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My final (UK)college exam was a cosmology paper. It was an afternoon exam on the twenty eighth of June. After the paper, which seemed to go well, my classmates and I went for a few pints in the local. That was it, after two years hard work my A-Levels were finished.

After leaving college my dad was on my back to get a job the second I asked for a couple of pound. This is not something I can or should complain about as both my parents were understanding with me when I told them I thought it best that I didn't work whilst studying. So after some advice from my mam and consulting a few friends I decided to sign on to jobseekers allowance whilst looking for work.

Anyone who has been in such a place as the 'Job Centre',to sign on in a big city could tell you it is quite an intimidating place for a twenty year old, ten stone when wet through, young lad. I must admit I was pretty anxious, but the ends certainly justified the means in this case.

So, in I walk and sit down at the reception desk. The woman behind the desk starts processing my forms and such. After about five minutes the woman behind the desk tells me she has to go and make a photocopy of my passport and check somethings. Just as she leaves to do this I hear two men walk in. They are both dressed like your average car thief; skinhead, tattoos you wouldn't be showing your grandkids, socks tucked into tracksuit bottoms, dress shoes, and a shirt (Yes with tracksuit bottoms, you cant buy style you know....)Their hands were noticeably weighed down by cheap gold sovereign rings the size of the Milky Way. Ok, so I'm exaggerating, the aforementioned rings were not 1*10^5 light years in diameter, but they were large. (The socks tucked into tracksuit bottom serves a cunning purpose. When one of these delightful people decides to relive a shop of an item which takes their fancy, they put it into their trouser leg and let it slide down. Their sock defeats gravity (?) and keeps the item they just thefted from falling onto the floor at an inappropriate time.) Don't get me wrong, I am not greatly judgemental but when you grow up in Sunderland, or any other big city you learn to be wary of such characters. I think its called common sense.

Anyway I digress. I hear one of these men literally shout "Paul man wha ya gannan i needs ya to gis a hand wif me form like owww!" (Paul, would you please wait with me until I get these forms completed) To which his friend replies "Eye, giz a minute Stevie, ya madun" (Yes, be patient Stephen, you crazy chap you). Stephen sits next to me. Now, I am not a nosy person, but one tends to listen in on a conversation five feet away from you when there is nothing better to do:

Job Centre Woman (JCW): "Hello"

Stephen : "G'up"(Good day to you)

JCW : "I will start processing this now, ok?"

Stephen : " "

JCW : "Right, who do you live with please?"

Stephen : "Me Mar and Dar" (Mummy and Daddy)

JCW : "Ok, Could I have your address please?"

Stephen : "xxxxx street"

JCW : "And which house in xxxxx street is it"?

Stephen : "Erm.......(he pauses for about thirty seconds) its QWERTY1"

JCW : "Ok, and could I please have your post code?"

Stephen : "Erm......(thinks for a while)I divvnt knaw, two seconds pet" (I am unsure, could you please excuse me for two seconds, you nicy lady?) At this point, he stands up from his chair and begins to shout across the entire job centre to his friend who is at one of the job banks, about twenty metres away. (A job bank is touch screen client station which I assume is connected to the national Job Centre intranet. They have a surprisingly clear, concise and effective Graphical User Interface, for a government computer system (not that I've seen any others, I am just asumming so)) "Pawwl, whats tha postycode for me mar and dars kip oww??" (Paul could you please inform one of ones postcode?)

JCW : "OK, and how long have you lived there?"

Stephen : "A've lived tha allll me leaf" (In my lifetime, I have not lived in another abode)

JCW : "Right, and what would you like to claim?" At this point the woman handling my claim returned with a photocopy of my passport. (On which I bear more than a passing resemble to death).

Now, I don't think that Stephen had learning difficulties, by his mannerisms etc etc so please don't jump on me for been on my high horse. I also have quite a broad 'mackem' accent, which usually doesn't make much of an appearance until I get into a drunkenenened(hic!) argument.


Two things really amazed me about this little incident:
1) He had lived at home, with his "mar and dar" for twenty odd years, did not know his postcode, and had to think for a relatively long amount of time to recall his house number. I find it frankly incomprehensible how he could get through life, socks tucked in tracksuit bottoms aside, not knowing this little snippet of bloody important information about himself.

2) That nothing in his brain registered embarrassment in shouting across a crowded government building telling everyone he was too fucking dense to know his own postcode.

Of course, I am too much of a coward to have told him my views to his face. Those cheap sovereign rings were huge. Fuck that.

There is a part of my brain that can be best described as a warehouse or, who am I kidding, a dingy attic. Those who've spent time in an attic know, these aren't just objects you find there, but shrivelled, shrunk pieces of life. Or rather what's left of a piece of life when it's dead, like a fossil.

Part of my brain resembles an attic because it is completely full of useless pieces of knowledge. When I was 13 I thought chicks dug that. Now I think they make good nodes. Wrong on both counts. Anyway, one of those things I know is that the ants that ring (and infest in some areas) the city I live in, the city of angels lights, are wood ants, formicæ rufæ, and yesterday was mating day for them. Not that Paris has an ant situation, but these things are pretty much ubiquitous, and, as with most Western Europe, the ones you see 'round here are mostly wood ants. Or sometimes nutbreaker ants (messores barbari) or the annoying black dwarf ants (iridomyrmeces humilies), which somehow sneaked here from their home in Argentina. And I never had an interest in ants. A bunch of useless knowledge, I tells ya.

Anyway, unlike the sexless worker or warrior ants, the winged females of the wood ants never see the light of day. They are taken care of by servants deep inside ant city, like the princesses they are, all through the various stages of their metamorphosis. That is, until mating day.

Wood ants are tenacious, highly political and dominant insects. They expand and maintain their highly organized empires by creating new colonies. New colonies are created by queens. Princesses must become Queens. And when do princesses become Queens? On mating day. How?

In order to become a Queen, a princess must mate, and with enough males to have a supply of seed that will last her lifetime, because she will have to give birth to all the larva which will build the colony, nurse the other larva and pupa, gather food, battle other ant armies -- and create other colonies. On a favorable summer day, the princesses gather to the top of the colony's firewood roof, under the sun for the first time, spread their wings for the first time, and take flight for the first time. After a head start, the males, also winged but two to three times smaller and darker, lift off on their maiden flight after, well, the maidens.

That's where the fun starts. The princesses have to fly as fast and as far as they can, not just because the colony needs to be far from home, but because only the fastest, fittest males can be allowed to fertilize the females: yes, wood ants practise evolution. The pincesses also need to dodge, among other obstacles, the (in this case European and most likely unladen) swallows who like delicious winged ants. Pretty exciting for a first day out.

And it's only the beginning. A tiny male finally grabs on to the princess and curves its thin abdomen to reach under the princess's and penetrate her. The strength of his orgasmic release typically kills the disposable prince, who is quickly replaced by another. Two or more males may latch onto the gang banged princess and copulate with her at the same time. It sometimes happens that after or during the act a dead male will remain stuck to the exhausted princess, bringing her down. Speed, sex, and death all rolled up in the fall of a lifetime. Oh, to be a female wood ant...

This is what was brought to my attention yesterday when I exited the subway to get home. The first clue was the sidewalk, dotted with tiny splotches, as if it was just starting to rain, and yet... not. The splotches were all about the same size, like a 2€ coin and, even though I never examined them from a close distance the liquid seemed thicker and whiter than water. Then as I was walking up the street I felt quick, tiny touches, which can only be described to someone who had an insect fly into him at full speed, something which doesn't happen every day. After one got stuck in my hair for a little while and another flew by my ear with a sudden buzz which made me behave like an agitated Kramer for a second, I started to notice the earthbound ones, slowly dragging along the pavement with their folded elytras and overstretched abdomens, crawling over puddles of the lymph their fellow insects use as blood. The princesses were becoming Queens.

It's been a good mating day if three or four of the thousands princesses get to start a colony. Once they hit the ground the exhausted animals are the pray of all their predators. They need to find some place to hole up in, and they need to recover. They will lay an egg, and eat it. And a couple more. She will let a few grow into scrawny worker ants with brittle white shells, feed them some of the eggs she eats, send it out to gather food. Once she is healthy enough to breed healthy ants, they will start by killing the scrawny ones, perhaps to remove all trace of the colony's unnatural cannibalistic birth. Then comes the digging of the tunnels, the building of the royal chambers, the nursery, of this astoundlingly efficient complexity that is an ant colony. The Queen will never see the light of day again.

This is what I was thinking about, walking up that street, when I started killing them. Every one I encountered. I still don't know why. Probably because I could. Maybe because I wanted to spice it up for them by making the odds even worse, strengthen them by doing my part in the game of evolution, by squishing these pregnant princesses. I don't know why I did it, with the meticulousness of a child coloring within the lines, extending my foot here, stepping there. I don't feel bad in the least about squashing a bunch of insects, but I still don't know what I did this very infantile thing. Given where I live it's impossible, but part of me hopes a Queen did manage to start a colony.

But most of me thinks these insects would just be annoying.

I pulled out of the parking lot and headed over the railroad tracks to the freeway. As I looked up to the overpass I could see traffic inching along. "Damn" I sighed. Because of my unfamiliarity with any short cuts to by-pass the jam on the city streets my choice was made for me. I had to climb up the on-ramp with the rest of the commuters and join the CO2 mob in the thick. Before I even reached the end of the Gilman St on-ramp onto East 80 I could hear a fire truck fighting it’s was through the slithering ooze of pistons and steel.

I eased over out of its way but quickly got back over the three lanes to bypass the 580 off-ramp that was only a mile or so down the road. I was thinking and hoping that whatever was causing the jam up was closer to me than far away and realized to my delight as I looked ahead that I was almost on top of it.

My first impression as I climbed up the on-ramp 'I wouldn't be surprised if this was a gawking problem.' It never ceases to amaze me of how morbid people are and stupid ... slowing down to see what hell or torment they might be able to witness at an accident scene on the other side of the road. Would there be blood and guts or heads rolling away. This fascination is mind-boggling.

The slow ooze of traffic came to a dribble as I saw between cars the approaching emergency vehicles ahead. Off to my right an ambulance with its lights flashing and sirens blaring made an almost straight cut across the four lanes causing all traffic to stop. The accident couldn't have been more than two hundred yards ahead and I mentally expressed my usual thoughts as I came up to or heard or saw an accident like this. 'Hope no one is seriously hurt,' but that would not be the case here.

Again and again people from the two lanes to the left of me were cutting over to get around the blockade of emergency vehicles that blocked most of the fast and second lanes. The people in fast lane were pulling into the breakdown lane to their left to pass the accident. Inching up to the scene I could see a pair of tennies just below some Levis between the bottom of the fire truck and the road. My first thought was someone had tried to cross traffic on foot. Don't laugh I have been in more than one traffic jam from someone on foot getting hit by a car.

I noticed that no one was bent down helping the person; the police officers were standing over him talking to the ambulance driver as he approached. Even the ambulance driver seemed in no hurry. I didn't look at the man but then how did I know it was a man - just a guess. My peripheral vision is better than most and I could see the helmet still on his head as he lay there bitterly still on the hot, hot asphalt. I saw him while I was looking at the bright shiny red crotch-rocket that lay facing away from the setting sun and towards me.

Those few seconds as I inched past the scene at a sauntering 10 miles an hour I kept my eyes straight ahead. I thought if I didn't look I could at least believe - that the ambulance driver was taking his time and no one was bent over this poor fella because he was fine. Just waiting to be taken in for a check-up. Only if I don't look, right.

That look I stole at the motorcycle brought a world of thoughts to come crashing down on me. Was the motorcycle worth it, as it lay there, perhaps ownerless now? Was he ready to give it all up? Was facing all those 4 rubbered giants and their mad ways worth the freedom of the wind in his face? Are we ever ready for that next lap on the commuter course in survival?

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