Memories from Chile: Black Rain

13 May 2008
12:08 AM

As I walked to the mailbox last week I saw what appeared to be some kind of ant mosh-pit on our front porch. Hundreds of ants—maybe thousands?—were behaving like someone had dumped a truckload of Pixie sticks on the concrete. The sight whisked me back to Chile, to my first year living there when I had to contend with the Summer of Ants.

I actually wrote about it here at the time, but I can’t be sure that I conveyed the intense rage the situation provoked. Around February, probably the hottest month of the Chilean summer, there ceased to be any distinction between ants outside and ants inside. Our floors were covered with ants and there was no obvious solution. If ants are streaming into your house, forming a black river across your floor, or counter, or whatever, then your task is simple: find what’s at the end of the ant stream, probably an open jar of Smuckers or a torn bag of sugar, remove it, and destroy the ants. Our ants, however, were wandering aimlessly through the kitchen, living room, and bathroom. When the ants are aimless, that’s when you know you’re screwed. You could sweep them all up—they’d form a pile of dirt that moved—and throw them out of the house, but their cousins, or college roommates, or great-grandkids would be back half an hour later.

I tried checking with neighbors for suggestions. “Lots of ants, huh?” one said. “That means it’s going to be a wet winter.” Which I believed until the next person told me that ants were a surefire indicator that it would be a dry, dry winter. The one thing people agreed on was that there sure were lots of ants. Other people weren’t as bothered as my housemates and I were. Once my first twenty ant sweepings proved unsuccessful, I thought I might try to live and let live. You know, just ignore the ants. But as I sat on the couch reading, I would feel faint tinglings on my legs. An ant exploration team. Or worse: phantom ants, fueled by my hyper-paranoid mind.

Ultimately I built my own solution. In fairness to words, I didn’t actually build anything, but I did something equally impressive: I devised a system. It was a deadly combination of Raid and water, mixed with quartz-crystal timing. I would spray and flood, wait, and repeat. After a few applications—and I can’t stress how crucial the timing is here—the ants came to believe that the correct course of action was to evacuate the cracks under our house, carrying their eggs. Then I would wait until all the ants and their offspring were in the open and BOOM—I’d let lose with the hose and then laid down some Raid cover-fire. The resulting massacre gave me the name, Operation Black Rain. It was usually enough to keep the ants mostly out of the house for a couple of days.

Back in the States I’m thankful not to have ants inside. But if they were, it’s comforting to know that I could pull out some skillz from my past.

And for the record, it was a rainy winter.