Monday, May 9, 2011

Cicadas!!! [My Personal War on Terror]

By Peter Rodman

The first thing you do, when you realize a 13-year cicada invasion has begun, is you run inside and get the camera.
Then you run back outside, grab a few shots of bugs, and excitedly return to your office, to do what we would all do, in that situation:

Spend a half hour uploading them to your Facebook page! (complete with a can't-miss comment):
         "They're heeeeeerre....."  

Now, sit back and wait.

“We saw some yesterday!” 
"WE saw some last week."
(...same damn guy, always tryin’ to one-up everybody!)

But it was only after the photos were posted that it suddenly dawned on me...this one ain't goin' away, after you post it.
“Uh oh....this is real. They are back!"

To give you a tiny idea of the sense of siege I felt last time they came to town, the cicada infestation actually caused me to allow smoking in my house, for God's sake--just so I wouldn’t have to open the door. 
That's how bad it got.

Well, okay…confession:
My Mom was the smoker in question, God rest her soul.

Mom had the misfortune to select the precise time of the last '13 year' infestation, for a rare visit to the South.
On her first day here, we drove to Paducah to visit our kinfolk, and the ride was completely bug-free.
(Apparently as part of the treaty ending the Civil War, President Lincoln allowed most of Kentucky off the hook, on the cicada thing.)  But when we returned, two days later, it was as though we had entered an actual monster movie.

I am not kidding.
I’ll never forget us arriving back at my place in Nashville and just sitting there in the car, petrified to leave.  We must have prepared for our desperate sprint (from the car to my front door) for at least fifteen minutes.
Anyway, during that time inside the car, things were at least as tense as they must have been last week, in the White House Situation Room--especially considering that the President never had to unfasten Mom's safety belt, and then gather up the 'groceries' (“Rye?" Check. "Vermouth?" Check. "Carton of Chesterfield Kings?" Got ‘em!) before going out into enemy territory.

“Sure is dark in here!” I said, fumbling for my keys.
“Dear Gawd,” my now wide-eyed Mom said, pointing to the solid, inch-thick curtain of bugs now completely covering all the windows.  There is something hilarious to me--to this day--about an elderly woman, offering her deadpan evaluation of a really, really bad situation.

“Are you ready?” I asked, like a Cicada Commando Fighter.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” she said bemusedly.

But even Mom had no idea what was in store, and as she opened the door and got bombed by several million flirty, sticky, giddy cratures.
I heard her mutter again, in that special New York accent, "Gawd luv us all!"
With that we crunched, cowered, and flailed our way to my front door--itself already under attack--as though it were a 4x8 foot Nestle Crunch Bar they had to devour, immediately.

Even though I had thoughtfully set Mom up a virtual 'living room' outside on the balcony deck--and lovingly mixed the proper Manhattans for her (“Two-to-one, no cherry!”)--when I finally peeked outside, the place looked like something out of ‘Mothra.
The ashtrays and easy chairs I had set up--not to mention the TV, and the knitted 'throw' in case she got chilly--were completely covered in short order, with these merry roach-like creatures, who were mating faster than a Friday night crowd at the Oak Beach Inn. (Can ya tell I had a good time in my youth, back at the Oak Beach Inn?)
Even the sound they made sounded suspiciously like,
“…come here often?”

Anyway, after I separated the curtain of bugs from her face and discovered that yes, Mom actually was still under there, I decided to let her inside the house--to chain-smoke me into oblivion, for the final three days of her visit. During the next two days, I inhaled more second-hand smoke than Gracie Allen.  As a postscript, Mom’s gone now…which really makes me regret that third night-- when I finally couldn't take it anymore, and dropped her at a local hotel. (See photograph, above.)

The reason cicadas wait thirteen years before generously sharing their 'Passion Play' is to make absolutely sure you’ve forgotten how miserable it was last time around. After six weeks of this nuclear barrage, surveys usually show a spike in the populations of places up north, like Detroit--as people gradually decide they’d just as soon endure the occasional mugging as run a gauntlet of rock festival-style procreation among insects that would have scared the Hell’s Angels out of Altamont, had these creatures been there.
Believe me, I’ve been in some bad crowds.
But there is no crowd as bad as a few trillion cicadas on your property.
Even though the bugs (in their defense) are patchouly-free...I'd still rather be at a Grateful Dead concert, using somebody else's half-eaten chicken wings as a headrest, while laying on that moldy blanket that's been keeping their spare tire from clanking around too much in the trunk, for a couple decades.

So today--after fulfilling my ritual Facebook posting obligation--I decided to prepare in earnest.
I decided that I would "pay any price, meet any hardship, and oppose any foe," all of which seemed to work for President Kennedy, during the most serious moments of his administration--like that time he had to finally decide between Angie Dickinson and Marilyn Monroe.

Note: The blue parts are my backyard.
 To understand where I’m coming from, you'll need to know a little bit about where I live. I bought my little house because it was nestled atop a pretty little hill.
What I forgot to do was check out the area behind the house, which turns out to be nestled at the bottom of many massive hills. After a few years of realizing my backyard was constantly underwater, I contacted the city.
They were very helpful, bringing me topographical maps and charts and patiently detailing for me precisely why my backyard is usually underwater.
It seemed to almost fascinate them.
“See this?” the guy said, as though we were looking at a toy train set. “This is the area above your yard, with an aerial breakdown of the topography…in color! Isn’t it amazing? And…see this? This is where every other yard to the north drains into your backyard. But what’s interesting is…see this? That’s all the yards to the east that you don’t see, and…see this? They also drain all to one place…your yard! Wish I could help ya…!”

So yes, I’m used to it by now.
But with the 13 year cicadas on the way, I decided to fight back.
For one thing, even though I’ve got a car in the garage, the other one is in the driveway. And just in case I have to drive somebody else’s Mom out of the 'hood at the height of the onslaught (to get the makings for Manhattans, of course) I figured it might be a good idea to buy a plastic “car cover.”
But I didn't stop there.
Noooooo, not me...
I arrived home with several hundred pounds of insect-killing granules; roughly enough to eradicate the Taliban. My strategy would be to spread a bag on the backyard deck, then sweep it through the cracks between the wooden planks, so the muddy-muck underneath doesn’t become a haven for God-knows-what kind of creatures--including, and especially, cicadas. Unfortunately, I could not find the word "cicada" among the approximately 25,000 species of insects listed as 'goners' on the bag, if you use 'Bug B Gone.' I bought it anyway, undeterred.

Being a cautious guy, I also bought a few of those face-masks, like the ones Japanese people tend to wear on special occasions, like "leaving the house."
I sometimes wish Americans were that considerate, don't you? Imagine…me protecting you from my cold, by wearing a mask!
I don't know much, but I do know that the level of consideration for your fellow man in Japan far exceeds the level of consideration at my local Wal-Mart--where the cashier sneezed into her hand just before licking her thumbs to separate the plastic bags, so she could more easily pack my protective face face-masks, bug poison, and orange sherbet purchase into the bag.
Anyway, I figured a mask might help protect me from the rising 'dust of death' I was about to bestow upon my deck--so I got the extra thick, deluxe face-masks, which allow nothing at all to penetrate--including air, as it turns out.
I was hyperventilating before I left the garage.
I bravely strapped that sucker on, scissored open a 50 lb. bag of poisonous bug dust, and began lovingly brooming it across the backyard deck, carefully guiding it through the spaces between the slats, with my unspoken best wishes to whatever miserable creatures might be stuck in the unseen mud, below. And please, don't start...I know, I should never kill another living thing! 
But when the mosquitoes under there set up a mailbox that said "1 Bubonic Place," I personally thought they went a little too far.

I decided, then and there, to forego the plastic 'car cover,' even though that was the original reason for my trip to the store. And it had seemed like such a clever way to avoid having bugs smother my 'outside' car...but things change, people.
Suppose it did keep a couple trillion cicadas off my ’96 Stratus? Who'd remove it after six weeks, with all those dead bugs on there?
Certainly not me.
As you can see, I tend to slightly overreact to critters...but I'm not the only one. 
This morning, a fire ant rang the doorbell, and begged me to let him in.
I've just called Ameritrade and canceled all my pecan futures.
And if you should see any online, I'm looking for a plastic house cover. 

Copyright 2011 by Peter Rodman.  All Rights Reserved.
Please note:  Some of this was made up, just for fun.

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