Monday, January 26, 2015

"Children aren't happy with nothing to ignore, and that's what parents were created for."  ~ Ogden Nash

Dogs are to love and be loved. Horses are to be ridden and admired. Cats are to be snuggled and cuddled. But, when you're a little kid, ants are to be studied!  Yes ANTS! Have you ever really watched them? If you haven't, you've missed out on a civilization that is probably the most organized in all of nature… well, maybe except for the bee kingdom… but that'd be another story…

I sat on the edge of the step that led to our front door. An army of little brown ants scurried in impossibly straight lines toward my bare feet, and around my feet, and, once in a while, even over my little toe. They didn't seem to know that there was any difference between my toe and the cement walkway. It seemed to be the rigourous, but invisible, straight lines that drove them forward to some essential destination. Wonder where it was…  And that place where the crew must have to rest up for their next single-minded rush forward… where was that?

"Terry!  What are you doing?" Mom called.

"Nuthin… I'm just sittin' on the step." But that wasn't true! I was studying. I just didn't know it.

I looked even closer. Some of the ants were carrying things on their heads. They looked like tiny pieces of dirt. Was it for their dinner tonight? Or were they building an underground city with rooms for each family? Who cared! It was more fun to interrupt their wild running. I grabbed leaves and tiny clods of dirt and a twig or two, and put obstructions in their way to foil their invisible roads. Each obstacle seemed to infuriate them and cause them to dance in crazy circles and madly wave their feelers in the air. It made me giggle to see it.

So I giggled. No response! I giggled again… nothing! If I'd have giggled at Susan, the girl who sat in front of me in school, she would have found a way to kick me without the teacher ever seeing a thing. But these ants were angry just because they had to go around a speck of dirt! They were even meaner than Susan was. Stupid ants!

Then it hit me. These ants didn't even know I was there! They didn't know that a human being, about a million times bigger than they were, was sitting here watching them, and pestering them, and causing them to fly into temper tantrums. I was so much bigger than they were that I didn't exist! 

I killed bunches more, just because… just because I could! That instant death would cause the ants nearest the bodies to dance crazily and flutter their feelers at right angles in every direction, and then they would be back on the straight and narrow again, going to that invisible country that no one my size could ever enter.

It was the first time in my very young life that I thought about God. I went to Sunday school every Sunday morning while my Mom and Dad were in church. It was fun because the teacher told us stories about people who lived a long, long, long time ago, and then she'd let us color. Now, coloring on big pieces of paper was the biggest reason I loved Sunday school. That, and the stories and the singing, too. It was all fun!

But for the first time in my life, for just about 5 minutes, I thought about God. He was sooooo much bigger than we were. And we ran around like crazy and we did dances. I even hit my little brother once in awhile because I was bigger than he was. It was fun, too! Well, sometimes, Jackie would run around and be very angry, and I bet if he had feelers on top of his head, they would have fluttered all over the place, too. 

I looked up at the sky. That's where He lived. The Sunday school teacher told us that every single Sunday. And every single Sunday I worried that when I became an angel, I might fall off my cloud. You see, besides ants, I liked to look at the sky, too. Clouds are fluffy and white nearly every day in Southern California, and I worried about that. I especially worried that my little brother would definitely fall between the clouds up there. You should have seen him when he and his friends were playing cowboys! Bet Jackie couldn't jump over the space between the clouds up there!

Time passed. My Dad was recalled into the Air Force to be an instructor, so we moved to San Antonio, Texas. It's hot there. And they have lots and lots more dirt than we ever did in Southern California. I still loved to go bare-footed, and I hoped that in Texas there would be a little bit of grass to tickle my toes!

That first day in our new house in San Antonio, Texas, I ran outside into the backyard. I was barefoot, of course, and, boy, that dirt was cooked hot by the Texas sun! And there were ants there, too, only these ants were lots prettier than those old California ants were. They were bright reddish-brown, and they ran even faster than their laid-back California cousins ever did.

I found a huge gathering of these red ants by the back fence. They were running around some rocky boulders in the dirt, so I sat down right in the middle of them and proceeded to squish some of them to see what kind of a dance the rest would do.

But the Texas ants knew something that those California ants never understood. They SAW me! And they didn't like what they saw. All at once they ganged up on me and bit me everywhere there was skin to chew on. I was being stung by a thousand blazing fires in a thousand tender places all at once! 

Mom heard my screams, of course, and Dad was outside like a shot, carrying me into our new house. In fact, Mom heard my screams and my crying for about 3 more days, until their poison finally wore itself out.

Those Texas beasts are called "Fire Ants," my Dad found out at the base the next day. You don't ever want to mess with anything that has the word "FIRE" in its name. I'm just sayin'……. 

But between you and me, I still believe that science will finally discover a secret ant "hot-line" that alerts other brothers to maim the killers of their ant empires.

And, please, don't anyone tell those "Fire Ants" how to get to Southern California… PULEEZ… I'M BEGGING YA!   

So I squashed 'em. I pressed my finger on one, and, instantly, he was flattened… just like that… gone!

Friday, January 9, 2015

"I am done with the great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible, loving, human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of pride."  ~ William James

Have you been to the Social Security Office lately? No? Well, I lost my Medicare card somewhere, somehow, and so, as I was driving by the building, I thought I'd stop in and ask them to send me another one. 

Silly, silly me! Normally intelligent people call over there and make an appointment. Nominally intelligent people line up outside the door by 9AM when the office opens. Dopes decide to drop in at their leisure! And at about 10:15AM I wandered in through the glass doors.

It was the same short-tempered guard who was there the first time I was ever in that office, sitting at his elevated desk and greeting me with, "GO TO THAT MACHINE OVER THERE!"

OK, I went. No hard feelings… the guy must have to say the same thing a couple hundred times every day while he's on duty… maybe even more. (As a writer, I'm sitting here trying to think of other ways he could express the same idea… but I think he's nailed the only words that work.) 

That gray machine is as big as a full-grown man, and even has wide gray shoulders with a "head" that rises up between them. That's the machine's "face," and you poke him in the eyes and then the nose and finally where his mouth ought to be so he will spit out the square of paper with your call-number on it.

My number = D494.  The current called number = D404.  The other current number being called = A104. Who were these "A" people anyway? And why were "D" people soooo sloooow? 

Oops, as a teacher, I should have known. I had received a D! I know about D's because while in university, I'd decided I wanted a BS degree instead of a BA. Yes, I was studying art and English Lit, so a B of Arts was appropriate, but the B of Science sounded better to my freshman ears. My stupid freshman ears didn't realize that meant I'd be taking two semesters of Economics, though. Economics! Me! 7AM in the AM! Listening to a professor explaining how the concept of money worked all over this entire world! Bad, bad decision, Terry Kingston. I passed the first semester, but for the second semester I got the lowest grade of my entire college career = D. And that was a gift because the prof felt sorry for me, I'm sure.

But back in the Social Security office I found an empty seat in the second row facing the 5 windows and the one door that led back into a rabbit warren of offices and desks where I'd been taken the only other time I'd ever been in this place. A lady was sitting next to me, and after an entire 10 minutes of staring at the backs of people sitting in front of those 5 windows, and at the sign with those stupid numbers "D404" and "A104" that never changed in 15 whole minutes, I decided that I'd come back another day.

And then the lady turned to me and said something like, "Get comfortable. It's going to be a long morning!" or something like that. The thing is that she had a smile on her face and a glint in her eye that made me feel comfortable. So I sat back and settled in. And you know, I'm glad I did!

Her name was Connie and she had a funny take on the whole "waiting in a crowded office" experience. We chatterd and giggled and had a grand time, although it was a loooong time. A half hour went by, and then it was nearing an hour, but I was having such fun talking with this lady and laughing at our predicament that kept stretching on and on and on.

At some point a very, very tall man walked in with a lovely older lady on his arm, and he sat down beside me, and settled his mother into the seat on the aisle. Then he did what I'd done, stared straight ahead at the 5 windows that seemed to close down alternately of their own free will. He must have found that no matter how hard you stare at only 5 windows, nothing seems to change. Even that one door never opened. So he turned and looked at me, and decided that a talk was in order.

"How long have you been here?"


"That long, huh!"


Stimulating questions and answers like that were thrown around for all of 4 and a half seconds. And then we started to laugh. 

Connie started to say, "What's so funn…" and then she burst out laughing with us. 

And presto! Three complete strangers enjoyed wonderful, silly conversations for another 45-minutes. And we didn't talk about superficial things like the weather and how long we were sitting on those hard chairs. No! We talked about interesting things and asked questions of each other and were almost sad when Connie was called to a window, and then the man and his mother were summoned, and finally I was, too.

My transaction with the man in window #3 took 2 1/2 minutes, and I was done. My new Medicare card will arrive in the mail in a month, and, even though Connie gave me her phone number, I will never see Connie or the man and his Mom ever again. Life will keep going on and the world will keep revolving and summer will come. But I had a lovely day at the Social Security office, even without an appointment!