A cicada encounter to forget
It was a humid evening, typical it seems for this summer, and I was walking Zeke through the neighborhood. I had on my headset, and WYSU's Rick Popovich show was sending jazz into both ears.
I felt the leash tug back. We were under a tree, and the streetlight didn't penetrate the foliage enough to let me see what he was doing. I yanked him along.
A few feet further and he planted himself again. He was biting at something on his hind leg.
"Great," I thought. "I hope he doesn't have fleas."
Up again and moving. Then ... Zeke was chewing at his hind foot.
"What's going on, buddy?" I said, straining in the nonexistent light to see what he was after. I reached down to his paw. Something felt hard. "Huh," I thought. "What's stuck here? A stick?"
I pulled at it. It was wedged. I pulled harder and then felt something wiggle. It didn't take a rocket scientist (which, of course, you know by now, I am not) to figure out what was clutching my dog's fur with six stringy legs. It was a cicada!
For those of you who do not have a bug phobia, who would not rather be boiled in oil and buried in a pile of snakes than have a roach touch your skin, who would not prefer seeing an amputation live than an episode of "Fear Factor" in which participants carry worms in their mouths, imagine the most disgusting thing you can, then picture ME doing it. That was what I felt.
That cicada is probably still flying to his destination, so hard did I fling him once I realized what was in my grip.
Then Zeke and I ran. I laughed at the absurdity, but I ran nonetheless. That night, we found another cicada on our hallway floor. Its feet were skyward and wiggling. "John, you need to check Zeke every time he comes in, from now on," I ordered, running into another room.
They keep telling us the invasion of the cicadas has begun, and I feel like I might want to hide in my bomb shelter (yes, our house has one) until it passes. "Billions of black, shrimp-size bugs with transparent wings and beady red eyes are beginning to carpet trees, buildings, poles, and just about anything else vertical in a wide region of the U.S." a National Geographic article begins.
This is much more than a bug-phobic woman can bear. Even the tiniest insect makes me uneasy. You can well imagine what a shrimp-size, prehistoric-looking, bug-eyed thing with wiggly arms can do.
Every 17 years, the creatures reappear. In 1987, I was lucky. I was in Arizona, happily oblivious to the Eastern return of the mating cicadas.
In 1970, I wasn't as lucky. That year, I was a kid growing up in my Cleveland suburb. I remember the invasion that year.
It was precisely as appalling as the National Geographic predicted this May. The cicada shells were everywhere. In the park, a carpet of them covered the ground, and crunched so loudly underfoot that I made it no more than three steps from the car before I was so covered in goose bumps I had to go back.
So, you might say I have some residual fear of a new invasion. The Geographic says a lot of people look forward to it. They say people drive hundreds of miles just to be in the thick of it. They say some people haul out their tents and go to camp right in the middle of an enormous brood of cicadas.
Most tellingly, the National Geographic points out that cicadas taste good. "Dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, deer, raccoons, mice, ants, wasps, and, yes, humans make a meal of the insects," they write. They taste like cold asparagus, the article points out.
This is almost more than I can relate to you via my column. I am nearly in a cold sweat right now. Just recalling my close encounter on the evening walk is chilling. Touching a cicada was horrifying; imagining eating one is good for a straitjacket and a rubber room.
But, I think I'll be OK. The National Geographic article was written in May, and it's already July, and I've only seen two of the red-eyed creatures. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be OK.