Insect Asides

Most people who've had the misfortune of making my acquaintance are of the opinion that I am just another cynic hardened by living far too long as a city dweller. They couldn't be more wrong. Just this past week I bought my fourth farm--specifically, my fourth Uncle Milton's Giant Ant Farm.

This is the first ant farm I've owned since attaining adulthood, and I'm hoping to avoid making the same mistakes that doomed my childhood ant-farming ventures. Consequently, I won't be inviting my mother to move in with me. She's a fine woman and all, but her name will forever live in infamy as the murderess who buried alive 72 of the greatest little ants a guy could ever hope to have. She's my mother and I love her, but how this woman can sleep at night I'll never know.

Mommy dearest brutally killed my first 24 head of ants when I was only nine years old. I was the proud owner of a brand-new Uncle Milton's Giant Ant Farm, and I was bound and determined to make a go of it. After setting up my spread exactly to the specifications Uncle Milton himself had laid out in the comprehensive literature accompanying the farm components, I gleefully sent off the special certificate to Uncle Milton world headquarters and hunkered down to await the ants that would be arriving by return mail. Two weeks later two-dozen genuine harvester ants, the hardest-working ants in all of show business, were in my hands and ready to rock 'n' roll.

I gently placed them in the ant farm and they went to work with a vengeance. Displaying an intense spirit of camaraderie and single-minded will to excel so rarely seen in either flies or earwigs, these brave little warriors quickly carved out a spectacular series of intricate connecting tunnels and then kicked back to enjoy the fruits of their labors. As night descended, the farm was a picture of contentment and serenity. After a big family dinner complete with all the fixings, my tiny friends became drowsy, but not too drowsy to forgo saying their prayers.

That's when my mother murdered them in cold blood. She moved the ant farm, the tunnels collapsed and 24 of the finest ants that ever lived went screaming to their graves. Her alibi was the oldest in the book--she swore she had just been cleaning my room. Justice did not prevail. Twenty-four senseless deaths and she was turned loose to kill again.

In the following years ant farms were flourishing all over the United States. Twice more I took the plunge. Uncle Milton had raised the ante for ants, but I didn't care--ant farming was in my blood. I scrimped and saved until my dreams became reality. Twice more my mother struck, and 48 more ant souls ascended to a better world.

The golden age of ant farming had arrived. Uncle Milton's designs had become positively inspired, and as these new farms rolled off his assembly lines, children everywhere jumped onto the ant bandwagon. Many desired more than a single ant farm, so some suburban homes became virtual ant plantations. Uncle Milton was hard-pressed to supply so many ants. Wild harvester-ant populations began to dwindle as Uncle Milton's sales increased. The scarcity of ants at picnics set off widespread alarm among environmentalists.

The government stepped in at the same time I had scraped together a down payment on yet another ant farm. The feds stopped me dead in my tracks. No new ant farms, they said. In fact, they would pay children not to raise ants until the future of harvesters in the wild could be assured. Hundreds of ant preserves were created on federal land. Uncle Milton was told in no uncertain terms to cool it.

Decades passed. I was growing older, but the desire to run a herd of ants on my own piece of land still burned strong. I felt sure I could offer ants a loving home now that I no longer lived with my mother. Should she decide to visit, I would board my beloved ants with a reputable kennel.

Rumors began to spread among ant fanciers that government sanctions were soon to be lifted. With no natural enemies since the clamps had been put on Uncle Milton, harvesters had bred like rabbits. Driven to the brink of extinction by Uncle Milton and my mother, they had come all the way back through sheer determination and their indomitable will to survive.

If the news was good for prospective ant farmers, it was even better for Uncle Milton, who, you will excuse the expression, was getting more than a little antsy. When the ant-farm ban went into effect, he had tried to diversify, with disastrous results. Kids left Uncle Milton's Giant Spider Ranch and Uncle Milton's Giant Tick Mansion rotting on the shelves.

Unlike most of my stories, this one has a very happy ending. The government did indeed rescind the restrictions on ant farming. Uncle Milton, God bless him, is back bigger than ever. Last week I bought the best ant farm money can buy. I've got me a wife now and a passel of kids, but we're simple folk and farming is the only life we know.

Her name will live in infamy as the murderess of 72 of the greatest little ants a guy could ever hope to have.

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Barry Friedman