In an unsettled, unsettling, world, it’s natural to look beyond a troubled humankind for the uncomplicated, unquestioning emotional support that non-humankind might offer.
I have been one of those seekers, so far with little success. My self-driving car, Hal, was obnoxious (My Self-Driving Car and I), my cleaning-robot unstable, and my social-robot deranged (Close Encounters of the Weird Kind).
I also have a dog … Melvin … but my hope to wean him from his aggressive political views and make him a simple, adoring lap-dog, has come to naught (Once Bitten …).
I’ve considered, and rejected, a number of other possibilities: a cat (too sheddy); a goose (too shitty); a rabbit (too hoppy); a monkey (too happy). I was intrigued by a recent item in the paper about a Pennsylvania man who has an alligator for emotional support, but decided no (too toothy).
Nearly at a dead-end, I realized that what I needed was the embodiment, not of mindless affection, but of mindful devotion to duty so all-consuming as to allow no leisure time for fretting.
With that, my choice was obvious — an ant!
I checked pet stores and got a few instant hang-ups, one salty response, and, finally, an owner’s patient explanation that a single ant simply is not, for him, a money-making proposition. He suggested an ant farm.
Once he had allayed my apprehension about the cost of acres of land and a move far from the city, he assured me I could get one for about $20 at Walmart, or, if I wanted, trap my own ants and make my own farm.
I decided on the latter — more consistent with the goal of losing myself in the diligence of ants. In no time, I had enticed about three hundred hardy workers into baited jars and introduced them to their new sand-filled, glass-enclosed, farm.
They were a bit bigger than I had expected, but it was easy to enlarge the case, and I soon found myself transported by these fascinating creatures. The troubles of the world evaporated as I watched them single-mindedly tending to their appointed tasks.
The honeymoon, however, was short. It seemed they were not interested in any of the food I provided. Guide books offered no culinary alternative. They became lethargic and began to die off.
Within a couple days, I had only about 100 ants left and decided to set the rest of them free. But, before I could, overnight, without my hearing it, Melvin tipped the ant farm onto the floor and, by morning, they had all escaped.
I was sad to lose this fascinating distraction, but, over the next couple months, I found other diversions and gave the lost ants less and less thought.
Then, one afternoon, as I plopped myself down in my reading-chair, the living-room floor slowly sagged, and nearly collapsed.
The inspector, who came the next day, confirmed what I had already suspected — termites! He puzzled over how they could have gotten in and worked so fast. I was not about to admit my part in it and concentrated, instead, on getting the rascals exterminated and the repairs taken care of. I felt guilty about doing my former tenants in, but it had to be done.
I’ve given up my search for an easy fix to the daily stress of American life and decided simply to live with it. At least I can do so with some hard-earned perspective. After all, with termites everywhere, the slow sag and the near-collapse is probably the best you can hope for.