Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Slugs in the house

Slugs are coming into the house at night. I don't know where they get in—the slug-hole, maybe. It's the hole in the downhill side of the baseboard, where the water's supposed to run out if the apartment fills up with water.

I don't know why they come into the house. Maybe they've got a simple slug robot program.

Here's the simple slug robot program:

Step one: go forward.

Step two: if you can't go forward, back up two inches and turn to the right ten degrees. Go to step one.

So slugs bump into things a lot, if you can say something moving that slowly bumps at all. It's sort of a slow-motion thing.

A slug wreck is a terrible thing to watch. You can see it coming. Even the slug sees it coming. Says, very slug-slowly, "Oh, noooooooo!" The front end of the slug touches the wall. Back end keeps moving. Slow, slow, creeping. Front end of the slug stretches out like a puddle. Wider and wider over the course of five minutes. Ends up as a splatter on the wall. You watched it happen. It took five minutes, and you couldn't do anything about it. It's the same way God watches car wrecks.

You might think it's no big deal that slugs are coming into the house. Annoying, but not exactly dangerous. You'd be wrong.

Pat fell asleep one night with the window open. In the big orange wing chair. Beer half-finished in his hand, resting on the armrest. Woke up in the morning with his hair in his eyes. Reached up to brush it aside, and it felt as if his head had been covered in snot. Sticky, silvery on his fingers, flaking to powder.

The smell of beer had brought it—a six-inch banana slug from the patio. It muscled its way through the screen. Crawled up the chair, slowly, slowly. Over the top of Pat's head. Did a little circle with its back-and-fill slug robot program. Slorched its way down his arm, up and over the edge of the beer glass. Guzzled beer till it was too fat to fit in the glass, then died, head down in that last little bit of beer you're supposed to leave for the fairies so they don't snatch away your children and leave changelings in their place.

Pat tipped the glass over the sink, but the slug stuck. He tapped the rim down on the counter. Still nothing. Tried running a butter knife around the slug's body. It was working wonderfully, making a slurping sound, till he got to a place where the slug skin had dried against the side of the glass. He pushed too hard, broke the skin, and the slug popped. Splattered beer foam and slug guts straight up out of the glass. Straight up into Pat's face. It stung his eyes. And the analgesic property of the slug slime (try licking one if you don't believe me) froze his eyelids open for a week. He had to sleep open-eyed, and he dreamed about nothing but the second-hand on his bedside clock going around and around and around.

So slugs coming into the house are nothing to laugh at.

You can't seal it up. They tried. Ran a line of caulk all the way around the base of the building. Painted it with beer to attract the slugs, salt to dissolve them as they tried to cross over. The slugs used the dead bodies of their companions as bridges. Crawled over them as they hissed and bubbled with the salt. Drank all the beer on the way into the house, so it wasn't just slugs, but drunk slugs.

I got up in the morning. Staggered barefoot toward the coffee machine.

I stepped on something. Cold, wet. A little bit of resistance, then something burst. Colder and wetter. I looked down. There was a spray of slime across the kitchen floor, fanning out the way ketchup does when you stamp on one of those little ketchup packages.

And on my foot, slug skin. Slug guts—whatever kind they've got. There was a short trip to the bathroom while I scraped off the bits, sat on the edge of the bathtub and washed the bottoms of both feet, just to make sure.

Out in the living room there was a zigzag trail. A shining, meandering path you could only see if you stood where the light hit it at the right angle. The drunken slugs had stumble-slimed their way all over the floor.

They were all heaped up in a corner, singing slug songs in high, peeping voices. Sentimental ballads. "I met my love on a lettuce leaf." "When the dew is on the slime." That kind of thing.

I scooped them all up in the dustpan. Eighty-sixed the drunken slugs into the toilet. A meaner person would have poured salt in there from the blue can with the little girl and the umbrella on the label. I just pulled the handle. The slugs went around and around, down the porcelain vortex. There was a sound like "glup." No more slugs.

Next time someone peed in there, the toilet wouldn't flush. Did that thing where the water in the bowl goes up and up, and you stand, looking helpless, thinking, Please don't rise over the rim! Please don't rise over the rim!

I called the Roto-Rooter guy.

"Is it slugs?" he asked.

"Well, um…"

"It's slugs, isn't it?"

I looked at my toes. "Yes."

"Don't suppose you salted 'em first," said the Roto-Rooter man.

"Well, no. I thought it would be cruel."

"Yeah," he said. "Not like flushing them down the crapper. Well, I've got to go out to the van for my slug bit."

The slugs are still getting into the house at night. I put a bowl of beer out for them. Chuck them out the door in the morning. They weave off toward the next-door neighbor's tulips, humming to themselves. If you look at just the right angle, you can see meandering trails of silver on the sidewalk.

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