I killed a dozen slugs
the other day, and it is not
something I feel proud about. I doused them with salt, and watched them
wither. Before that, I tried tossing them over the wall into my
next-door neighbor’s yard. I flushed them down the toilet. I fed them
to the garbage disposal. They multiplied anyway.

Loath am I to take any sort of life. But it’s a garden thing. I have
one of those postage-stamp size brick backyard downtown urban patios,
filled with terra-cotta pots of marigolds and portulacas and celosia and
sedum, which I select, yes, because I think they are beautiful, but more
important, because I believe nothing could ruin them. Until I get the
petunias. And then the slugs come, armadas of them, auditioning for a
yet-unreleased eco-horror-catastrophe flick done by John Carpenter:

“They’re here! SLIME BOMBS!!!!”

My friend, Bruce, says obviously my yard is too damp, my soil too
acidic, but he has no suggestions how to banish these lowly but annoying
gastropods equipped with 100 rows of teeth, 90 per row. Part Newt
Gingrich, part slacker, slugs are mostly mouth, therefore devastating —
and despised. Slugs have been likened to the serpent that despoiled
Eden. They could be, then, the embodiment of evil. Which can be
overcome, says my friend, Shulamith, a poet and Drexel University
English teacher, by spelling the word backward; that way, you remove its
power. But sguls seems even scarier to me.

Compulsively, I read up on slugs, and talk to anyone about them. The
information is vast and often downright gross.

  • Slugs are even bigger and more disgusting in other parts of the
    world. My friend, Ross, a New York shrink, gleefully recounts seeing
    gargantuan slugs big as his forearm on an island near Vancouver, pursued
    by a stream of kneeling scientists studying the healing properties of

  • Slugs act heartlessly. Katherine, who works in book publishing in
    Chapel Hill, N.C., recalls how a huge slug crawled onto her parents’
    porch and demolished her favorite childhood pumpkin.

  • Slugs respond to psychic coercion. Pam, a Mount Airy social worker
    leery of killing pests, makes a little speech aloud to slugs or ants or
    cockroaches, inviting them to immediately leave, or else. Mostly, she
    maintains, they, uh, flee.

  • Slugs have a lavish lore and literature. The clerk at Borders,
    ringing up my copy of “The Little Greenish-Brown Book of Slugs” by Eve
    Corbel, tells me he never saw a slug until he moved here from Texas.
    “Monstrous,” he mutters. “You touched it?” interjects a co-worker?
    “After you touch a slug, you can’t get married for three months.” Oh,

  • Slugs have a taste for yeasty brews. Lorenzo from Manhattan, a former
    ad agency creative director, says he used to drown slugs at his country
    house in saucers of beer. As a teetotaler, I have a problem with buying
    beer for slugs. Does that make me an enabler? A codependent?

Chickadees eat slugs. So they say. Heck, folks in Oregon
actually deep-fry
banana slugs in batter. Did I
mention that marigolds, which repel most bugs, attract slugs?
Conversely, slugs detest apricots, azaleas, basil, beans, chard, corn,
Jerusalem cherry, daffodils, freesia, fuschia, ginger, grapes, hibiscus,
holly, Swedish ivy, Peruvian lily, parsley, plum, rhododendron, rose of
Sharon, sage, sunflower.

Wusses may drown their slugs in expired yogurt or drug them on soggy
dog-food. But using diatomaceous earth or powered baked eggshells — “the
sharp pieces will slice slugs’ mushy bodies” — requires a serious dose
of indifference. If you think the slimy garden pests are disgusting,
consider what else we do to them. Christine Allison, author of “365
Days of Gardening,” recommends making a “spear” out of a sewing needle
and a long dowel, stabbing slugs and then scraping them into a coffee
can filled with kerosene-laced water. Nice. Yes, slugs bring out our
Inner Nazi.

By the way, if you are stuck — and I do mean stuck — with slug
slime on your hands, rinse in cheap vinegar, then lukewarm water. Repeat
if necessary, or if, like Lady Macbeth, you find that hand-washing goes
well with murder.

The brave and brazen Allison, who boasts she’s a bare-fingered
bug-squasher, presents the slug version of the Grapefruit Diet. “A
desperate Oregon gardener,” she recounts, “placed about a half-dozen
grapefruit rinds, with just a little pulp left on, all about his garden,
turned over like little igloos. The slugs obediently climbed under the
fruit rinds and died.” Shades of Treblinka!

This is where my conscience really kicks in. You may say a conscience
is a terrible thing to waste on gastropods, but killing — anything —
is downright unpleasant for me. Yet here I am, Fallen Vegetarian and
Lapsed Jew, cruelly exterminating tiny creatures, in selfish pursuit of
some rather empty bourgeois abstraction called “My Garden.” Where will
it all end? Will I continue to perpetrate my own nasty Holocaust? True,
slugs are pestilential, but
suffering is suffering, and theirs certainly is greater than mine.

So I ponder. I worry. I agonize. I do not want to befriend these
slugs or butcher them. What I decide is simple and effective, once I get
used to the implications. I am a Liberal. I will not entrap these slugs.
I will entice them into a Nice Little Box and remove them from my small
and delectable and overburdened backyard.

I will take my slugs, one by one, two by two, all of them, to the
park, that vast expanse of verdant and even more alluring succulence
known as Rittenhouse Square. My old neighborhood. I will release the
slugs into the bushes. What I have learned about myself is not exactly
pleasant, but here it is: My liberalism is flawed, even twisted. No,
I do NOT want to kill them, just RELOCATE them. I have become, on the
slug question, a NIMBY. Not In My Backyard.


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