So It Didn’t Really Close on Saturday Night?

Here’s an excerpt from another piece of satire I love, a short story by T.C. Boyle titled “Top of the Food Chain.” Context: A scientist, in an attempt to improve the living conditions in Borneo, unleashes massive amounts of DDT to combat an insect problem, with disastrous environmental results. In this excerpt, the scientist has been called before a Senate committee investigating the disaster.

In an interview, Boyle was asked if, as a writer, he found himself acting as an anthropologist? Boyle replied by saying it’s “a great way of putting it. I had never thought of it in those terms.”

The cats? That’s where it got sticky, really sticky. You see, nobody really lost any sleep over a pile of dead lizards-though we did the tests routinely and the tests confirmed what we’d expected, that is, the product had been concentrated in the geckos because of the sheer number of contaminated flies they consumed. But lizards are one thing and cats are another.

You see, the cats had a field day with these feeble geckos—you can imagine, if any of you have ever owned a cat, the kind of joy these animals must have experienced to see their nemesis, this ultra-quick lizard, and it’s just barely creeping across the floor like a bug. Well, to make a long story short, the cats ate up every dead and dying gecko in the country, from snout to tail, and then the cats began to die … which to my mind would have been no great loss if it wasn’t for the rats. Suddenly there were rats everywhere—you couldn’t drive down the street without running over half-a-dozen of them at a time. They fouled the grain supplies, fell in the wells and died, bit infants as they slept in their cradles. But that wasn’t the worst, not by a long shot. No, things really went down the tub after that. Within the month we were getting scattered reports of bubonic plague, and of course we tracked them all down and made sure the people got a round of treatment with antibiotics, but still we lost a few and the rats kept coming …

From “Top of the Food Chain” by T. C. Boyle       


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