Here it is another Friday night, and I’m sitting in a local cafe because I’m still too broke to get wi-fi at my apartment, and I’m living with what could be described as a lack of intimate yin energy in my immediate surroundings, or at least no yin energy that says stuff like, “It’s Friday night, sweetie, and I wanna see a movie.” So I go to the local cafe instead, alone, but not sad, because I want to write, but I’m too beat from a long day to fabricate anything remotely interesting. Usually, on Fridays, I’m toast, too crinkly to go out on the town and raise gosh darn heck.
I did not post yesterday. I got up really early so I could meet a guy from my company at a restaurant up in Roseville at 7 a.m., and I watched him go around and check out how the pest control was going. Then we went to this big LEED Platinum corporate campus, and I got to sit in on a meeting where they hashed out some details, and then I went out and watched a new route technician perform his services. Then, after lunch, I drove to Stockton to talk to the manager there, and then back to the office.
By the time I got home, I really didn’t feel like doing much of anything, so I never made it down to the coffeehouse to write. I’ve felt like I was on the cusp of coming down with something anyway, and when my body gives me those obvious signs that say: You better chill in bed and watch old Dragnet episodes or go to sleep, then that’s what I do, Even if I’ve heard that the original incarnation of Montrose fronted by Sammy Hagar is blasting out serious buttrock across the street, for free, or Buck Owens has come back from the dead to do an acoustic set. Or even if every hipster in town is at some special artsy thang at Bows & Arrows, and if I show up I might get my picture in Midtown Monthly‘s little who’s who section next month.
Fuggit, I’m whipped tonight. So screw you guys, I’m going home. More tomorrow. —Jackson Griffith
Never thought I’d say this, but somewhere a while back, I overcame my “ooh, ick, blecch” factor about six- and eight-legged things that crawl and fly and buzz, and I got really interested. I mean really interested. I think that part of that thirst for knowledge regarding all things squicky got kicked into high gear when I got a job working for a pest control company, and part of my task was to immerse myself in general entomology, arachnology and, later, from day-to-day contact with some people who are at least as internally twisted as I am, rodentology.
What is it about insects and spiders that creep people out? For me, I’ll guess it was the not wanting to know. I’d fried my share of pillbugs — a land-dwelling crustacean — on the sidewalk using my prepubescent pair of Mr. Science glasses, and I’d disassembled quite a few arthropods after unceremoniously killing them. But I’d bonged out of biology, and later on, just refused to consider the elegance of animals from the invertebrate world.
But who can argue with the beauty of caterpillars that feed on leaves and other plant material before spinning themselves into pupae, later emerging as butterflies and moths? Or beetles that complete their wormlike larval existence, pupate, and then turn into the amazing winged tank-like creatures of the largest order of insects, Coleoptera, more commonly known as beetles?
Somewhere along the line, I either read something, or saw something, that sparked a raging interest in what has come to be known as eusocial insects — Hymenopterans, or wasps, bees and ants, and the Isopterans, the non-Hymenopteran eusocial outlier we know as termites, which some entomological research has traced back to the cockroaches. These insects often live in huge colonies that function as a giant brain, organized into castes with a queen at the top — sometimes with a loyal king but more often with a coterie of layabout gigolo drones — and then a massive amount of female workers that, depending on the age bracket, forage out of the hive or nest or stay at home taking care of the next generation from egg to larva to pupa. Oftentimes, there is a soldier caste to guard the workers.
Even cockroaches have a certain beauty and elegance — although you probably don’t want them around because they’re unsanitary as gosh-darned heck, and their appearance often means asthma and other allergic reactions among any human co-habitants. I lived around what I’d guess were American cockroaches a few years ago, and would watch them waving their antennae around and grooming themselves sometimes before scaring them off. But anatomically, they were a marvel, the way their flattened bodies could scurry to the safety of even the tiniest crack.
So now, it doesn’t bother me that Diptera — your two-winged insects (most insects have four wings) like flies and mosquitoes — spend their first three life stages in filthy conditions, and then emerge as winged adults to either throw up on your food and then siphon it up (flies) or suck your blood (female mosquitoes). Cockroaches — Blattaria — don’t bother me either. And give me a tank containing assassin bugs and throw in some crickets, which the assassin bugs will chase down, tackle and suck the juices out of with their long and sharply pointed proboscises, and I’m a happy camper. Yeah, call me twisted.
And don’t even get me started on spiders, which really blow my mind. —Jackson Griffith
The odorous house ant, according to the published literature, when crushed, gives off a smell somewhat like rotten coconut. I was out on my second day in the field today, putting time in so I can be certified by the State of California to identify pest species, do home and business inspections and, if called upon, perform the tasks of pest control — not that that’s what I’m going to be doing, but knowing how to do it should help me in my job. So there we were, me and a guy from my employer’s Rancho Cordova branch who trains a lot of new hires, with the hot sun beating down on us as we worked around several houses in suburban area east of Sacramento, just off the Highway 50 freeway.
By California law, as a not-yet-licensed employee of a pest control company, I can’t identify a pest or tell you what you can do to remedy the situation. But as a journalist, or at this point a guy with a computer keyboard who types stuff into his blog on a reasonably regular basis, I can report on what the other, licensed guy said, which was something along the lines of “This is an odorous house ant. Ever smelled one?” I confessed I’d read about them many times, but hadn’t yet caught a whiff of the rotted coconut.
“Go ahead, crush one, check it out,” he advised. I knelt down and pressed my fingers onto a concrete mowing strip that separated the backyard lawn from an overgrown garden. I raised my monster fingers, fresh with the smashed exoskeletons of several dead ants, to my nostrils and breathed in deeply, wondering if I’d perceive any aroma. Rotted coconut, it wasn’t; more like melted and decomposing Camp Fire Girl Mints sprayed with insect repellent or some kind of aerosolized sun block. It was a gnarly smell, but gnarly one or two on a scale of gnarly one to 10, with a 10 being the unforgettable fragrance of rotting human flesh. Not too bad, really; perhaps the next Kardashian sister or manufactured teen idol looking to pimp a new overpriced perfume can use a little eau de T. Sessile to give their witches’ brew that extra kick it will need in a crowded marketplace.
We’d been in the sun for a while, him recounting days of fighting the notorious Formosan subterranean termite while doing pest control in Hawaii, me looking for a shady spot where I wouldn’t wilt. Which I was, because essentially I am a big pussy, or an old dog who needs a big drink of water and a fresh hillbilly porch under which I can go lay in the dirt and collect a fresh crop of fleas. I have a newfound respect for those men and women who go out, five or six days a week, working pest control routes.
And, yeah, I look forward to the next time I get to do a day in the field. —Jackson Griffith
What is up with Old Soul Weatherstone? Either it’s taken a swerve toward somewhere between Castro, Polk and Folsom, or else I’m getting increasingly more redneck by osmosis from hanging out in Lodi so much. Don’t think I’m headed toward any kind of Tea Party epiphanies, though, probably because of early exposure to Truman Capote all drunk and talking scribble on Dick Cavett and the other teevee gabfests, but some of that Lodi vibe is rubbing off on me: Got a butch haircut, grew some semblance of a beard, and now I notice stuff that didn’t used to register. Or … Well, fuggit. I don’t know.
I do know that playing hooky to watch drunken and pilled-up celebrities of the day ramble through a chemical fog to Merv, Mike, Dick and whoever else might have messed me up considerably. That Capote appearance I remember really shocked me into a different perceptual baseline, what with him high as a friggin’ kite and going on and on in that nasal whine with the N’Awlins accent about some woman who’d Aqua-Netted her beehive into something hard as concrete, which was all right until a female Latrodectus hesperus, better known as a black widow spider, deposited an egg sac into said beehive, which hatched into a bunch of little spiders that got big enough to bite and prematurely direct her hair-hopper existence into an open-casket sendoff.
Actually, Truman Capote is partially responsible for turning me away from the gay-bashing trajectory of my childhood environment, in the way James Brown and His Famous Flames cured me of any racist tendencies. I’d picked up In Cold Blood as a 12 year old, because it was on everybody’s coffee tables, and the writing was so kickass that it inspired me to consider typing up stuff as a legitimate alternative to, oh, beating the shit out of strangers, not that I was inclined to do that sort of things but as an early adolescent I was filled with a lot of free-floating rage so sometimes that might be how things played out. Then, when I saw Capote talking on the teevee, I got really discombobbed.
One of these days, with a little hope before I get grimly planted in some suburban Forest Lawn, I hope to write something that lights people’s brains up the way Capote’s book ignited my late childhood but somewhat precocious brain. But I also hope that if I do get a guest spot on The Tonight Show With Kim Kardashian or Maybe Chelsea Handler, I’m mild-mannered and sober.
Did this post not make sense? Sorry. Here’s to the joy of life. —Jackson Griffith
Occasionally I stumble across some weird stuff, like this article about how mashed-up cockroach brains kill E. coli bacteria, which of course is great news for the troubled fast-food industry. I have to admit that I became greatly excited when I read this piece of news, because as a forward-thinking person, I could see some pretty cool applications for the business world.
Now, let’s just say that it’s reasonably academic that right now, as you read this, scientists at some of our better chemical and convenience-food conglomerates are busy isolating whatever molecular construct in the cockroach brain that’s vanquishing E. coli and other germs, and is synthesizing it so they’re not dependent upon a bunch of bugs for a steady supply. Kind of like the music business when they figured out that polyvinyl chloride would do just as good a job as shellac, but more specific.
Of course, some of the fast-food companies are going to say, “Y’know, why should we pay good money to Dow or DuPont or BASF when we can hire some kids to catch the roaches that already are infesting our kitchens, and then just dump them directly into the grinder with the hamburger meat?” Hey, makes perfect sense to me. You get rid of your roach problem, and you’ve also got a high-protein meat extender that saves the company money on expensive beef products. And not only that; the free-range roaches have to be hardier and more germ resistant than the more germane bugs that researchers are growing in controlled laboratory settings. Or, one might think.
But then there’s the law of unintended consequences, or at least unintended weirdness, to think about. For example, people eating certain hamburgers who all of a sudden get an uncontrollable urge to go crawling through Dumpsters, or maybe they start pulling random manhole covers off and climbing in, just to see “what’s down there.” Or people start sprouting weird antennae from the space above their eyebrows or, even better, unwanted new cerci begin growing from their gluteus maximus muscles — which is a nice way to say they’ll be dealing with tentacles protruding from their butt cheeks.
Disclosure: I’m a vegetarian, so I’m not too worried. And you? —Jackson Griffith
Rainy night, chilly night. Sitting in a coffeehouse on S Street in Midtown Sacramento with about an hour until they kick us out of here. So long, summer. I get the feeling we’re about to segue into fall, or autumn, or whatever you want to call it. Whatever it is, it’s my favorite season, but I like summer, too. Mainly for all the strange activity that you can pick up on if you tune in, and I’m not talking about taking acid or mushrooms or even smoking that green cross wellness medicine stuff that makes you see things and hit the drive-thrus.
I’d kinda hoped to do a longer bit tonight, mainly because I’ve got this piece in me on my favorite cheap eats. But that’ll have to come later. I’m sleepy, kinda, after going to see the much-touted Inception last night — which, as I’ve remarked elsewhere, I liked better when it was called The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie, and wasn’t so laden with stupid shoot-em-up scenes — and then I overslept and had to race to work this morning. Didn’t have any weird dreams like I usually do, either. Just stupid people shooting at each other from taxicabs, in hotel lobbies, at some concrete fort on a snowy mountain, in a big crumbling city. Fricka-frackin’ Hollywood.
Found this cute little NPR piece on Myrmecos’ blog, one of my fave bug-geek sites. My favorite bit comes around 1:37, when the highest-ever recorded insect, at 19,000 feet, is revealed to be a single alate termite, flapping his wings, looking in the wrong place for that choice termite poontang to start a new colony. Wonder if he was a sub, a drywood or maybe even a dreaded Formosan sub?
Yeah, betcha there’s some weird bug stuff going on above us. But not when it’s raining. —Jackson Griffith
You haven’t lived until you’ve been listening to someone watch a film in which they’re prattling along in some non-English language, like a Chinese dialect, and then you can hear the tenor of the voices shift slowly — from conversational, to more intimate, to even more intimate — and then, suddenly, there’s grunting and moaning and orgasmic little yelps amid the Chinese coital chat. Heard while awake, it’s mildly unsettling to outright annoying; overheard while sleeping, it’s grist for some pretty weird dreams. Tonight, though, no foreign-film sexytime; just an English-language movie with lots of loud gunshots. Nice nighty-night sleep tight stuff there, eh?
I fell asleep after work today. Barely made the drive back to the place I’m currently calling home, then meditated, my head repeatedly jerking back from nodding off. When I finished my sit, I curled up on the floor in a fetal position and rested my aching head on my zafu and dreamed that someone walked into my office and I was rocking out to Lionel Richie. I tried to explain something to them, but they just laughed at me.
If you knew me, you’d understand how out of character it is for me to admit to listening to Lionel Richie. Not that he’s bad; he’s just not my preferred flavor of musical vanilla, and I take this omen as something deeply indicative of how out of balance my sleep patterns have become, and thus I have become. The Commodores had some pretty swell funk jams, though. I mean, “Brick House”? That’s the gosh darned bee’s knees.
Speaking of bugs, I was reading today, in the book The Insect Societies by E.O. Wilson, that termites have a rather startling social ritual: “The cellulose diet has left its stamp on the social biology of termites in other ways. Perhaps most importantly, it has bound these insects to symbiotic intestinal protozoans and bacteria. In order to transmit the symbionts, the termites engage in a unique form of anal liquid exchange. It is even possible that the symbiosis was the primary cause of social life in termites in the first place …” (pp. 104-5). I can’t even begin to imagine this one. Anal liquid exchange? It’s like a whole colony of Eric Cartmans, farting and sharing anal fluids via proctodeal trophallaxis and laughing about it: “Kyle, Stan, eat my butt bubble.” I was reading in another book, Ants at Work by Deborah Gordon, that some harvester ants will mix it up in inter-colonial fights, and they will clamp their mandibles, or jaws, around the other ant’s petiole, or waist, and that it isn’t uncommon for one ant to die and leave its head — sans thorax and abdomen, which have dropped off — still clamped hard around the victorious ant’s petiole. Perhaps that’s some kind of ant badge of courage, walking into the ant bar to say “Bitch lost her head, make mine a double” to the bartender. Wonder if the ant gets free aphid hooch all night for that? Yeah, bugs are weird.
Ah, maybe I need some sleep. Pray for me, or something? Think sweet thoughts? —Jackson Griffith
Sometimes when it gets all hot and sweaty like this on summer nights, I think of huge glistening cities of dark blood-red brick and oil-stained asphalt, crawling with bugs under an infested moon. It’s an exo world down here, and I’m just another goddamn vert trying to make my way through this mess, but the bugs have it over us in so many ways. I mean, why breathe through your mouth if you can wheeze through spiracles? Why amble about on two legs when you can totter around on six, or eight? Why bother talking when you can rub your antennae up against another bug’s, or else just thrust it in the air and pick up the weirdo bug vibrations?
Exos versus the verts, and the exos are winning. There’s way more of them, and they don’t give a fuck. They just keep breeding like goddamn bugs, and they’re not sentimental about anything. I know this; I’ve had more than a few late-night telepathic conversations with various members of the genus Blattella germanica, otherwise known as Keith Richards with six legs and no guitar, while under the captive perceptual straits of various stable alkaloids and a few rather unstable ones, and what was up with that is that B. germanica don’t give a rat’s ass about much of anything as long as there’s food and crap and other junk laying about. Not that cockroaches are great conversationalists; even in fluent bug, they just grunt and mumble like old drunks. You want conversationalists? Beetles are where it’s at.
What am I on about here? I dunno. Damn hot weather messes me up if I get used to cooler climes, and like I said, hot weather puts me in a buggy mood. So I’m sitting here and some Tom Waits comes on, and that even makes me buggier. I’m sheer trouble when I get in this frame of mind, so I figure I’d better write something about it and hope it passes soon, and then I can move on to something else.
Hope it goddamn cools down soon. I’m a pussy about this shit. Seriously. —Jackson Griffith
So here it is a wild Wednesday night, and I’m not out there chasing all that wonderfulness, or looking at the stars, or feeling the wind on my semi-ancient face. Nah, I’m here. Workweeks are like that. Got back to Sac, sat in the back of a hot room for an hour, went out for pizza afterward — not that I need to eat pizza, having eaten it twice last weekend, once while being waited on by my lovely daughter at the Tahoe beachfront restaurant where she works, and again at Squaw Valley with my brother, his daughter and her husband, their two kids, and her cousin and her cousin’s husband and their two kids, got that — so I’m what my daughter’s mom used to call “slugbait.” And so, I type this.
I don’t talk a lot about my job, but I love it. Partially because it has nothing to do with the music business, or filling up the editorial well of a newspaper or magazine under the gun, and partially because it’s about bugs. I’m weirdly fascinated by bugs, especially the eusocial insects, like ants and bees and termites, the ones that live in huge hives that function like brains, or at least organisms with some kind of swarm intelligence. Plus, they’re trippy. Ants live in huge colonies, and some of the species, like the invasive Argentine ants, are big old metrosexual lesbian cities where everyone gets along and they do all this amazingly cool stuff, kinda like a big six-legged Lilith Fair concert that stretches out for hundreds of miles and involves billions of fans of sapphic folk music, while other species, e.g. the pavement ants, are like backwoods hollers filled with long-Balkanized clans of meth-sizzled arthropod hicks who mix it up to the tunes of Ynsyct Skynyrd and have huge stupid wars, shady lanes be damned.
Then there are the termites, which are kinda like a massive underground South Park episode involving Eric Cartman and a million of his clones, gobbling the wooden version of Cheesy Poofs and farting up huge storm clouds of methane. If you could run an engine on methane, you could like drop a log in the tank and make a bunch of termites fart and generate stinky fart gasses, which you could burn and run your SUV. I’m thinking that Al Gore might want to get on board with this, no? Termites have these humongous fat queens, too, that do nothing but lay around and push out termite eggs, and they have these really nifty-looking soldiers whose heads look like earwig butts with big-ass pincers, which come in handy when those crankster hillbilly ants come a-calling, looking to stir up trouble.
Of course, nearly everybody loves bees, because of flowers and honey and stuff, unless you’re allergic to their stings, or you don’t dig the buzzing. But you can you not love bees? Wasps, of course, are another story, especially the ones without any sense of noblesse oblige, who’ll take their profit from insect Wall Street with nary a concern for their fellow bugs or anyone else, either.
But lately, the talk among bugsters has been all about Cimex lectularius, otherwise known as the bed bug. These little bug snoids, about the size of an apple seed, are serious trouble, and if you’re unlucky enough to get an infestation of them, well, you’re not going to be happy about it. They get into your mattress, and onto your furniture, and in and around your bed, and then they wait. For you. When it’s dark, they wait for you to zone out, and then they zero in on the carbon dioxide you exhale, and they find you and they suck your blood. I shit you not. And then they poop your blood out all over your bed, and shed their exoskeletons between instars, and generally leave a mess. Bed bugs are bad neighbors, and it is readily apparent that they are soooo unkind. Fred Rogers would not approve.
But the worst part? Bed bug sex. No, they’re not all noisy like your horny neighbor, whose orgasmic cries and yelps infiltrate your dreams as the sound of animals being tortured. It’s just that their courtship defies rules of common etiquette and civilized behavior to the degree that even Huns and demented Visigoths might stop and take notice. You see, these bed bugs practice a form of sado-masochistic sexual behaviors called “traumatic insemination.” What that means is that, well, imagine a bunch of guys running around a nightclub with no pants on, and they all have boners, and those boners have been sharpened like swords. So these guys with dangerous pointed dicks are chasing all the women in the club, and when they see one that gets them all hot and bothered, they run up to her and jab their dicks right into her belly and start humping like some crazed gutter-pooch horndog on your leg. No decorum, no witty lines, no drinks bought — just stab, stab, stab, then blow a load.
All this helter-skelter horndoggery, sans secret messages from the “white” album, and the womenfolk of bed bugdom naturally try to do some kind of an immediate Houdini, as in get me the fuck out of this place like right now. Totally. Which is why entomologists who study bed bugs were initially perplexed at the random and bomb blast-like way that Cimex lectularius will spread throughout a living space, until someone surmised that all the members of these bed bug diasporas were females who wanted to get away from the obnoxious and dangerously annoying and uncooth to boot needledick males.
So, well, sleep tight, and don’t let these asshole bugs bite.–Jackson Griffith
Some of you know I’ve joined the world of the employed lately, and for that I am very, very grateful. For a person who spent years getting paid to listen to music and make judgment calls, or to work tangentially with music and art, the new world I’m immersed in on a daily basis is much different. And, as it turns out, it’s a subject I’ve been interested in since childhood, when I used to fry pillbugs — which are small crustaceans, and not insects — on the sidewalk with my glasses, and would spend hours watching aphids making honeydew, or ants building colonies. Work just woke up the dormant nine-year-old boy in me, which isn’t a bad thing.
I was at a music event a couple of weeks ago — Sea of Bees, John Vanderslice and DoomBird at the TownHouse, to be specific — and they were projecting this French documentary called Microcosmos on the wall. It’s got bugs galore, even snails having sexytime, and I dug it enough to pay attention when the credits were rolling, and then found the whole thing online. Enjoy.
Before I started at my new gig, I couldn’t have told you the difference between a drywood and a subterranean termite, or what an alate was and why they call it a “swarmer,” or why Formosan termites are seriously problematic, or the interesting thing about Argentine ants is that they take over and dominate other species not through bellicosity, but via superior social organizing skills, or a bunch of other things. Did you know that there’s a wasp in the Far East that will sting a cockroach in the thorax in a spot that will paralyze the roach long enough for the wasp to deliver another sting, in the roach’s ganglia, or brain, that will disable its escape impulse, and then the wasp will snip the now-docile roach’s antennae off at the halfway point, then will suck out some body fluids through an antenna like a bug mai tai through a straw, and then the wasp will lead the roach like a dog on a leash back to its lair, where it will lay an egg on the zombie-fied bug, which will provide a living host for the wasp larva to burrow into and then burst from like an alien facehugger when it’s done feeding? I mean, how’s that for a cool horror movie plot?
Yeah, you could say I’m digging this new line of work. —Jackson Griffith