It all started with a cup of ants. That probably sounds like the beginning of another of my humor posts. I assure you it was no laughing matter to the poor lady who stormed in and slammed her coke* down on the counter at Francisco’s Cafe that morning. It was my first day on the job, before I’d had a chance to talk Francisco into letting me work night shifts making donuts. Star was training me to work the register, and Francisco was re-stocking the display case.
“What do those look like?” a red-faced lady puffed angrily, ripping the lid off the cup and pointing a shaking finger at the contents.
I shuddered. Strewn among the ice at the bottom her cup, the poor little things looked like six-legged victims in a miniature reenactment of Titanic. I figured she wasn’t asking me, but that wasn’t why I had shuddered anyway. I’d shuddered imagining how she’d most likely discovered them.
“Shh!” Francisco whispered.
His face was all stern and serious. The customer looked shocked and stopped her finger-pointing.
“Everyone’s going to want them and we don’t have enough to go around!” he said still whispering..
She wasn’t amused, but she laughed nervously and it helped lighten the mood some.
He handed me the cup. “Annie, get rid of this and see if you can find out where the little free-loaders are coming from, please.”
I took the cup gingerly, but gladly. Ant extermination sounded preferable to my first lesson on how to handle an angry customer. I’d probably have surrendered all the money in the register or something dumb like that. I emptied the last of the coke into the sink, tossed the cup, and made my way to the back of the coke fountain where the canisters are.
Oh my God! What a mess! Coke syrup was dripped all over the place. For those of you who don’t know, coke syrup is one of the nastiest substances on Earth. You could wax your legs with this stuff. Not to mention strip paint, and probably a dozen other nefarious uses, not the least of which is apparently trapping ants.
Ants. There were a bazillion of them. There were so many bodies glued in the caffeinated mire, it looked like the insect version of the La Brea tar pits. And forging a brazen trail across the bodies of their sunken brethren, the colony – it looked more like several had allied forces actually – had worked its way up the feed lines to the spigot where they were probably gathering giddily in small parties and getting drunk on the bubbly before being dispensed into the cups of every coke we’d poured that morning.
I’d never seen coke syrup before, which is a bit like saying Brer Rabbit had never seen a Tar Baby before. I naively told Francisco I could clean it up. My new job jitters were replaced by an ebullient sense of competence as I taped “Out of Order” on front side the fountain. I went rummaging through the tools in the back, found a wrench that would fit the feeder line and went back to earn some respect. Francisco was going to be impressed he’d hired a girl with some mechanical savvy.
I grabbed hold of the first canister and pulled it out. To my surprise, I couldn’t let it go. It never dawned on me that if the ants were glued to this stuff, I might be too. My hands were stuck fast and my heart leaped up into my throat the way it does when you realize you spilled the Super Glue while you’re fixing a nail. Fortunately, it’s not quite that bad and I managed to pull away without losing any flesh, but my hands looked like when you’ve been holding the Christmas tree while Daddy adjusts the stand.
I picked up the wrench and loosened the feeder lines, but the predicament worsened itself, as now I couldn’t put the wrench down. I pried it out of the one hand only to get it stuck to the other, so I tried shaking it, which worked, but only sort of. The wrench fell into the oozing tar, which seemed to come alive now and try to swallow it. When I finally wrestled it free from the ravenous tar monster, my hands were covered with the sticky, black goo and dead ants, which trailed back down from the wrench in a long string. It was quite comical really. Like Barrel full of Monkeys, only gross.
That’s when things started to really go wrong. One of the ants on me started crawling! Dead ants are one thing. Live crawling ones are another entirely. I instinctively let go of the wrench again and tried to wipe the ant off. The wrench, of course, did not fall, and my hand – wrench, ants and all – was now glued to my pants. In my panic to remove what now appeared to be dozens of ants crawling all over me, my brain failed to make sense of what was happening, and the next thing I knew, I looked like a human ant trap.
The wrench must have fallen in the fray. It’s difficult to say, since by this point I was hysterical. I slipped on something and fell face first. You guessed it. I caught myself with both hands, and my face, in the syrup. When I couldn’t see and couldn’t breathe through my nose, my hysteria became a full on panic attack. The tar monster was trying to eat me!
I struggled free and backed blindly away, but now the stuff was dripping down, sticking my feet to the floor and my pants legs together making it impossible to walk. I stumbled, lost my balance and apparently my hand caught the handle of the flour sieve sticking over the edge of the rolling table. As I sat hard on my butt, the tub of dusting flour flew up into the air and three or four pounds of flour and cinnamon came raining down on my head.
Completely blind, suffocating, disoriented, and frightened, I struggled to my feet. At this point, I heard Star screaming, and finally Francisco came to my rescue.
Francisco locked us in the kitchen for privacy. Star helped me carefully out of my now-worthless clothes and hosed me down in the big industrial sink with the high-pressure hose. It was without a doubt, the hottest, most uncomfortable shower I ever took in my life, and it was simultaneously the most relieving.
After I was cleaned up, Francisco sent me home dressed in a pair of bakery aprons. I’m still considering that as a new fashion look. He didn’t fire me, and thankfully, the days of phones that could upload to YouTube were still a few years off. So sometimes I have nightmares about ants, and about tar monsters. But it’s okay because I wake up and I remember that I survived them. And if my writing doesn’t work out, I’ve got a great idea for a pest control patent. After all, if it sent the behemoths into extinction, imagine what vast quantities of this stuff could do to a continent of ants!
© 2013 Anne Schilde
* Not the brand name for all of y’all who don’t know the difference.