Ants in Space

Is There Any Uninfested Frontier?

Q. You say in your stand-up routine that you've dealt with the "annoying, nagging, hacking sound of an entire community of ants," but have you had your dishes carried away by them? How do you cope?
—Bryce Armstrong, e-mail

A. Space travel is probably the only way to avoid ants. I hate ants. If I ever off myself, they'll find a note saying, "Couldn't take the ants."

Ants are supposedly looking for food and water, but in my house they're all over—in my towel drawer, among the pile of papers beside my sleeping area. (It's as if my house has been invaded by unskilled ants.) When ants, presumably smarter than mine, find a good meal, they leave a scented trail—which is why all their little ant buddies walk in a straight line to the same place. Cleaning away their scented trails should help, but it doesn't work in my house, and neither do ant traps or crying.

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I called a few exterminating companies, but they were mighty tight-lipped. I think some of them seriously thought that printing a home pest-control remedy in Mother Jones would put them out of work. When I asked a guy at L.A. Bugs how to get rid of ants, he stammered weakly, "Without using a professional?" "Well, yeah, just suppose," I said. He recommended boric acid but quickly countered that it "leaves a visual eyesore." I don't know about you, but I find ants all over my house unattractive enough to make the sacrifice.

He told me that the reason exterminators don't like to recommend stuff to customers is that the customers don't follow the instructions properly and then they blame the exterminator when something goes wrong. Even so, he very kindly told me about an environmentally friendly product called pyrethrin, which comes from chrysanthemum plants. If you use it, please don't put it in your eyes. You'll confirm this guy's worst fears.

Q. Is it true that a polar bear's hair is actually clear and the undercoat of the animal is black, and the confluence of these two facts makes it look like white hair?
—Margaret Balistreri, New York, N.Y.

A. Who told you that? Maybe they meant spin art. It doesn't even make sense. Don't feel bad. My grandfather told me you could catch a squirrel if you put salt on its tail, and I spent hours in the backyard tossing salt from a baggie without one captured squirrel to show for it. Of course, I was 7, but still I can see how this sort of deception can happen.

I thought this was a crazy notion you had, but just to be certain, I did a little reading. Thanks to you, I discovered that all of these years my mind has been a vapid pool of bear misinformation. In fact, it is a common misconception that polar bears are white. Polar bear cubs are white, but the adults become yellowish white for most of the year and brownish white in summer. Same here, by the way.

I found out bears don't actually hibernate, either. Bears have a deep winter sleep. According to American Bears, "true hibernation is beyond the bear's capabilities, since it involves a dormant state by the animal during which it becomes torpid, losing all sensation and becoming numb. A bear cannot achieve real hibernation as does the woodchuck or groundhog. The woodchuck's temperature may drop as low as 38 degrees during hibernation. It cannot feel your finger if you punch it or hear you if you shout in its ear."

My grandfather used to hibernate.

Q. Where does the flavor in bubble gum come from?
—Debbie Cravey, Greenville, S.C.

A. I think some news team must have recently done a scorching exposé on Bazooka gum, because when I spoke with the marketing assistant at Topps (which owns Bazooka), he was awfully leery. He says bubble gum is just a combination of fruit flavors.

I also tried to find out who writes the Bazooka Joe comics, but I admitted I'd never even understood a Bazooka Joe comic, let alone been amused by one. He clammed up on that one, too.

It may be that he just didn't have time to tell me the real answer. The man's plate is full. He also works with Ring Pops and Push Pops (and perhaps baby wild animals).