The Ant Mound

One of my earliest childhood memories is traumatic, at least what would seem traumatic to a three-and-a-half-year-old little boy. Though it didn’t turn out to be the end of the world, it sure seemed like a living hell when it happened. I still carry the memory with me a half-century later, so it damaged me on some level.

My family — mother, wicked step-father, newborn baby sister and myself — were living in an old two-story house in Lancaster, California, which in the late 1960s was still mostly desert scrub and Joshua trees. We were located far enough away from everything else that it could be called the middle of nowhere. Today, a strip mall stands where the house once did.

We were so remote that my mother didn’t really pay attention to what I was getting into. She trusted I would not stray too far and everything would just work itself out. She had a newborn baby to worry about and didn’t give me as much attention as I probably should have gotten. With nothing to do and no watchful eye, I would wander the acre-sized property, trying to keep myself entertained.

One day, I decided I would make friends with the ants who had built a nest out in the open area behind the house. I remember being fascinated by how they scurried back and forth, some appearing from the mound while others disappeared into it.

To make friends with them, it seemed logical I had to get close and be down on their level. This meant I had to sit next to the mound. So I planted myself there on the ground, wearing my tan little boy shorts, a striped t-shirt and little red sneakers. When the first few ants crawled on me, I thought they were welcoming my invitation of friendship.

Mind you, these were not your garden variety ants. They where those red and black kind that are almost a quarter of an inch long with strong mandibles. These ants were big, fast, and it turns out, very aggressive.

Before I knew it, I was covered by dozens of ants that saw me as a threat to their home. The hive mind sounded the alarm and went on the attack. First, I felt one bite, then a few more and several more soon after that. Suddenly, my skin was on fire as the big red and black ants bit me over and over. They were everywhere on my body from head to toe. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get them off me. This was pain unlike any other in my short time on this earth.

In a panic, I got up from the ground and began stripping my clothes off as I ran toward the house screaming like a banshee. By the time I got to the back door, I was completely naked except for my shoes, covered with big red welts everywhere. I ran upstairs where I found my mother nursing my half-sister. I’m sure the sight of her little boy bursting into the room in his birthday suit with tears streaming down his face freaked her out.

She was able to settle me down enough to get the story out of me. She squished the few remaining ants she found in my hair, then broke out the ointment to soothe the angry, swollen bites. Her motherly attention dissolved my anxiety and I was able to calm down.

There were many times my mother and I reminisced about that mishap over the years. We even talked about it the last time I saw her before she passed away. She always thought it was hilarious. I, on the other hand, have a different take.

To this day, ants give me the heebie-jeebies — even the small black ones you see after leaving greasy or sugary food out. If I find even one ant crawling on me after sitting in the grass, I’ll panic and start doing a wild — and very unmanly — arm-flailing dance to get the critter off me as fast as I can.

I learned a big lesson that day… Don’t sit on an ant mound without knowing the consequences, because you may end up being eaten alive. It was the last time I did.

Memorable Cigarettes

After nearly fifty years, I can still remember the first time I smoked a cigarette. It was early spring and my family lived on a farm in a semi-rural part of Colorado, a little north of Denver, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

I lived there with my mother, wicked step-father (I’m not even sure they were married, to be honest) and little half-sister. The closest kid my age lived more than five miles away, so I had no one to play with. This meant I had to find ways to keep myself entertained. Most of them ended up being things little boys are not supposed to do. Left to my own devices, it’s a wonder I lived through all of my escapades.

I was seven years old and had stolen a pack of my mom’s Kool Menthol 100s. I had a pack of matches from somewhere (yes, I was a pyro too, but that’s a post for another time) and thought I could smoke just like mom and wicked step-father did. After taking a pack from her carton in the refrigerator, I snuck outside and hid behind the juniper trees where I wouldn’t be seen. I opened the pack, took the long cigarette out, put it between my lips, struck a match, lit up and took a big puff like I’d seen the adults do.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t repulsed by the taste. In fact, I actually liked it. I still remember the menthol sensation on my tongue. It had a little bit of burn to it, but the taste wasn’t that bad. I felt very grown up.

Of course, my little boy brain didn’t know you should inhale the smoke from a cigarette, which is probably good because I’m sure if I had, I would have wound up puking my guts out behind the trees. Sometimes I wonder; if I had inhaled, would I have ended up picking up the habit nine years later, or would I have been turned off completely?

There were other experiments with smoking through my childhood, but none really stuck. I’d smoke here and there and eventually lose interest.

Until the day I met Tracy. He had just moved into the neighborhood where my mother, step-sister and I were living (wicked step-father was long-gone now). I think he said he was from New York. He was my age but had already become a pack-a-day smoker. I vividly recall the summer evening he offered me a Marlboro Red from his hard pack box. You weren’t cool if you smoked soft pack, you know. It had to be hard pack and it had to be Marlboro Reds.

I began taking him up on his offers of free cigarettes. Before I knew it, I was smoking every day, bumming cigarettes from friends whenever I could. Then the moment I knew I was hooked came: I wanted to smoke while I was alone.

My mother, being the spectacular parent she was, started buying my smokes for me, so I had a steady supply of my own stashed in the refrigerator. Her rationale was that she’d rather I smoke openly instead of hiding it. I think she hoped I’d come to hate the habit and give up. Well, thanks mom, that didn’t quite work out as planned.

So at the tender age of sixteen, I became a confirmed pack-a-day smoker. All the other kids my age were doing it, so why not me too? The problem was, I really liked smoking. I knew I wasn’t going to stop. Other kids did it to be cool. I did it to feed the nicotine addiction.

Twelve years went by, and then I met Pam.

I still see the moment from our very first date in my mind’s eye. We were running across a busy street in downtown Santa Monica to get to the club where we were headed to see a band. In the middle of the street, the hard pack of Marlboro Lights fell to the ground from my shirt pocket with a loud plop sound. I bent down and picked them up. When we got to the sidewalk on the other side, she immediately told me “I don’t date people who smoke.

That was a punch to the face, but one I’m glad I took. Naturally, I didn’t light up on that date, or any other we had after that. We’re still married 25 years later and she’s my best friend. I made the choice to quit because of her and I’m proud to say I haven’t smoked a cigarette since before we were engaged.

I can remember a bunch of different cigarettes I smoked through my life, but thanks to someone who is very special to me, I can’t remember the very last one. For that, I’m forever grateful.

Just Start Somewhere

Eventually you use up every excuse in your book for not doing the thing you keep saying you’re going to do. You’ve procrastinated yourself into a corner and realize it’s either time to just do it, or finally forget about it and move on.

That’s me, sometimes…

I’ve had this blog for nearly 14 years. In all that time, I only have 11 posts to show for it. That’s less than one post per year, with the newest one being more than a year old. At one point, I had written dozens of posts. But like any good artist is prone to doing, I trashed most of them because I felt like they were fodder. I regret making that choice.

I’ve seriously slacked in my writing since, which is sad, because I’ve always enjoyed the process. To me, putting words down, then moving them around to communicate an idea is fun. When I get into a flow, the words come out and land on the page. I don’t have to struggle with what I’m trying to say. They’re just there all of a sudden. When I tell a story through my writing, I feel like I’ve created this thing that lives and breathes on its own.

To be truthful, I made a fatal mistake a few years back. Struggling to find my own voice, I began modeling my work after what other people were doing. However, since it wasn’t my voice, I began to believe what I had to say didn’t make a difference, so why should I even bother? This grew into the worst case of writer’s block there ever was in the history of man.

Well, probably not. I’m sure there have been worse cases by far better writers, but I became so utterly uninspired to write during the last five years that it literally hurt to even think about putting words down. The three posts I made in 2018 were not easy.

To make up for my lack of creativity, I found a great way to procrastinate – tweaking my WordPress theme about a hundred-gazillion times. It became all-consuming to get things just pixel perfect and then start over from scratch again. I’ve written and tweaked more CSS code than I’m willing to admit, though I have gotten pretty good at it. My site theme is practically everything I’ve ever imagined in my head at this point. I can’t improve on it much more, if at all.

So what do I do now?

Just write.

Now is the time to stop procrastinating and make something. It doesn’t require perfection. My work will get better with practice. It doesn’t need to have meaning or impart some deep zen-like wisdom to the reader. I just need to start getting the stuff in my head out into written word.

Here and now is the best place for it, so this is where I’ve decided to begin again.

What have you been putting off? Is now the time for you to start again too?