On a dead grass island at high noon, Lou and Brian are whipping ants with their jump ropes. I'm standing like Boss Godfrey from Cool Hand Luke with one hand on my hip, looking on as if to say That's some fine ant whippin', boys, though mostly just hoping neither of them zings me in the eye with a backlash. Together they pursue a fugitive - black, wingless - across fifty feet of barren terrain, whipping at half-second intervals, stomping, screaming, spitting, et cetera. Miraculously, the ant survives, or is not visibly killed. Brian asks, "Is it dead?" and Lou says, "No."
But in fleeing, the ant has unwittingly led the Koreans to his home base. I kneel in front of the anthill before the brats can go DEFCON 1 on it. The ants are darting about with Schröder-era Germanic diligence, hoisting blades of grass a bazillion times their mass, arranging pebbles and leafy bits into fortresses impervious to anything smaller and less malicious than a jump rope-wielding six year-old. Four grunts line up along the gashed left side of an expired roly-poly and start pushing. In a fatherly moment, I lure an ant onto my palm and blather, grossly exaggerating the freakish shit-hauling capacity of your average 9 to 5 worker drone, and the boys are fleetingly awed. The ant complex - with its sunblasted gravel, its hopeless brown grass, its frantic ant bureaucrats crawling all over one other - reminds me dimly of Phoenix, Arizona.
Lou challenges me to a jump roping duel. I accept, though my left Achilles tendon has been groaning all morning like a busted hydraulic shaft. I hobble a few steps towards the parking lot with a pink Hello Kitty jump rope that barely reaches down to my knees. A girl pedals by on a banana-seat bicycle and eyes me with blank curiosity, singing an amelodic arpeggiated la la la song as she passes. When I turn back around, I see that the boys are whipping the hell out of everything. The jump rope droops from my hand as I watch the ants scatter, some dashing back to defend the fort, others shooting out into desert space. Their home has been destroyed.