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  • High / apple pie / in the sky / hopes

  • The ant willed its body from a crevice between the faucet and the top of the stainless-steel sink, paused for a moment to survey the landscape, then continued on its journey.
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  • The ant willed its body from a crevice between the faucet and the top of the stainless-steel sink, paused for a moment to survey the landscape, then continued on its journey.
    The ant — gender indeterminate — hiked the contour of the sink. If this were Florida, it would have put on its right blinker and meandered for miles before finding just the proper spot to descend into the basin itself. Here in the Rogue Valley, it was content to stick to a straight line along the countertop before descending among the forks and bowls and coffee cups.
    Where the ant had come from, it's hard to pinpoint. It wasn't carrying ID. Best guess would be " outside. Most likely from some vast, underground, interconnected subway system.
    The ant had found its way past the poison stakes set at intervals around the house, had avoided the Terro pools set out like oases to lure it to its death. At some point it had made its way beneath the sink cupboard and followed the ancient trails blazed by its ancestors to the pipes that would lead it to the hole big enough only for — well, an ant — to squeeze through.
    It had come for water. The heat wave across the West had been felt beneath the valley floor, and the ant world — as was the case of David Bowie in "The Man Who Fell To Earth" — was desperate for water. (Correction: This sentence has been updated to remove an incorrect movie reference.)
    The ant was Jake Gittes, and the sink was Chinatown.
    Ants, like Californians and college students, arrive each year at about the same time, drink the water, eat the food and drop out of sight. As neighbors, ants are far from the worst alternatives, but there's still something about them that leads to irrational fears.
    They're small, for one thing. And quick. Industrious little buggers, the whole lot. You don't see a lazy ant sipping an overpriced, organic coffee at an outdoor table, lamenting that more can't be done about unsolvable problems.
    Ants don't care about guns. They don't care about partisanship in government, illegal drugs, dogs pooping on the sidewalk (heck, Jake and his brethren probably appreciate that), whether their kids should get immunizations, the designated hitter rule, paparazzi, national health care, opening weekend box office totals, or erections lasting for more than four hours.
    Ants probably do understand global warming, though. Heat is one of the universal scourges that man, beast, vegetable, insect — or any combination thereof — know must be dealt with. The jet stream has twisted 90 degrees, the conditions for catastrophic fires have become more pronounced, the glaciers are melting, the coal industry has lambasted calls for stricter policies on dealing with climate change.
    Jake (for we have decided to call the ant Jake, regardless of whether it is male) might not know about the politics and the cultural causes of the heat, but he knows what it means to him and his family — if he has any, back underground.
    Jake passes an ant coming back in the other direction, water speck in tow. The fellow travelers exchange greetings, as is their wont. It looks like a scene from a film set in Paris, wherein French passersby give air kisses to each others' cheeks.
    Could be French, might be Italian. Movie stars and fashion models greet each other the same way, though. Actors, models, ants, the French " or any combination thereof.
    Jake and his momentary acquaintance pass information to each other, I suppose. The length of the trip, the weather, how much water awaits in the sink — and whether it will be enough for the subterranean society that needs it delivered.
    There's an awkward moment where neither ant can figure out whether to pass on the left or right (definitely French) and go on their ways. Jake turns briefly and sees the only other ant on the trail on his (or her) journey for home.
    The heat slows us humans (or vegetables, etc.) in a way that doesn't appear to bother ants. Gives us time to see the leaves and flowers wilting in empathy to our own distress. Ants, though, possess that inner strength unique to insects.
    Ants, we know (and perhaps this is one reason, a major reason, why we hate them so), will survive human ineptitude. They are impatient with stupidity ... having learned to live without it.
    Do what we will to ourselves — through scientific mistake, armed conflict, bigotry, obesity, the designated hitter rule, greed or sloth — Jake and the thousands of Jakes to come will prevail.
    That's probably why we study bugs and it's also why so many of the alien creatures that attack humanity in sci-fi films look like insects. They're an advanced civilization. What do we do? We spray the wrong chemical on a row of trees in the parking lot of a Target store in Wilsonville and — poof! — we kill 50,000 honeybees, bumble bees and ladybugs.
    Gave them a lovely memorial service, though, after, apparently, counting them. Said we're sorry and swept them away.
    Jake has rapelled to the sink floor, using that ant GPS that sends them out all in the same line on their foraging missions and back. In North Carolina, studies have shown that cockroaches not only know their daily routines, but have evolved to where they no longer are tempted by poisons set out to kill them.
    In one study, North Carolina State scientists have put the equivalent of a video-game control system on the backs of roaches to control their movements. The researchers have advanced their study far enough to be able to control the bugs.
    The endgame for this, believe it or not, is for such roboroaches to be sent into, say, a collapsed building or an earthquake zone to locate those (humans, not roaches) who might be trapped in the rubble. Nobody's said how this benefits the bugs.
    It is an example, however, of paying it forward. Like Jake's fellow ant traveler, early reconnaissance helps those who follow. Not that Oregon's future college students are cockroaches (or ants), but the plan advanced this week to have higher-ed students pay for their schooling from their future pay works somewhat the same way.
    The promise of money later for a benefit derived today. Like Wimpy gladly bumming hamburgers, or the Medford City Council buying part of the Red Lion property for parking spaces without knowing what the company owned by Lithia execs is paying on their end, it's good faith extolled for a promise of a fair return.
    Of course, the Pay It Forward, Pay It Back plan brings to mind the feel-good book and lousy movie "Pay It Forward," in which an elementary-school student does good deeds in hopes of starting a chain reaction of kindness. That the student (SPOILER ALERT) gets killed in the end of the story speaks to the cruel irony of humanity.
    Jake has found his slice of the American Dream ... an ocean oozing beneath a plate that once held the breakfast we eat the most — the bacon, eggs and the whole wheat toast. His insect-strength lugs his water bubble back to the countertop — when, in a shocking twist, darkness descends on our hero. In the form of a thumb.
    Soon, a fellow traveler is on the path to the sink when he comes upon what remains of Jake, picks up the carcass and hauls it back to the crevice beneath the faucet, down the side of the house, past the poisons and the traps and, ultimately, to the subterranean ant encampment.
    Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.
    Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin can be reached at rgalvin@mailtribune.com.
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