Views from the Uppermost House: My life as an invertebrate

PeterLewisTreehouseCMYKBy S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

I enjoy invertebrates as much as the next guy; used to be one myself, in fact.

Back in 1967, I was just a normal kid sitting in an elementary school cafeteria peeling the wrapper off a package of Ring Dings with my teeth when I looked around and realized that we second graders could take over the world. It was just simple arithmetic: there were 75 of us short people and only three teachers. There were no cell phones, no 911, no pepper spray or Tasers, and we had the element of surprise (plus we had Alan Zittomer, who was huge). But the word synergy hadn’t been invented yet, and I was not a gifted leader, (no backbone), so I let the idea die right there and the tri-headed dictatorship remained in power over our little tribe of subjugates — and that’s why there is still such a thing as the second grade today.

Fast-forward a few decades and things haven’t changed much. I can spell synergy now, even know what it means, but I’m still not the out-front guy, still can’t gather a group together, align their collective will, and lead much of a charge. Truth is, discipline and order don’t really fit into my life very well — my wife won’t even ride in my car because of the chaos of rubbish, exercise equipment and fouled laundry heaped on the seats. “But I don’t sit in those seats,” I beg. Whenever we travel together we always take her car, which is vacuumed regularly and smells pleasantly like vanilla pudding.

Fact is, I’m both in awe and a little intimidated by neatness, the whole everything-in-its-place thing. It just doesn’t seem natural to me, as if someone that bent on order must be hiding something awful amidst all that tidiness. My daughter’s room, by contrast, looks like an explosion at TJ Maxx, and she’s one of the most together, open, confident, trustworthy people I know. All that college-age compost just shouts: “Nothing to hide! Just look for yourself! Here I am with all my dents and wrinkles! By the way, have you seen my hairbrush? Or my hermit crab?”

So anyway, this summer (as some of you may have noticed), has been very wet. So soggy that stepping outside in the early morning is like walking into a giant salad. And boy, if ever there was a Year of the Slug, this is it. Those gooey things are just everywhere. (In order to get the most out of this column, you should Google “anatomy of a slug” right now… actually, wait, I just did that, and no, you shouldn’t.)

I don’t much like slugs because they defoliate things in the gardens, cutting my poor basil plants off at the stump and killing perennials in the flowerbeds. I hate squishing them, because, well, that’s disgusting, so I’ve gotten in the habit of flinging them across the road toward the lake with a spoon.

Some morning last week, I went for a walk before work and it was very early and it was drizzling, but the sun was trying to poke through so the road was warm and steaming and coming back to the house minding my own business I started seeing slugs. More slugs than usual. An alarming number of slugs, actually. A slug about every 10 or 15 feet. Pretty soon, I was utterly fixated on slugs and wasn’t even paying attention to traffic. Walking a bit bent over, counting steps between slugs. Then, I noticed that ALL THE SLUGS WERE GOING THE SAME WAY. I mean exactly the same way. Laying down parallel mucous trails.

So, I panicked and ran down the street toward our house, jumping over a parallel slimy Limax flavus Linnaeus every few steps, and then dashed through the garage and into the kitchen and shouted to my wife, “ALL THE SLUGS ARE GOING THE SAME WAY!” And she looked at me and said, “Toward the lake, right?” And I said, “No, they’re coming this way!” And she just blinked at me.

“They’ve organized!” I yelled, my voice quavering a little.

And I ran through the house pulling down the window shades. I knew what those invertebrates were up to, and it frightened me.

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