The Cast: My Mom (helpful, and also not), Myself (momentarily mentally lapsing), Rawlin (manipulative).
A few years ago, while at my niece’s wedding reception, my brother decided to broach a topic whilst in the company of my wife and his second wife. My brother asked me to tell the story of the time I hoarded cereal boxes until mom made me throw them away because of the ants.
Now, I have done lots of things over the years, including some hoarding (a little junk for hobbies or art projects, mostly toys—I love toys), but I never did what my brother, Rawlin, wanted me to talk about. And so, I sat there kind of mumbling responses like, “Uh, I think so.” or, “I have no idea.” But the best part was that I got to look like a disgusting idiot hoarder. Hooray. (please note the intended sarcasm of the last two sentences)
To properly understand my defensive mindset, you need to understand—to a small degree—my brother. He’s nuts. There ya go. Now, if that’s not clear enough, here’s a little clarification. He’s the family’s ‘golden child’. And if you don’t know who that is in your family… It’s you. Also, he has a serious (and I mean serious) superiority complex coated in a solid shimmer of narcissism. One of the things he does well is make you look bad. But in a subtle, public, ‘friendly’/playful way. You might not notice it yourself (right away). But if you do, you’ll know when it’s happening. However, the group won’t realize that they think a little more less of you (right away).
Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, at my niece’s wedding reception a story was started that never happened. And for a long time after the party, the situation plagued my mind. What was he talking about? That never happened! Then it clicked. I was right. It never did happen. What Rawlin was talking about were two separate stories, and my brother had told just enough of each to make me look bad. Both in character and memory. So, I’m fixing it. Here they are: All Boxed Up & On a Roll.
All Boxed Up
When I was about six, there was a cereal—back in that hayday of prizes in cereal boxes (I still have 5 oz of gold from back when Super Sugar Crisp was promoting the name change to Super Golden Crisp)—that had part of an old western town on the back of each box. Once the box was empty just cut out the Saloon or The General Store and BLAM-O! Instant gambling parlor! All you had to do was fill it with your choice of women in bloomers and drunken gunslingers (the perfect thing for every 1980’s six year old)! The best part was that the scale would accommodate for the popular Star Wars or G. I. Joe action figures. Or even for those classic Cowboys and American Indian plastic figures. Perfect! Cereal: Good. Prize: Good. And if the cardboard building tore… Get more cereal and do it all again: Good!
My mom helped me get all the boxes in the set, twice. It took awhile, but at breakfast time, all my siblings helped me gain my western town (even though they didn’t know they were helping me gain a mini-monopoly in the Old West). Once empty, I would have to remove the bag and cereal before taking them to my room (my mother’s caveat for her help). So the box was clean. Then, I would store them under my bed—the bottom of the bunk beds, out of sight.
Now, because I had to share my bedroom with my older brother, and ‘his’ room had to be perfect, I was a constant source of frustration. The cereal boxes were a perfect example of that. Rawlin couldn’t stand that the used cereal boxes were in the room. Despite the facts that mom had given me the go-a-head, and that they were under the bed (out of sight), and that they were clean. In his mind, they still had to go. So, eventually the Golden Child complained to mom, and I was given three days to make them gone. Fine.
I woke up early on that coming Saturday to cut out all the buildings. Including, carefully cutting out windows and then setting the cardboard glass back into place so ruffians could be thrown out of the building, through the ‘glass’ (I used to watch Wild, Wild West. I knew how it all worked). I then proceeded to play all day. Time traveling Star Wars and G. I. Joe’s enjoyed shooting up the walls (and a sharp pencil point helped make the bullet holes happen). At the end of all that serious play the boxes were tossed into the trash. A grand day to be sure. All without any ants.
On a Roll
This story has been one of my favourite learning experiences. Here’s why: So, I had a candy stash. I was about 12, and knew enough about food in my room: It wasn’t allowed.
It wasn’t allowed, because it could attract ants. Poppycock! (sorry about the language) They can’t find it if the candy’s sealed up! So, I just needed a container that could be sealed properly. My parents had one. And I knew right where it was.
My parents had an ice bucket with the mighty cool slickness of the 1950’s. And in all my lengthy 12 years of time spent on this earth, I never saw it used. Not once. So, I procured it. The lid sealed water-tight. So, obviously, ants ain’t getting in. I win!
But, it only works if the candy is in the container.
I had this system in place for a while, and it was working well. Then one morning as I was readying myself for school, I noticed something in my room that did not belong. At first, I was stunned. I was bewildered. I was confused. I was in trouble.
I could see that running—figuratively and literally—down my wall, from the corner of my window down to the floor, from there to somewhere I could not tell, was a thick black line of ants. It was a multi-lane, nonstop, freeway of freeloaders. As I approached these intruders (so that I could see what they were doing) I also noticed the time. I had to leave for school, but I also needed to see why the ants were there, now.
As I came around the end of my bed, I spotted the focus of the ant’s activity. Somehow, I had left out an open half pack of Lifesavers—a leftover from a recent Halloween. It was on the floor of my room, almost under my bed. Ooo, those ants are good.
My first reaction was to DESTROY THEM ALL!!! I snatched up the precious Lifesavers (it was one of the really good tropical flavor rolls—ya know the kind with the piña colada and pineapple flavors) and was about to start smashing. The time! I had to leave for school, and I had every ant in the world right in my room! Right then and there! NOOooo! New plan! Outsmart them! I am a man after all. And they, they are just puny ants. This will be easy.
But seriously, it was like an eight foot long, half-inch wide, solid black band of greedy insect vermin that I unwittingly invited into my home, running up my wall and along my floor. I wasn’t going to be able to get them all in 30 seconds.
Putting the yummy half-roll of sweetness back where I found it, I glanced about for something to create a blockade. Something, something, I need something… Ah-ha! A pencil! Yup, the ol’ yellow #2.
Within arm’s length, I found a pencil and set it directly in front of the Lifesaver package opening. It left just enough space at the top for the ants inside the roll to escape (without any candy). Perfect! After all, I had seen enough nature videos to know that the ants carry giant objects like whole leaves, small sticks, rocks, and such. And since it was reasonably difficult for me to get a Lifesaver out of the roll… Naturally, the ants would want to try to carry out a whole Lifesaver—but would never be able to do so. Mwahahaha! (remember, I was 12 years old)
I figured that the ants would quickly give up and I would have my Lifesavers at the end of the day. And so, happily, I trotted off to school, safe in the knowledge that my tropical piña colada Lifesaver candy would be there, waiting for me. Oh, yeah.
Upon my return home I discovered that the ants had… left! HA! I WON!!! YES!
Knowing I had won, I confidently sauntered over to the Lifesavers package and picked it up to claim my sweet victory sweets, only to find… an empty package! WHAT?!?
The package was completely empty. EMPTY!!! Not a single bit of candy. No fragment. No residue. Nothing. All was gone. The ants had gotten every. single. trace. of candy. However, they had not compromised the integrity of the Lifesavers wrapper. Those ants had operated solely out of that small gap that I had left them. So, it appears that ants can get anything. Anything. Well played ants. Well played.
Now some of you might be wondering a couple of things, like: “How did you not see the ants upon waking that one morning?” Or maybe: “Why wouldn’t your brother know about the ant situation?” Well, both of those are easy to explain.
First thing: When I awoke that morning I rolled over onto my left side, to face my closet. Then, after changing clothes, I turned to my right and walked out my bedroom door. The window, where the ants breached my defenses was on my right (when I woke up), then to my back (when I was already awake and getting dressed), and then when I turned and walked out of my room the window was now to my right, and back. I only saw it upon re-entering my room—before leaving for school—because only then was it in line-of-sight.
Second thing: When the ant situation had occurred, my family had moved to another home wherein Rawlin and I had separate rooms. As a result, nobody, and I mean NOBODY, knew about that day (I wasn’t going to tell on myself). It had been a tight-lipped secret for almost 20 years until I was an adult and told my family about it (and now the internet) like 15+ years later. So there ya go.