First, I've never met a bug I liked. We just don't hit it off. I do worse with them than I do with small children. They make me shudder, rub my skin in that way I’ve seen on TV or from hysterical women, and they've been known to make me squeal and stomp my feet like Rhoda getting her pigtails pulled. And the worst, crunchiest, most oozy, ickified alien creatures on our planet are cicadas.
There’s this thing called irony, best described in the brilliant You Are So Cursed , and it is in full bloom here in the nation's capital, or at least it will be in the month of May. The cicadas are crawling out from their 17-year slumber to invade the city and that is ironic. Of all summers for me to have to live here, it had to be the season of the swarm.
It’s been many years since I last saw them. Our neighborhood was considered one of the hardest hit in the Chicago suburbs, and I guess by that they mean that every single surface that wasn’t moving for more than fifteen minutes would be covered in their filthy and loud mess. I was creeped out by how they would cover the tree bark all the way to the top, the way they would thicken the ground in a cover of slightly shifting movement, whether it was grass, sidewalk, or street. It was a trick to the eyes and an assault on the ears.
One night, I stayed over at my friend’s house too late and missed the train back home. There wasn’t another train until 6am. I had on nothing but hip-hugging bellbottoms that rode an inch past my bare feet. And a t-shirt. No shoes. Oh, and we had taken two hits of acid. Each.
My friend lived in a citified neighborhood hence the bugs were infrequent, a light dusting of the creatures, really. The sound was a quiet din and the streets were relatively clear. I made it to the train in decent condition; the acid was now at that manageable level where only my periphery had unnatural movement.
My house was about eight blocks from the train station. Even when I arrived at my home station twenty minutes later, there seemed to be a reprieve; there were openings that made the whole scene look like a crazy Twister game with the circles moving. I slowly stepped off the train step and with a heretofore unknown agility, I danced around those bad spots with the grace and skill of Astaire. With each step, though, my feet started to get more surrounded, and then I felt my first crunch. I yelped and the echo on the quiet Sunday morning streets fed it back at me. I snapped my mouth shut tight, clenching my teeth, because what if…well, I didn’t want to think about it.
It wasn’t until Euclid Avenue that I started to cry. By then, every step I took was filled with the snap, crackle, and pop of bug bodies. The streets were no clearer than the sidewalks and the lawns were the worst of all. I started to run, in hindsight a bad idea, and it was then that I felt my bare feet, now covered in bug guts, slip effortlessly from under me. I landed in a hard thud on my tailbone and elbows. My head never went onto the ground, though. I could feel them crawl on every part of my body. The steady, mindless march. And something else started to happen. They started to stare at me. Each and every one of them as my judge and jury.
I tried to find purchase and squished back onto the ground. At this point, I was hysterical and I squeaked a silly useless help. Everything Sergeant Friday ever said about drugs was true at that moment. I made it to my feet and ran the rest of the two blocks to my house. The final insult was the pulpy guard sitting on the doorknob looking at me, daring me to touch it. I swatted it off and went in. Closing the door didn’t stop the sound in my head and I rushed to the bathroom. My mother was asleep; my dad was gone.
I looked into the mirror and that’s when I saw myself covered in the guts and death of the insects. My face was flecked along with my arms, and some particularly clever ones found their way up my pant legs. I stripped naked and turned on the shower, jumping in before the water became warm. I had carried in whole ones, live ones, and they slowly came off and slid into the drain. The water started to back up in the tub and soon it was as high as my calves with them floating, some still moving, some doing the back stroke and spitting out water in a cute little fountain. I jumped out of the water and dried off, pleading for them to go away.
I shut the drapes in my room as they had covered my window screen and were watching with delight as I huddled in terror. I made it to sleep, finally, but woke with the knowledge that they were still out there, waiting. For me.
It’s election year this year, and the nation’s capital is abuzz. In May, however, that buzz will become more than a term of slang. It will be real. As real as it was when I was a kid, high on acid and covered in them. They say Los Angeles may not have its share of highfalutin culture or it’s not the financial center of the country and it certainly isn’t the seat of power in the world but it sure doesn't get cicadas, and to me, that's a fair trade-off.