“You and about five million other people, Cynthia,” said the lady on the phone, “Right now I’d like to get a call from someone who WASN’T having an ant problem.”

The Antmind, anticipating spring by a couple of months, has settled into my home. As houseguests, they leave a lot to be desired.

Which is why there was a whip on my floor, but more about that later.

I’ve been battling tapinoma sessile, not very successfully, for maybe seven years. Also known as the Odiferous House Ant, tapinoma is a tenacious little bugger. (And its name is well-earned; squish one of these nuisances with your finger, and you will smell like rotten coconut for a couple of hours.) In the process I’ve discovered an awful lot about them, including the fact that they bite. Or sting. Do something that makes a welt, anyway.

“Carpenter ants? Wasps? Pfffffft!” said Jess-the-antguy, “But these ants? Once you get ’em, you got ’em. Forever.”

I am aware of this.

Tapinoma is apparently one of those rare social insects that doesn’t stick with the one-colony-one-queen rule but is instead kinda like a RAID** drive. It keeps hundreds or maybe thousands of queens around for failover and redundancy, all busily taking to heart the injunction to “go forth and multiply.” Knock off one queen, or even a dozen, and the colony doesn’t even notice.

Typically, a few of the little beasts explore my office or bathroom, decide there’s good stuff there, and invade. I counterattack with the Windex. They back off, only to appear in force somewhere else a day or two later.

Then I lock up yowling cats, haul out the guaranteed ant removal spray, and zap the whole house. Does no good A-tall to schpritz the stuff around just one room. The Antmind is smarter than than and will simply burrow into the wall and come out somewhere else.

24 hours later, I wipe down everything and let the (incredibly annoyed) cats back out. Tapinoma will wait a few months to lull me into a false sense of security…then move back in.

I’ve resisted calling an exterminator because I used to be an Orkin (wo)man, centuries ago. Specifically, I was a commercial pest control salesperson.*** We once got a corporate memo ordering us to stop quoting prices for homes and businesses with a lot of pets, because Orkin was getting tired of paying out dead animal claims. Kinda colored my views on in-home poison-spraying.

This year, though, was shaping up to be an especially bad one (or good one, if you ask The Antmind), and there were signs I was losing the battle. I came home a couple of weeks ago to discover The Antmind firmly ensconced in not one but TWO rooms in unrelated parts of the house.

I finally gave in and started looking for an exterminator. Friends recommended one company, but they were backed up with ant eradications for a couple of weeks. Their receptionist, who made the first statement in this post, suggested another company. That company sent Jess-the-antguy (not his real name).


Jess has a wife, a baby, a beard, some really nice tattoos and a genial smile; he’s one of the most cheerful pest control guys I’ve ever met. We got on like a house on fire, even when I gently warned him that if Lola and Nikki got so much as a hiccup after he finished, I would remove his tattoos with an axe.

Jess sprayed the foundations and the lower walls outside, then he tromped inside. He started work at the top of the house, and schpritzed his way down the stairs. He laid baits. He schpritzed stuff between the drywall and the doorframes.

I went ahead, moving stuff away from the walls, gathering up armloads of cattoys and hauling them to a chair in the middle of the living room so they wouldn’t be sprayed.

One cat toy was too big for the chair so I laid it on the floor, where Jess found it.
He stared for a minute, turned beet red. “Uhm, did you want to put away your…your…”

“Oh, that’s a cat toy. Nikki drags that thing all over the house. You should see her try to get it around corners.”

“But…it looks like..a…whip?”

“Well, yes, it LOOKS like a whip, but it’s actually a longe line. You use longe lines to train horses. You know, like in the circus.”

Jess gave me The Look. “OK,” he said, “Horses. Right. Cat toy. OK.”

I watched him obviously reassessing my various recreational interests.

“Really, a friend of mine gave it to me for the cats,” I said, a bit desperately, “Kind of a gag gift.”

“Sure,” he said.

He seemed a little standoffish after that.

*BTW, did anyone put the title and the recent anniversary of some famous movie together?

**The data storage kind of RAID (redundant array of independent disks), not the far more appropriate bugkiller kind of RAID!

***Which may be one of the suckiest jobs in the world and in downtown LA Chinatown involves meeting rats that probably gave Goldman the idea for “Rodents Of Unusual Size.” The crews I worked with carried guns in case of attack and were missing body parts. Not kidding.