Since early childhood, Ned Rollins had been fascinated with bugs of all kinds, as long as they had six legs. Spiders were, however, hated and feared, as he suffered from acute arachnophobia. With the others, he went through boyhood phases of fear, marvel, torment, taste, collection and, finally, study. Flies, gnats, roaches, grasshoppers, beetles, bees, mosquitoes, butterflies - all these and more came to define his life. While the sporty boys played cricket, Ned could be found mounting one. While the popular boys were playing football or surfing, Ned could be found out standing in his field, searching for locusts or other botanical scourges. It was a hobby turned to profit as his father and other local farmers were now paying him.
Skinny, awkward, shy, but intelligent, he was doomed to nerdom from the start. Add to that the influence of his overbearing father, and his case for coolness had closed. The Reverend Rollins presided over Christchurch New Zealand's First Methodist congregation on Sundays and most weekday evenings.
Now a successful wheat and corn farmer, he had served a year in Viet Nam. In the somewhat oxymoronic role of military pastor, he had tended to the spiritual needs of the fighting men, and they had some needs. He was tough, strict, a man of the rod as well as the God.
Ned grew up accordingly. While healthy, solvent, well educated and morally grounded, he remained cowed, directed, disciplined, and imbued with guilt, all original. The young man took ever more to his insect world. With the Christmas gift of a refrigerator sized ant farm from his uncle Henry, the stripper, specialization commenced. Ants! Wow! What a concept!
Just look! See how orderly they are? The complex living structure complements the complex social structure. Strong? Are you kidding? They can carry five times their body weight and drag 25 times their weight. Cooperative? We should take lessons. And how about that mating while flying thing they do? Wild, or what? Then he dies and gets eaten! Outrageous! Now, that's drama!
Yeah, ants. That was his ticket to Japan. Ned continued his unquestioned march through the system: high school, honors grad, B.A. in Biology, M.A. in Zoology. His master's theses had broken new ground in the research of Japanese pismires. He discovered that there were 262 known species of ants crawling around there, significantly more than had previously been recorded.
Ned fascinated his academic audiences with close up color video footage of Japan's largest ant, which peaks out at 20 millimeters. He then compared it with the smallest, of which it takes 100,000 to equal one gram. Bows. Applause.
Our good Ned was once again a success. Yet the constant weight of paternal pressure refused to subside. He loved his dad and owed him much, but he was being smothered. Then arrived the letter from Ibaraki. His mentor, Walden Helmsly, had secured a teaching and research position at the well respected Tsuchiura Science University and was now urging Ned to partake of an all expenses paid trip to coordinate a symposium at the annual TSU entomology convention there. He could stay at Walden's place for the week of the conference and an additional week for sightseeing. Ned was on the offer in an instant!
With parental blessings, a passport and tourist visa was acquired. Ned spent long hours at the library and with his Berlitz Japanese phrase book, learning what he could about country and culture. He often fantasized about how things would be there. Maybe the people wouldn't know he was a nerd. They seemed kind of nerdy themselves. Maybe the girls would like a scientific sort of guy. At any rate, and with no "maybes" about it, his old man wouldn't be there. He would be free to do as he pleased. "Yippee" - he loosed the spontaneous yell of joy before abruptly catching himself, realizing that he didn't do such things.
Bags packed, affairs tidy, they drove Ned to the Christchurch airport on that cold and wintry late July afternoon. Looking geekish in his lime green suit with the dandy cowboy boots and thick black glasses, the 25 year old turned and waved to his family and both of his friends. Then, with his back to the past, he entered Qantas flight #666 to Narita via Auckland.
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