A Bottle
Full of Ants

T. S. Eliot said that we measure out our days in coffee-spoons. Me? I measure out my life in Jumex jars.

I've tried them all --- milk cartons, Mott's apple juice flasks, anonymous plastic containers, Gatorade bottles. And the one that wins, hands down, every time, is Jumex.

It has to do with the size, the shape, and the tight-fitting top (very important --- especially when you're sleepy). And, I suspect, the anonymity: why is that nice man in a wheelchair carrying a Jumex bottle in his briefcase?

§     §     §

I used to think that I would never need a urinal again. I sure as hell wanted to stay away from them, because they brought back too many bad movies.

Memories from so long ago, of the ward, of always having to ask (and always never wanting to ask) --- losing a personal freedom that always, before, had been taken for granted.

The very word "urinal" --- not a pretty word, like "flower" or "vase" or "asphodistra" --- puts me back in the hospital again, so many years ago (fifty!), a boy with a newly-lost innocence of body and of soul. On the ward --- should we write a book called On The Ward? --- with three dozen other kids, and I'm wondering how the hell I got there, wanting not to be there, and, worst of all, having to ask to pee. As if I were a babe again.

Urinals: cold metal things, with a handle, and a gaping mouth, called, for some reason, in our dim southern medical ward, "ducks." Each one came with a small piece of mattress ticking, to cover the mouth. They sat there on the bedtable, before and after filling --- sometimes for hours.

§     §     §

I have a funny story to tell you about me and my Jumex bottle. It happened last year, and it goes like this:

In the winter, one place I stay in is in the hills of Oaxaca, quite close to the sea and Chiapas (but quite far from Commander Marcos). I live in an old but very comfortable, accessible trailer, which we take out to an ancient mango orchard. It's a couple of miles from town; it has lots of trees, but no electricity.

I stay out there two or three times a week. Peace and quiet? No planes, no cars, no buses, no brawling drunks, nobody but me and my friends and part-time workers. The only sound is the sound of the bird they call the colonel, which sings, sometimes all night long, "Ko-lo-NELL, Ko-lo-NELL" a mournful sound; perhaps to remind us that there is a time when the sounds to our dying ears will be no more. To be no more.

I bring out my books (no electricity --- candlelight reading), and my bottle of wine, and my Jumex bottle. The Jumex always sits just outside the trailer door, there on the ground, where I can easily reach it.

José usually washes it out and, in the evening, sets it there where I can stretch my arm out from under the mosquito netting and grab it. But this time he neglected to put the lid on. After I went to sleep, and unbeknownst to me, several dozen barrenderas had taken up residence in it.

Barrenderas are black ants, big black ants, big ugly black ants. The name means "sweepers." They get that name because when they arrive, they sweep through your house, and you don't fight them --- their numbers are too large, their sting is too horrific. You leave.

You and the kids and the pets and anything edible get the hell out for the night. In return, during your absence, they sweep the place clean, and, best of all, eat up or drive out all the creepy-crawly things (tarantulas, snakes, rats, scorpions, and other ants). When you return --- usually after twenty-four hours --- your place is clean as a whistle.

It is very very dark in that mango orchard. I had no knowledge that barrenderas, like me, have an affection for empty Jumex bottles. So at 3 AM (it's very dark; I'm very sleepy) I put my hand out under the netting to get it and to use it.

Evidently the ants take umbrage at my relieving myself on their tiny little ant heads, so they rise up in a snit, go raging after the offending shower-head --- the way they best know how. And I do believe, by my troth, in all my life, with its many points of pleasure, and of pain, that I have never known such a sudden anguish in that most tender part of my body which, over the years, I have come to regard so lovingly and so well.

José and Jesús, sleeping in a near-by hut, said they thought I was dying of heart-attack, or had seen the spirit of Malinche (a ghost that haunts the nearby arroyos). I had, I admit, been in contact with several dozen angry spirits, but not Malinche, and I never guessed at the pain they could give me --- those black beasts who swarmed over my private parts, nearly creating a heart attack by registering their irritation at my invading their territory, trying to give them a golden shower at the time when they had no need nor interest in one.

§     §     §

I'm thinking I should be sending a testimonial to the Jumex company. "I want you to know how much I favor your bottles," I would say. "I'm not much for preprocessed orange juice, but after I've poured it down the sink...Wow! Of all that I have tried, this one does the trick the best." No spilling; no fumbling with slippery caps in the dark; no outrageous expense that the medical companies like to heap on all urological articles whatsoever.

They'll send out a film crew, and at three AM, they'll start the video going, catch me in an intimate act with the Jumex Toronja Bottle. And, after I've done, preferably without ants, I'll turn to the camera, hold it up, and, with a triumphal smile, say --- "For me, it's Jumex every time. And believe me --- I know!"

Then my buddies will pick it up and carry it out and in a gorgeous pan shot, the screen will fill with a large selection of empty Jumex bottles. Apple juice. Tomato juice. Grapefruit juice.

And, of course, orange juice.

--- Carlos Amantea

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