Once upon a time, there was a nifty digital world known as Our Big Gayborhood, a “writer’s collective” type of thing run by Lori Hahn and Margo Moon. Essentially, Lori and Margo enticed a variety of folks into contributing regular pieces on a very wide range of topics. I was lucky enough to be a part of this experiment, and the following is one of my stories that lived in that fabulous neighborhood while it lasted…
The Suckage Files – Dossier 1: A Thousand Points of Bite
Water is serious business, here in Dallas. Not that we are always facing shortages, although that does happen from time to time, but because the management and distribution of said commodity is central to a decent existence in our state. Otherwise, things die, and there is bitterness.
You see, it gets rather hot here in this land of oil, cattle and hairstyles that resemble public monuments. And we’re not talking the slightly-uncomfortable variety of heat, where you may or may not risk a small sweat stain on a silk blouse if you muck about too much in the midday sun. That type of heat is easily assuaged by the application of mint juleps and the waving of a handheld wooden fan, usually whilst on a verandah where people named Beauregard speak of cotillions.
No, the heat in Dallas, once it gets serious, is not something to be dealt with lightly. In essence, you must change your entire lifestyle. Gone are the carefree days of walks in the park or volleyball or even cooking something on the barbecue grill. Any of those activities could lead to fluid depletion and unsavory visits to emergency-care facilities, where one must prop oneself in a questionably sticky waiting room chair, hoping your body can endure until the attendants are done removing a fishhook from the head of a now-sober redneck whose last coherent words had been “Gonna get me a twenty-pounder. Sure is.”
Once the traditional high-pressure weather system has parked it’s blistering self over Texas for the entire month of August, you do not leave the house unless required to do so for court-ordered community service or the posting of bond for that worthless cousin who insists on rowdy behavior in bars by the name of “Cooter’s”. The mere thought of stepping outside long enough to grab a newspaper off the lawn can lead one to a dark place, with copious crying and snapping at otherwise innocent relatives who just wanted to know if you were going to finish that chili pie.
Ah, yes. The lawn. We love our lawns in this city. Love them dearly. And therein lies the dichotomy. It’s too hot to even breathe or scratch yourself, but your lawn must be emerald green, with a lushness comparable to the dew of angels. Otherwise, you are considered socially worthless, and the neighborhood association will appoint special subcommittees. Therefore, whatever it takes, you must provide continual liquid refreshment for your lawn.
Now, if you have a bit of money, you can have an automated system installed for these irrigation activities. This makes things far more tolerable, with one simply pushing a button or setting a timer, and then relaxing in the cool comfort of your dwelling, perhaps with a beer or two, gazing out the window and watching sprinkler heads pop and waters dance. Fantasia, if you will. Symphony of the Majestic Spurting.
We actually have one of these intricate networks, buried just below the surface of the baking lawn. And this lovely invention served us well in years past, much to our delight. Granted, there were occasional troubling times, with one of the sections proving petulant and refusing to gush forth. This would require that I dash about the yard, lugging a manual sprinkler and miles of garden hose, until I could figure what had gone wrong where. (Typically, the culprit was usually a sprinkler head which had taken its own life, despondent over a failed romance with a nearby head. I would just pop a new one in, toss the old one into a refuse bin, and then retire to the manor.) Life was generally good.
Sadly, fate recently intervened, leading to sadness, woe, and the lack of automation. Suffice it to say that we had some plumbing issues, major excavations were required, and the sprinkler network suffered a tremendous blow. As in, large chunks are now missing, whisked away by an evil tractor-like vehicle with a many-toothed metal thing on the end, a beast that the plumbing people felt was necessary.
Since I have a tendency to lean toward procrastination, given the chance, I have neglected to arrange for professional people to make the sprinklers play nice once again. This has led to considerable chagrin on my part, with random moments of falling on the chaise lounge in an unsatisfied swoon. I am once again dashing about the yard, tugging on a hose that insists on kinking at every available opportunity, and shoving a manual sprinkler wherever I deem necessary. (Side note to web-porn aficionados: The preceding sentence, though understandably titillating on the surface, does not in fact refer to ribald slap-and-tickle activities. This is not that site.)
All of this mess leads us to the crux of our cautionary tale: Just recently, in full dereliction-of-duty mode because I’m not fond of responsibility, I put off watering the yard until it was quite dusky outside. (I could blame the heat of the day, but really, my heart just wasn’t there.) Ergo, the later stages of my traipsing-about ordeal took place in full-on pitch-blackness.
So there I was, having just placed the sprinkler in its final position for the night, adjusting the water flow just so, and stepping back to ensure wetness was reaching the proper trajectories. Such proved to be the case, and I smiled happily, done with the madness for another round, wiggling my bare toes in the cool, moist grass.
A surge of pain shot up my right leg.
What was this? I glanced about. No vicious animals, no hurled spears, no sound of yet another drive-by shooting in our quaint but economically-varied neighborhood. Nothing was anywhere around me. Had I imagined it?
Apparently I had not, because now both legs were engulfed in flames of tremendous agony, especially my feet. This was not a drill, this was the real thing and we were on the precipice of me being displeased, once again, with my life journey. And then instinct whacked me upside the head, flavored with vague remembrances of watching Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” back in my formative years. That show was filled with now-grainy episodes which were supposed to inspire us to love nature but the underlying message was that many members of said kingdom would much rather kill you than sign a contract to become a domesticated pet.
I was now dealing with a species that would never surrender, probably inspired by the Corey Hart song from the 80s, a song which I now despise: Red ants. Billions of them. My legs were covered in the damn things. Mean, vicious, sociopathic ants, all of them chomping on me at the same time with the fervency of people who attend Pentecostal churches. This was not good in any way.
I screamed quite piercingly, because we can’t be butch all the time, it’s just too much work. I raced toward a patio light to better assess the situation, stupidly whacking at my legs, which merely incited the little bitches to go back for a second helping. Flailing and having a nelly-attack was not proving fruitful, so it was urgent that I select another option from the Neurotica Menu. I then spied the jet-force emissions spewing from the manual sprinkler and I thundered toward it (spewing means dominance, right?), dragging the contraption into the aura of the patio light, where I then proceeded to use the power of aquatics to send the Evil Minions of the Devil back to the Hellmouth.
This wasn’t an easy procedure, because red ants have creepy tentacle-legs that clutch at your exposed limbs like Velcro, but I kept my focus by imagining Buffy the Vampire Slayer ridding the world of malcontents and poorly-focused cheerleaders who just get in your way. After much struggling and a measurable amount of cursing, the military campaign was over. There wasn’t a single demon critter on my skin, or at least the parts that I could see when I wasn’t bellowing like a stuck pig. There were, however and already, welts the size of croutons forming on said skin. I staggered into the house, seeking sympathy and comfort from my partner.
He was not impressed. What had taken me so long? Why had I been banging and hollering and trying once again to make it all about myself? Was I not aware that “Design Star” was queued up on the DVR and he was patiently waiting, cocktail in hand?
I pointed at my feet, now swollen and covering half of the den floor with their freakish expansion, and I shared my tragic tale. I chose to not mention my screaming and flailing, assuming that the residents of all neighboring counties were fully aware of my reactionary failures, especially since that news helicopter had flown overheard, trying to determine what the hell was making so much noise in Oak Cliff.
My partner chose to remain nonplussed, focused as he was on my rude delaying of our mutual enjoyment of “Design Star”. Did I not realize that there was a double elimination in this week’s episode? And that Genevieve was wearing scary shoes again? Get in here and put something on your feet so we can get started. Serves you right running about the neighborhood, all shoeless and white trash.
So I managed to find some antibiotic, anti-itch lotion that had only expired eight years ago, and slathered that about. This, of course, because I was rubbing the wounds and stirring up the poison, caused an increase in the misery before it finally ebbed to a tolerable level. I decided that several beers were in order for medicinal purposes as well. I often make this same decision, regardless of circumstances.
We finally sat down and watched “Design Star”, marveling once again at how incredibly spiteful Vern Yip has become in the last few years, ripping at and demoralizing the fledgling wannabe starlets. (I guess fatherhood really does change you.) Occasionally, I would have to relocate my hot-air balloon feet out of the way so they did not entirely block the TV.
I haven’t been in the back yard since.
I don’t care if the grass dies.
Originally published in Our Big Gayborhood in 2010. No changes made. For the curious: This wretched incident took place several years ago, and we have long since resurrected the sprinkler system. Still, I have great respect for the wildlife in the backyard and I no longer frolic about like a barefoot Isadora Duncan…