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February 26, 2024

Oort Cloud Oddities: Eat or be eaten

By Alexandra Queen

There are a number of things that concern me about human kind. For one thing, there's our current fascination with reality shows. Joe Millionaire is perfect example. "Wow, last season was great!" the producers seem to have said to themselves. "What can we do next season? I know! What's better than people who don't know how stupidly they're behaving? People behaving stupidly with funny accents!" Bam. Wow. What will the archaeologists think of us thousands of years from now, when they unearth those episodes and sit down to analyze them? It sends little shudders down my spine to think that those could be the Rosetta Stone of the next generation. Thousands of years from now, students in a futuristic virtual auditorium (courtesy of their enhanced neural implants) will absorb 21st century English from watching the first season and then, by carefully studying the second season, they will finally be able to decipher spoken "twang" and French accents. It will be the breakthrough that will allow future generations to enjoy country music, HeeHaw and all those really popular French shows. Oh, wait -- there aren't any. Still, by that time I'm sure there will be any number of reality shows that have followed Joe Millionaire's suit. Next year, Survivor will drop a group of sophisticated French socialites deep in the heart of Texas and show them grimly determined to survive, choking down Coors instead of Chateau Margaux and shopping in vain for a beret. To bolster ratings, they can have a crossover episode with next year's other sure hit, "Hick Eye for the French Guy".

Disturbing, yes, but the thing that has me most troubled about the human race these days is that it appears we are not at the top of the food chain. According to the AAP, a man stopped alongside a road in Australia's Lamington National Park to relieve himself. Midway through his errand, he reportedly noticed that the spot he had chosen for his back-to-nature moment was real estate already occupied by a nest of "meat ants", who apparently thought that someone in their colony had ordered delivery. Being swarmed by biting ants in the midst of such a delicate act, the man understandably attempted to relocate himself quickly. Doing so, he apparently fell down the side of a very steep slope, tumbling for about 100 meters before shrubs and rocks stopped him on a small ledge, where rescuers found him four hours later. You can be optimistic and say that at least he survived, but the lesson I take away from that is that if indeed we are going to be prey animals, we need to do a better job of it. Might I suggest that if we emulate prey animals, we go for "gazelle on the savannah" rather than "lemming after the frat party". Might I also suggest finding a port-a-john. Or at least not going up to the lair of our predators and giving them a surprise on their front doorstep.

Even this wouldn't bother me so much, had my husband not called me from work in a panic a week or two ago. He knows that when the dozen or so neighborhood children get together for a play date in the local park, I will sometimes help them hunt for worms. Overprotective daddy that he is, he told me I needed to be extra-careful when the children handled worms. Because of meningitis.

"You can get meningitis from touching worms?"

"Well, from eating them."

"You can get meningitis from eating worms?"

"Well, the article said snails. But I thought you should know."

"Okay, honey. I'll stop feeding the kids snails while we dig for worms."

"Good enough."

We agreed long before we actually had our daughter that my husband gets to be the irrationally worried one, so I was not surprised to get that phone call. I usually get about three a day as my husband has time to read the newspaper or chat with people. ("Don't let her eat unwashed cantaloupe!" "Don't lock her in the car with the windows rolled up!" "Don't let her go to any cafes on the Gaza strip!") Round about lunch time, I usually forbid him to read the newspaper anymore and the calls taper off. But though he tends to worry excessively, he's a very sensible man, so I took the time to look into the story and found that in fact you can get a sometimes deadly form of meningitis from eating snails.

The significance of this is that not only are we somewhere underneath invertebrates on the food chain, but we can't even manage a decent "eat or be eaten" scenario. Probably the only reason our numbers are so populous even now is that ants are carefully farming us for crumbs, like they do with aphids and honeydew. That's why they're all over my kitchen every few weeks. I think they're invading pests. They think they're giving tours of prize livestock in top agricultural regions.

Maybe that's why those students thousands of years from now will be attempting to learn French accents. The French have been eating snails safely for hundreds of years. Escargot, baby. It's time to even the playing field.

Comments, questions and snail recipes to alexandraqueen1@hotmail.com.

This article originally appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.
Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-01-03
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