Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Exterminator

I have heard that Albert Schweitzer was such a thoroughgoing pacifist that he extended his "live and let live" philosophy to every level of the animal kingdom. It was said of him that, when he found some ants crawling on his operating table, he would carefully brush them onto the floor. 

I suppose that, if one intended to be a good pacifist, it's probably a good thing to extend it to all living things. I have found, however, that, for many reasons, pacifism is simply impracticable. Aside from the ultimate uselessness of turnIng the other cheek (you'll only get an even harder slap on the other) or laying down your weapons (someone else will pick them up), it hasn't stopped or shortened a single war in our dog eat dog world. Unlike the good doctor, if I notice an insect of any sort is crawling on my table, I will kill them with extreme prejudice.

I live in the Tropics, where insects - because they are cold-blooded - thrive. There are industrial-sized cockroaches and spiders. There are large stinging centipedes. There are disease-spreading mosquitoes. But the most successful and most prevalent insect here is the common ant, in all colors and sizes. In fact, the weight of all the world's ants is comparable to the weight of all the world's people. There are black ants that can colonize anywhere - even a linoleum floor under a cabinet. There are long-legged red tree ants. There are stinging red ants. There are ants that are colorless and so tiny they can only be detected by flashlight.  And there are red ants the size of a pinhead that bite and leave a welt on one's body the size of a quarter.

If one were to sprinkle some sugar on the floor in the middle of a room, within minutes there will be a trail of ants coming from under one's door, or a window, or from a crack in the wall. It will become obvious that ants have undermined one's entire house and live within the walls. Because insects - especially ants - are so ubiquitous in one's habitation, a can of insecticide is an item that I buy monthly and use on a daily basis.

In a house I once occupied in another part of my Philippine island, I had to spray insecticide periodically under the kitchen sink. Then I would wait a few seconds and watch as, one or sometimes two and three at a time, cockroaches would run out of the cabinet. The bug killer must be some kind of nerve agent, because, if you watch the cockroaches you will notice how they behave as if they are in frightful pain, running as fast as their six legs will carry them in every direction, until their legs stop working properly and they end up on their backs, kicking their ineffectual legs in the air.  

On one occasion, however, I had run out of insect killer. It was evening and I was sitting on my bed, about to enjoy my cup of coffee by the light of the television set. But when I put the cup, which had been lying on the floor, to my lips and took a sip, I discovered that a large number of ants - stinging red ants - were in the cup. One of them got in my mouth and stung my tongue. In a rage, I got out of bed and turned on the light to discover hundreds of ants had found the biscuits (crackers) that I kept in a covered basin next to the bed. 

With no insect spray, I set about killing the ants with my feet, stomping on as many of them as I could. I took the basin out onto my terrace and emptied its contents on the cement. I know that I must've killed hundreds within a few minutes. When I returned to my room, all that was left of the invasion force were a few lost ants whom I had overlooked. Normally, I would've traced the ants to their point of entry to the house, but because it was night, I decided I'd killed enough of them to drive home my point.

Since then, a bottle of Baygon Multi-Insect Killer is one of my first purchases at the start of the month. I'll bet that most people aren't aware that the famous Swiss Pharmaceutical company Bayer also makes products like insecticides and rat poison. To me, it makes perfect sense. In the absence of aspirin, nothing will cure my headache better than wiping out an entire colony of ants.

Despite the prevalence of insects here on my tropical island, an exterminator is nowhere to be found. Perhaps it's believed to be a lost cause or a never-ending battle with no ceasefires. I would settle for a Pyrrhic victory.  

No comments: