One person’s nightmare can be another person’s walk in the park. Let me explain.
In the car, I was listening to the audio version of Robert Fulghum’s What on Earth Have I Done?—a collection of fun essays that made me grin like a goofball rather than grind my teeth like a raging American, which is what I usually do when driving and listening to news on NPR. But Fulghum has the soul of a child in the body of a white-haired minister, with a child’s sense of play. So while I drove, I grinned. If you’ve never heard Robert Fulghum read his work in his soft, gentle voice, I urge you to do so without delay.
Anyway, in one of the essays, he talks about counting the bugs in his home.
I decided to do the same. I’d perform a census of sorts, on the bugs residing in my cottage.
The day I counted, I found one ant zipping along the window sill. I squashed it with a tissue. One down. A moment later, I saw one ant zipping along the window sill. The same ant, un-squashed. I’m sure it was the same ant, because there were no other ants as far as the eye could see. Ants don’t travel in pairs. There’s the one ant, scouting for whatever it is ants scout for, who later returns to the tribe to relay whatever information they’ve found. The ant I squashed was the scouting ant. If the scout goes missing, the assistant goes scouting for the scout. I had just squashed the head scout, so technically, he had only been missing for sixty seconds—not enough time to alert the assistant. Which proves my theory: even though I had squashed the scout, it came back to life.
Which reminded me of that episode on The Twilight Zone where a man flushes a spider down the toilet and it comes back bigger, so he flushes it again and it comes back bigger, and so on until the spider is as big as the house and flushes the man down the toilet. At least I think it was The Twilight Zone. It may have been my vivid imagination.
Something else: the day I decided to count the bugs in my cottage—a cottage normally overrun with bugs—all I found was one ant. Where were all the spiders and mosquitos and mosquito-eaters and crickets and caterpillars and fruit flies and those little orange things no bigger than a dot? Did I imagine them? Am I like that woman in the movie Gaslight where her husband schemes to drive her mad?
Are you scared yet? Because I am.
So, one ant. And several teensy-weensy black thingabees that looked like rat poop, but upon closer inspection were the husks of bugs that had been eaten by some spider nowhere to be found.
I basked in the buglessness of my cottage, until two days later when we had a heat spell. Suddenly, every flying insect on the planet plastered itself to the outside of my windows. When I opened the door, they followed me in. They batted my head with their hard bodies. They congregated in the upper corners of the ceiling. They swarmed the lamps, clicking against the plastic shade over my bed, and in the glass shade over the bathroom mirror. I spent half the night smashing them, and for every one I smashed, two more appeared.
But this is nothing compared to what Dave endured.
He had just gone to bed, and heard a gurgling sound coming from his bathroom. He thought, God, I hope it’s not the sewer backing up into the shower. He flicked on the light, checked the shower. All clear. Then he glanced in the toilet.
There, blinking in the sudden light, was a giant barn rat.
A barn rat.
In the toilet.
Having scurried up from the sewer pipes.
Evidently, the rat was as startled to see Dave as Dave was to see a giant rat peering from the toilet, because it turned tail and scurried right back down the pipes.
“Wait a minute,” I said a week later when he told me. “You found a rat in your toilet? And you’re telling me this now, a week later?”
If I had found a rat in my toilet, here’s what I would have done:
1. Run screaming into the night.
2. Driven to Dave’s and banged on his door, yelling, “Move over, I’m sleeping with you!”
3. Never gone to the bathroom again. Ever.
I’ll take a whole tribe of ants and a gazillion flying insects over one barn rat in the toilet any day.
Dave will take one barn rat over one snake in the toilet any day.
And some poor schlub who pulls down his pants and hears hissing will take one snake in the toilet over six half-eaten cockroaches in his cereal bowl any day. Gulp.
Any day can add up to a walk in the park, depending on what it is you’re counting.