Red Ants

By T.J. Morehouse

Posted August 21, 2020

June 2, 1971. Near Drumright, Oklahoma:

5 years old. It begins.

The day I formally declared war on red ants.

I saw the red ant hill, bustling with activity in the summer heat.

I had already been killing the small yellow worms that had infested our Maple tree in the front yard. They would squish a yellow/white goo when I crushed them with the blunt end of a small stick.

The red ant hill was on a lot next to our home in Country Club Heights. Country Club Heights belied its name, visions of big shot mansions on a hill. It was instead, a solidly middle-class suburb, nothing fancy about it. A dream achieved when there was a day that a decent job could support a family.

The next-door lot had huge mounds of reddish-brown earth. It hardened into large clods and my friend from up the street, Russell and I would have huge dirt clod fights with each other, the hardened earth like a snowball with a semi solid core. We’d usually fight until one of us got hurt, no quarter given.

My mind went into full fantasy mode. I imagined the ants as heavily entrenched Japanese soldiers, the same ones that killed Grandpa Troy on Iwo Jima. Now it was time for payback. Staff Sergeant Troy Joe and his band of worthies charged Mount Suribachi. Avenging angels dressed in Marine battle fatigues.

I pounced on the ants and began to stomp. They died like heroes, wave after wave.

Then something surprising happened, more ants swarmed from the hill, alerted, I assumed by scouts who had somehow escaped my foot fusillade. More ants streamed from the hole and then more holes near me that had been unseen. They began a spirited counterattack.

Formed into a red lump, they attacked my sandaled feet, shorts and T-shirt. I managed to hold my line, but they kept coming, at last overwhelming me. Ants started on the tender parts of my feet, then proceeded to attack my legs, waistband of my shorts, then my torso.

Stunned and hurting, I organized a hasty retreat to a safe distance from ant hill Suribachi.

I was bloodied but unbowed. Numerous red welts covered my body. I took off my shoes and picked the rest of the ants off. Then I used my T-shirt to peel the ants off my legs and torso, quickly killing all survivors with a new-found respect for the enemy. They were ferocious fighters and would gladly die to protect that hill. Their severed ant heads with their pincers attached to the leather of my sandal was proof.

These sandals weren’t those namby-pamby children’s shoes, or a flip flop. These were bad-ass, wide strapped, thick leather with a recycled tire for a sole. Natural ant killing machines, despite the gaps between my feet and exposed toes. They had found these spots with pin-point accuracy. I lobbed several dirt clods into the hill, a screen for my retreat, and went into the house.

“What happened to you?” asked Momma.

“I had ant battle”, I said with enthusiasm. “I almost beat the Japanese”.

She gave me a worried look, my welts now visibly red. “Why don’t you stay inside and play for the rest of the day. Set up your Hot Wheels track in the den and then you can watch cartoons on Uncle Zeb at 3:30.

“OK” I said, knowing better than to argue with Momma. If I was a first sergeant with a stunning military career, killing the enemy in close combat, then Momma was a 5-star general and nobody fucked with her.

July 3rd, 1974. Sallisaw, Oklahoma:

8 years old. High Explosives and Nicotine

I upped the ante on the ants. My cousin, Todd Floyd and I were counting out our firecrackers under our Grandparents carport, deciding what to do with them. That’s when we spotted it. An anthill on the other side of the fence from Big Granny and Paw Paw’s garden. Big Granny was a tall, rawboned Cherokee woman from the Skin Bayou district of the Cherokee Nation. She stood over 6 feet tall. She and my Paw Paw were hardened people who had survived a depression, a dustbowl and WWII. Their entire back yard was a vegetable plot. Self-sufficient, they were proud, cutting corners and surviving the dirty 30’s. Big Granny would not hesitate to swat the shit out of you with her large hand or a nearby switch, magically produced when needed. You fucked with the garden, you got punished, hard.

“Hey”, I said to Todd Floyd, “Lets blow up that ant hill!” He readily agreed. Partners in crime. We had bottle rockets and firecrackers, preparing for maximum carnage.

We didn’t have a “punk”, which looked like a stick of incense that burned slowly, allowing you to “Light fuse, and get away”, the instructions on the box beneath a large black cat.

It was the 70’s and everybody smoked. Todd Floyd was my cousin from California “California Okies” they sang on Hee-Haw one night to my amusement. Whenever the family gathered, there was a heated, serious, sometimes all-night card game of “High Nine”.

Todd Floyd had an idea. “Let’s go ask my dad (Uncle Clinton) if he can give us an old cigarette butt to use”. “Novel idea” I thought. We went inside to the card game. Todd Floyd said to his dad: ”Me and Troy Joe want to light some firecrackers on the driveway and we don’t have a punk”.

Uncle Clinton, engrossed in the strategy of High 9, absent mindedly handed a full lit cigarette to Todd Floyd. “You boys be careful”, he said as we whisked away before he could change his mind.

We prepared our first two mega bombs, five firecrackers, fuses twisted together. The enemy would perish at the hands of well place high explosives. For good measure, we took 5 bottle rockets and tore the sticks off, bound together by a newspaper rubber band, once again twisting the fuses where one touch would light them all at once.

We struck in two waves of frontal assault. Digging deep into the hole with a stick, thus avoiding the ants as they climbed up the stick, not our legs. Once done, we placed the firecrackers on the now swirling void of ants and touched off the fuse.

We didn’t have the detonation right, so the firecrackers cooked off one at a time like gunfire: Blam, Blam, Blam, Blam Blam! Both times. Each successive explosion creating havoc and blowing up enemy troops, stuck underground but rallying as I had often seen them do.

The cigarette had burned down and was going out. We decided to make the cherry glow again, so we both took a puff, Todd Floyd first, then me. We didn’t inhale, just sucked and held the smoke in our mouths like we had seen on TV, after a few seconds, we “exhaled”.

I felt dizzy, with a strange taste in my mouth. “Let’s do bottle rockets” said Todd Floyd. We moved to the now shell crater, put the bottle rockets upside down, lit with the now glowing cigarette. We got it right this time. Like a rocket on lift off, they all ignited at once, screaming and whistling into the ground. An impressive, single explosion followed.

“Hey” said Todd Floyd. “Wanna try another drag? “ Without hesitation, I said: “Sure”. We commenced to smoke. More dizziness, I didn’t know it, my first buzz, I liked it. Todd Floyd and I lost all interest in fireworks and smoked that fucker to the filter. What a rush. What freedom. Lack of any adult supervision courtesy of a simple card game combined with a thirst for winning. The ants lived to fight another day and Todd Floyd and Troy Joe had tasted the sweetness of an altered state. My first, but definitely not my last.

November 3, 1977. Near Pryor, Oklahoma:

  1. 11      years old. Stepdad trouble.

My parents divorced and my mom shacked up with this guy named Bob.

He was a “Good ‘ol Boy” and a wanna-be cowboy turned real estate salesman. He had sold himself to my mom for sure. She hauled ass as soon as she could and left my dad in a bachelor pad at a local trailer park. My war on ants had continued in smaller sorties.

I didn’t want to play sports with my friends. I wanted to play “Army”, ride my dirt bike or kill ants. I found sports boring and narrow minded. Much like religion. Dad always said: “ If a man becomes overly religious, it’s his own damn fault”.

I launched my next large-scale attack on an ant hill situated on the berm of a livestock pond. I stole a shovel and went to the dormant hill on a Jihad to kill red ants.

I stuck the shovel deep into the sleeping ants. Stealthy hitting the enemy when they least expected it. Repeatedly, I dug up huge chunks of earth and flung it into the pond. The ants came to the top like survivors of a shipwreck, bobbing on the surface and clinging to weeds at the edge of the pond.

“Hey! What in the hell are you doing?” Asked Bob. He had slipped up behind me in the throes of my fetish. “Oh, Nothing, just digging for worms,” was my lame response. “No one digs for worms in November”, he said. “Take that shovel back where it came from and if I catch you digging up this berm again, “I’ll kick your ass.”

Sullen, but undefeated in spirit, I slunk back to the barn to put away the shovel.

August 29th, 1978, Near Pryor, Oklahoma:

  1. 12      years old. Hot days and flamethrowers.

The anthill sang to me like a suicidal Siren. “Kill me” they seemed to say telepathically. I was more than willing to oblige them, Bob or not. I was obstinate and could take an ass beating by this time.

I had been watching old WWII movies of Saipan. Sherman tanks outfitted with flame throwers cooking the caves with the enemy inside, immolated, save a few souvenir Samurai swords. I snuck into the garage and took a pop bottle, half full of lawnmowers gasoline. I stole the safety matches off the top of the fridge. Then I took some dishwashing soap from the countertop. Using this concoction, I swished the ingredients around the glass bottle, homemade napalm. Those ants were about to die a horrible death by the scores. Revenge at last. I would raise the flag on ant hill Suribachi.

I took the bottle and snuck out back to the pond while Mom and Bob fought about his latest indiscretion in someone else’s bedroom. I was the grim reaper, about to sow a flaming death on the ants, courtesy of the lack of adult supervision.

I got to the ant hill and poured a huge dose on it. The gas itself killed on contact, then I struck the match. The mound erupted in an acrid, smoky flame as my adversaries died trying to escape the hole. That’s when things went a little sideways.

I was still holding the bottle at a downward angle. The flames jumped up and leapt into the neck of the napalm pop bottle. The fields were dry from the August heat, perfect kindling for a wildfire. I danced around the berm of the pond shaking the bottle like a salt shaker in a panicked attempt to get rid of the flames, as I did so, it ignited all the dry grass near the berm. I finally collected myself and threw the bottle into the pond, the fire snuffed out in the water. I looked behind me in horror as a fire blazed in the dry grass. I ran over and began to stomp it out. Wearing sneakers, the heat melted the soles but I somehow managed to put it out. I snuck back to the house, hiding my shoes and claiming I lost them at the skating rink.

July 7th, 1979, Claremore, Oklahoma:

  1. 13    years old. The transition.

It was the summer between 7th and 8th grade, triple digit heat. the female lifeguards at Claremore public pool took a shine to me.

I was staying with my dad for 2 weeks each summer. He had remarried and my step brother Mark and I went every day. “You’re really cute” the blonde lifeguard said to me . “Yeah, he’s gonna’ be a total fox by the time he’s 16” said the curly headed brunette at the snack bar. The blonde then asked me. “Do you know how to French kiss?” I had kissed a girl ONCE at a 7th grade dance at the PYO, like you’d kiss your Aunt, quickly, with a closed mouth. “Come here and let me teach you” she said. It was amazing, a hot tongue swirling around in my mouth. I quickly reciprocated. They never went any further than that. I was still a virgin, so I thought it was a form of sex. It probably was some kind of crime for those girls to have me as their mascot and kissing student, however, you can’t molest the willing.

Ants were the furthest thing from my mind. I was now laser beamed focused on girls and using my newfound skill set on them. “Those guys in 8th grade don’t stand a chance. I know how to French kiss” I thought with confidence. I plied my trade, a cracked voice Casanova, steeped in puberty. It would be two more years before I figured out what second base was.

July 15, 1983 Honolulu Hawaii

17 years old. The ant war had dimmed down in the last few years.

We now lived in Hawaii. My Mom and Bob had divorced (they would do so twice), she bought him out of their little real estate company in Pryor and Bob split for Hawaii to find himself or get laid by some Polynesian women. It was probably both. I finished Junior High and was a Sophomore in High School. Bob had been in Hawaii just long enough to burn through his money. Then he found Jesus Christ, like he’d been missing. In Oklahoma Jesus was everywhere.

Bob called Mom and told her he loved her, and she was the woman for him. Jesus had come to him in a dream and told him so. Mom immediately sold everything we owned and we moved to Hawaii. Thank God once again for lack of parental supervision.

I ran wild with the kids of Hawaii Kai. Got thrown out of Hawaii Baptist Academy (Bob and Mom thought it would do me good). I had smoked pot in Oklahoma at 15 in. Lyndell’s primer and Bondo ’57 Chevy parked on Dog Pound Road. It was Mexican dirt weed, full of seeds and it gave you a mild high and enough cottonmouth to drink the shitty 3.2% alcohol beer sold in Oklahoma.

This pot in Hawaii was amazing. Fresh, crystalized, red hairs and a rich, peppery taste that got me totally wasted the first time. The locals called it “the Crippler” and it lived up to its name. You only had to be 18 to legally drink in Hawaii and we made the most of our fake ID’s in the bars and nightclubs of Waikiki. It was a target rich environment. Mainland girls coming to Hawaii to party and hook up. It was an endless supply. A fresh batch every weekend.

I was in a Mexican restaurant and over frozen Margaritas, Dennis said “Wanna try some coke”? “Sure” I said. I was up for anything. We went into the men’s room and I took a bump off the tip of his pocketknife. It was my first taste and it gave a sweet tooth for Cocaine that lasted well into my 40’s. It was literally everywhere.

One day at Kaiser High School, Kevin said, “Man you’ve got to try this” He showed me a small piece of paper. “LSD” he proudly explained. “Slip it under your tongue, let’s ditch school and go to Portlock point”. At first, I felt nothing, then a warm sensation came over me and I started seeing tracers and visuals. Big Granny always said the Cherokees respected everything in nature, living beings with a soul. My head swirled as I hallucinated, I looked around at the trees, the grass and the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Everything seemed to be breathing and alive. I found a new sense of respect for the earth and everything on it. Plus, I tripped my balls off.

July 16, 1984 Honolulu, Hawaii

18 years old. Peace at last.

I formally declared a truce and cease fire on the red ant war.

It would be like Korea. A demilitarized zone separating me from the ants. A pyrrhic victory of sorts, but peace, nonetheless. Additionally, there were no red ants in Hawaii. The LSD had opened up something I had never experienced before or after. Like a portal directly to God.

Relaxing and assuring, then letting me in on the big secret. the real world was actually the hallucination. A cosmic joke.

June 2nd 2020. Topanga California.

54 years old. I am finally comfortable in my own skin.

A lot has changed, yet still remains the same. I spent 20 years in New York City. A hellish place with orange halide lighting that cast a surreal glow over everything, eliciting depression from my eyes into my bloodstream. I have gone through some good times and bad. Big Granny, Paw Paw, Momma, Uncle Clinton and Dad have all passed away. I’m a divorced father with 2 kids and on my second marriage. For all the horse shit life has thrown at me, my second wife made it all worthwhile. We’re still in lockdown and she is working part time while I ride out the unemployment. She literally saved me from myself. I’m happy again. No more bad habits.

We have a deal. She feeds the dogs and I walk them. Topanga is hilly and dry. I take the dogs on a trail to the road we walk.

The other day, I discovered a red ant hill. These ants were a little different than the ones in Oklahoma. Lighter framed to survive the coastal desert plains and lack of water, but still possessing a ferocious set of mandibles.

I walk the dogs directly over the hill avoiding the urge for full scale attack. There is a tenuous peace between us. However, I can’t help but kill a few of the forward scouts in the outlying pickets to conceal my approach.

Better safe than sorry.

One thought on “Red Ants

  1. Nice coming away from oppressive police shootings, social-political unrest, bad politics and punditry dividing black and white, and stifling dealings with covid-19, to read yet another Gasoline and Grits signature short story, is like a breath of fresh air.
    The writer wasted no time to pull me in with a timely fix of humor, reminescent of my own rural childhood around brothers whose world, secretly and vastly different from girls’, begs wonderment of their survival into productive, even happy adulthood. Charming, is the ease with which the writer transforms his youthful explorations through allegorically rich, creative and colorful images, unpleasant ones simply tossed off, chalked up to life. No excuses.
    T.J. Morehouse is a true story teller. Entertaining.
    Keep the stories coming, Curtis Price. There are people in America telling a different kind of story we can all agree on.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.