Screaming uncle over ant invasion

By SARAH SABALOS, Californian staff writere-mail:

Sunday March 09, 2003, 07:10:06 PM

The ants are here.

To stay.

When I moved into my new place, the manager told me I "might notice a few ants," but I wasn't paying attention. I was too busy trying to find a good place to stash my box of Chia Heads. (There is no good place).

That weekend, I returned from a night out and noticed -- with that strange sense of detachment so common to personal disaster -- that the floor was writhing like a grade-B horror movie. It took me a full minute to realize that this phenomenon wasn't due to the several excellent Frangelico-and-coffees I downed at Casablanca Club, but to at least 3,000 undocumented Argentine ants; ants Pat Buchanan would say were shamelessly taking jobs away from hardworking American ants. They formed a solid expanse of antage from the hall closet to the kitchen, moving in a creepily well-organized double line.

I am now missing a few pieces of nice silverware, which they probably fenced in Los Angeles.

The complex offers pest spraying, but that would require putting Percy the 19-pound cat into his carrier and absenting him from the apartment for four hours. I've known Percy long enough to understand that's a guarantee he'd exact urinary revenge in my closet. Sort of a quid pro pee.

So I tried the old-fashioned stomping method, but it made me depressed, not to mention grossed out by the amount of guts 3,000 imploded ants can generate.

When it comes to physical violence, I am Jimmy Carter on herbal Ecstasy. Saying "Forgive me, brothers" before slamming down with my Doc Martens didn't ease the guilt. So I put out "ant traps" which should have been called "ant day spas" -- the ants just wandered in and out, snacking and giving one another deep-tissue massages and enjoying themseles hugely. I felt like a miniature Fellini character stuck in an ant farm.

Any minute, I would draw the bedroom curtain aside to see the giant eye of an 11-year-old with Pop-Tart breath, working on some sick science project.

I went to the apartment manager and mentioned -- in a voice not entirely free from sarcasm -- that I had "noticed a few ants." She suggested baby powder as a feline-safe chemical weapon. (Safe for Percy, that is. For me, it means hundreds of big white paw prints everywhere and a cat who looks like he went nose to nose with Sid Vicious over a mirror at the Hotel Chelsea).

It works well if you can ignore the fact that my place looks like January and smells like a toddler with diaper rash. Very sexy.

Whenever I start sprinkling the baby powder, a few of the smarter ants figure out what's up and quickly flee the scene. Then they go into a dark place and produce smart baby ants bent on revenge. Their favorite thing to do is crawl up my ankles when I've got an avocado facial mask on and can't open my eyes. Then they like to eat the leftover mask.

I accidentally dropped a vitamin and a glucosamine pill behind the refrigerator while strategically placing the ant day spas.

Now I live in fear that a strapping six-foot ant in a tracksuit is going to step out from behind it and start using my free weights. In anticipation of that day, I've made a deal with the ants: If they're discreet, confine themselves to low-traffic areas and promise not to use my weights without asking, I'll look the other way (don't ask; don't tell) and resign myself to being the entomological Tippi Hedren. But the minute they get careless and ungrateful, it's Baby Powder Apocalypse Now time.

At the very least, I'll close down their day spas.