leave my shovel?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Driving the View*

As some of you know, I am no longer employed where I was before. You also know my thoughts on it. ‘Nuf said. Now I drive to work in a different direction. These days, instead of driving into Pasadena, Texas, the largest small town in the country, I drive into Lake Jackson. It’s the complete opposite direction, in every way, and the traffic is not even an issue.

Normally, one would drive down State Highway 35 from Alvin, to FM 523 to FM 2004 and into Lake Jackson/Clute on Business 288. Now, I know that’s a lot of numbers, and to those of you on the left coast, it means absolutely nothing. Trust me when I tell you; it is some of the nicest driving on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Naturally, I wanted to see if there were other routes to get me to my destination and home again. Since I knew that FM 2004 goes pretty much straight from Lake Jackson to Alvin with naught but a single traffic light in 25 miles, and that a road behind our neighborhood leads directly down to 2004 with naught but one light that more often than not remains green, I figured that would be the way to go.

On my way home the second day, I opted for the straight 2004 (referred to around here as “two double oh four”) to 2917 route home. Just a flat, mostly gun-barrel-straight road through undeveloped coastal prairie crossing several bayous and creeks. Then the “big bridge” over Chocolate Bayou, which is a steep, high structure over the largest waterway between Galveston and Freeport. The sky is wide and the Gulf breeze that blows across the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge is fresh and strong.

I made the mistake of driving 2917 to 2004 on the morning end of the commute one day. There are petrochemical plants down that direction. You’ll see why this is important in a couple of seconds.

Can you imagine being caught in the middle of the Long Beach Grand Prix while you're riding a tricycle? This is what it feels like trying to hold at a reasonable 60 miles an hour with F-250s, Ram 2500s, Silverados and battered Nissan Sentras running up your tailpipe at an average of about 75 miles per. There is a wide shoulder, but it’s often populated by dead possums or raccoons or some other obstacle. This precludes the normal courtesy of pulling to the right while the impatient plant workers blast by with scowls of disapproval. They whip out from behind you in a cloud of diesel smoke or gasoline-produced carbon monoxide in a huff and give no time for you to even try to move over.

Having survived that, I learned my lesson: 35 in the morning, 2004 in the afternoon. With that knowledge burned into my brain, I could now enjoy the commute that I needed to make every day. It’s easier to take pleasure in a nice drive when there isn’t a ton and a half of screaming metal and diesel fuel looming in your rearview mirror like the kiss of death.

*the title is a reference to the song by the same title by Son Volt, an "alt country" group outta Missouri. Good stuff.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Geezers Arise!

(hnnnnnhh, UNHnhh!, stands to full height)
Dang, my foot's asleep.

Sunday, August 09, 2009



THE LONG AWAITED ANSWER: Is "B", Stingy or frugal.

Many thanks to you smart alecks whose penchant for making up your own definitions (Innominatus and Wollf) make the comments funnier than the whole blog on a normal basis. But SIS is the one who got it right. She played to win. And did.

I hope RobV's caffienated sinuses fully recover enough to provide us with another installment soon. This is fun!

I have lost track of the roman numeral associated with this installment of Wordy Guy. But that does not diminish it's fun or importance. Nay, if anything, it frees me to not worry about counting every one of these. And If Rob V stays on board with us here, we'll get more of this educational fun.

As always, do your best, dig deep in your brains, and NO CHEATING...


A. Extremely self-righteous, to the point of being "holier than thou."

B. Stingy or frugal

C. Extremely bitter and resentful

Friday, August 07, 2009

Computers Have Taken Over

I was drawing today, the old-fashioned way; paper and pencil. I am doing a couple of preliminary sketches for a guy gearing up to make a movie. My job will (hopefully) be to do the storyboard drawings to a) sell the idea to investors and b) show the progression of the shots to plan out the film being shot. Pretty cool.

It’s been a while since I have just sat and drawn pictures, and as I had been sitting there for half an hour or so, I decided to get up and get some water. Just before I stood up, my mind started to fire the synapses to my left hand to hit “command + S”; the Mac keyboard shortcut to “Save” a file.

I couldn’t believe that the action gotten that far. Totally inconceivable. Have I been creating art on a computer for so long that even a simple act that I have done virtually all my life been invaded by the requirements of the virtual world?

I had to laugh when I actually realized what had happened. I told my daughter about it, and she just grinned and rolled her eyes.

I just hope that my students read this and realize how deeply ingrained that the actions become.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Not Intended for the USPS

I was at my parents’ house the other day, and a poor little gecko that had been smashed somewhere and dried out to an ashy, shadow of a husk turned up. It reminded my Mom of an anecdote that included, of all things, a similarly-fated lizard and the United States Postal Service.

It may be important to assert that the statute of limitations on minor postal transgressions is likely elapsed many times over in the intervening 27 years, so there is not too much danger of an arrest by an overzealous postal inspector.

Being in college in far-flung Commerce, Texas, any correspondence from anyone but the Dallas Morning News was welcome. OK, even sales pitches from The Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram or even the Pecan Gap Citizen were welcome. REAL mail was almost too much to ask for.

But one day, I got an envelope from my sister. I was so excited. As I all but skipped back up the walkway to the porch, I wondered at the small greasy spot on the back of the envelope. And it was kinda thicker than a letter or card.

On opening the packet, I quickly realized that it was not actually a letter so much as a tomb. A tomb for a little greasy spot that slightly resembled a shrimp. Had my sister actually sent me a shrimp in the mail? And there was a smell. Kinda shrimpy.

After a little more careful inspection, notice I didn’t say “closer inspection”, there seemed to be more of a land-based creature; the partial skeleton and overly gaunt form made me think of perhaps a small lizard. HAD MY SISTER SENT ME A FORMERLY LIVE LIZARD THAT THE MAIL MAN KILLED?

Even though at that time, 1982 to be precise, long-distance telephone conversations were reserved for special occasions or really important news. This qualified. I called her and asked her what made her even think of this sick, sick, sick, funny, strange, sick, weird, awesome, sick little prank. She laughed and said that it was completely dessicated when she found it wherever it was and it came to her in a flash, “Send it to aAron” in the mail.

While she said that the tiny lizard was utterly mummified and should not have greased the envelope he came to me in, I do concede that it had been a bit rainy in Commerce for a few days. Maybe it had gotten a little time to “reconstitute” in the humidity of an East Texas post office.

Needless to say, I will never see a pressed lizard and not think of a certain winter day when I went to the mailbox and found a surprise. And also fear my sister, just a little.