I have a lot of phobias, among them airplanes, aging, cockroaches, small spaces and listening to Journey—but none, none I tell you, is worse than my fear of crickets. I know they’re supposed to be good luck in some cultures, but in mine, they’re bad omens—omens that portend that I’m going to pee in my pants, scream and jump up onto the nearest high-altitude surface I can find. Honest to Bob, they terrify me.

It started when I was about ten or eleven. I was in a jon boat with my mother’s second husband, fishing for bass or crappie or something. He picked up one of the little black insects and instructed me on how to bait my hook. “See? They have this little collar…you just loop your hook into it.” The hell I would. I could handle wiggling worms, or slippery minnows, but I wasn’t about to touch a hyperactive insect. He did it for me, and things were peaceful for about five minutes, at which point, I accidentally kicked over the tall container of bait. It seemed that five hundred crickets had been in that thing, and now they were all over the boat, hopping for joy that they’d been liberated.

I began to scream. I screamed and screamed. If a poll had been taken, I’m sure I’d have been voted Most Hated Child on a Body of Water by every fisherman within a three-mile radius. My mother’s husband tried to shush me, but it was hard to hear him over the sound of my shrieks. Crickets were high-jumping on my legs and feet and I began to stomp and rock the boat. To keep from killing me, he paddled us over to a low water bridge, where two fishermen reached over and pulled me to sanity.

Since that episode, I’ve tried my best to avoid crickets, and it’s worked out just fine. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate them, as long as they stay at least fourteen feet away. I love their sound, and the little black ones are kind of cute. I can almost see why the Chinese consider them good luck.

Except for these bastids. 

These are the satanic cult of crickets. Known as camel crickets, camel back crickets or cave crickets, they’re aggressive, carry rabies and have two rows of needle-sharp teeth. Their angular legs are covered in prickly spikes. They use their hideous, abnormally long antennae to hunt prey and terrify middle-aged women, and have been known to suck the breath out of sleeping babies. They’re freakishly pale, like the eyes of the possessed kids in “Children of the Corn.”

Our house is full of them. There must be a secret cricket network, like Trip Advisor or something, and our condo has apparently gotten some solid five-star reviews.  We’re being invaded. Every single day, I’ll spot at least one of them, creeping across the living room floor like a little John Belushi samurai. If Amadeus is in the room, I just give him the signal (which is the word “cricket”) then close my eyes as he removes the offending life form. They’re so big that watching them wiggle would be like watching him eradicate a kindergartener.

It’s when Amadeus is not in the room that the problem arises. Cave crickets don’t make a sound, and I’m not kidding, they appear from out of nowhere. You’re sitting on the sofa and you look over and there’s one sitting next to you, watching a Kojak rerun.

I freeze, and this strange sound rises up from deep within my soul, like a wounded dolphin. It sounds something like this: eeeeeEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEE. And then Amadeus comes and airlifts the cricket and things calm down.

The worst though, is when I’m sitting on the toilet and look down to see a cave cricket the size of a grapefruit looking up at me, those long, ropy antennae swishing around like bullwhips . I swear, it’s grinning. It knows I’m helpless, sitting there. One move, and it would hop onto my leg, which once happened to Amadeus. Well, actually one hopped INTO HIS JEANS while he innocently pooped, and it wasn’t until he pulled them up that he discovered that his pant leg had a passenger. It’s only by the grace of God that his calf wasn’t gnawed to bits.

The other morning, I woke up, bright as a sunbeam, put on my peignoir, applied lipstick and headed downstairs for coffee.* There, at the top of the stairwell, was the biggest, most monstrous cricket of them all—the Godzilla of crickets–on the WALL above the handrail. “Morning,” he said. I pushed my back against the other wall, and ran sideways down the steps to tell Amadeus. “OH MY GOD,” I eeked, “I didn’t know they climbed WALLS!” This was a revelation to me, and Amadeus smiled at my reaction.

“They’re crickets,” he said, almost laughing.  “Why would you be more scared now?” I was having a panic attack.

“Because,” I said, between dry heaves, “because it means that they’re UPSTAIRS too. It means they can climb into our bed and jump on our faces while we’re sleeping.” He’s a sweet man, but he obviously understands nothing of the secret, evil ways of crickets.

It made me wonder what other things I didn’t know about these demons. I did a Google search, and the images on the screen made me shudder in revulsion. I read all about them.

“Well, so much for my dream of exploring caves,” I griped. “They live in caves. I’ll bet there are millions in there.”

“Well, yeah,” Amadeus said, trying not to let on how cricket stupid he thinks I am. “That’s why they call them ‘cave crickets.’” Damn them to hell.

I don’t know what we’re going to do. I suppose we could set rat traps and bait them with fake people-on-toilet lures, but I’ll be damned if I’d know what to do with them once they were caught. I can hardly look at the things.

One thing I do know is that even though Amadeus is a few years older than me, I’m definitely planning on dying first, because there’s no way I can go this cricket thing alone.  Besides, it’s almost certain that at some point soon, I’m going to die of a heart attack. One’s going to jump on my face in the middle of the night, I’ll go into cardiac arrest, and that’ll be that.  

And with my luck, in the afterlife, I’ll probably come back as a cave.



*Exaggerated for dramatic effect. In reality, I wake up looking like a zombie, put on moccasin slippers and brush my teeth. That’s the most I can manage before a cup of joe.  I don’t own a peignoir, but sometimes I do throw on a sweater. 

A Recipe, A Song & Some Whine

Jumpin’ J-Lo, I haven’t posted in an entire month.

Quite frankly, I’ve had the blues. We’ve been struggling with struggles lately. Nothing huge—just the mundane, day-to-day worries that plague the semi-poor, like home repairs, taxes, allergies, bed head and the future of humankind. Worst of all, I seem unable to write much more than the words, “I can’t write.” It’s been an awful cycle—I can’t write because I’m blue, and I’m blue because I can’t write. Blue’s one of my favorite colors, but holy hell, this isn’t even a pretty shade. My writer’s block is the color of mold. 

It’s been weird, because usually when I’m down, creativity is what brings me out of it. But these days, I’ve created little more than a new recipe.

New Recipe:

8 Ritz Crackers

1 glob of peanut butter

Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup

Directions: Smear peanut butter onto four of the crackers. Pour one drip of syrup onto the remaining ones. Smush each PB cracker together with a chocolate cracker and enjoy.

I have written a couple of songs, but I’m hesitant to post them because it’s hard to get the entire picture without the tune. It’s like handing you a mug and asking you to imagine coffee. Tragically, my singing usually sounds like Mercedes McCambridge with a head cold, and even if I did record it, I’d never figure out how to get the thingamajiggy into the whattayacallit to transfer it the Internet. The one song I did post here was thanks to a patient friend, who burned it to a CD.

But it bothers me that I haven’t posted for so long, so I’ll share some lyrics anyway. I’ll have to do it from memory, because I fried my laptop a few weeks ago and lost most of my work. Stories, poems, books-in-progress, photos, videos and rough recordings of songs I’d saved on Audacity–poof! Frizzled like a squirrel on a transformer. A friend of a friend is trying to perform lifesaving CPR on the motherboard—if you’re the praying sort, please commence.

Have I mentioned I’ve had the blues?

Back to songwriting. Amadeus and I have this habit of throwing out lines to each other, spontaneous prompts that we think might fit into a song. If it grabs one of us, little cogs in our heads start squeaking and turning, and sometimes we create something we like. To outsiders, conversations at our house would sound insane. Example:

Me:  I need to figure out what to make for dinner.

Amadeus: Bird on a telephone wire.

Me: Oooooh….(starts writing)

One night, he said:  “If I had to do it all again.” I waited for him to finish the sentence, then realized it was a song prompt. Immediately, my head filled with images, like a scene from a movie. I saw a sad, wealthy woman in a New York penthouse. She stood in front of a glowing fireplace and her living room was all done up in shades of red. Her sofa was a cream color, with printed pillows and a decorative throw draped in a tasteful-yet-casual way over the back. She was tall, beautiful and terribly lonely. Her jewelry and shoes were amazing. 

It’s the weird way my brain works (when my weird brain’s working). Amadeus says something that sparks something and off we go.  I picked up the guitar, plinked out the first few notes, then started writing lyrics. Amadeus fine tuned the tune and we debated back and forth over the mechanics of it. Within half an hour or so, we’d given birth to a little baby song.  It’s a downer, but I like it. We performed it at an art gallery event a few weeks ago, and I’m proud to say that no one vomited and no one fled. 

If I Had To Do It All Again

If I had to do it all again,

I’d do it differently,

If I knew how this was gonna end,

I’d never have agreed,

to put aside the part of me,

that wanted love so desperately,

‘cause even though you live with me,

you’re never really here with me,

and though I did it willingly,

this lonely life is killing me,

If I had to do it all again,

I’d do it differently.


Flames can turn to ember

but they’re burning just the same,

why can’t we remember

the beginning of this game?

We blazed with love, so dazed with love

at night you called my name,

our paradise has turned to ice,

what happened to the flames?

If I had to do it all again,

I’d do it differently.  

(break, repeat verse 2)

© 2013 Moonbeam McQueen

That poor, poor penthouse woman.  And I thought I had problems. 

Nine Eleven

statue-of-liberty-5010On the morning of 9/11/01, I turned on the TV as I got ready to go to a literature class. I was looking forward to the day–ironically, our class was scheduled to watch “Apocalypse Now.” Suddenly though, the world turned surreal. “Good Morning America” showed an image of the World Trade Center, morning sun bouncing from its windows, smoke pouring from a hole in its side. As I tried to process what had happened, another plane, tiny as a mosquito, buzzed around and slammed into the second tower. I called my mother. As we spoke, reports came in of the Pentagon being hit, then of a crash in Pennsylvania. Trembling, I said, “I think the world is ending.” From different cities, we watched as the blue New York sky turned to smoke before our eyes; the newscasters were holding down panic.

Like everyone else, I was a wreck. My brother, a Navy pilot, was ordered to fly over the New York harbor, to protect the city from further attacks. My brother-in-law, a warrant officer in the Marines, confidently assured me that the world would not end. He wasn’t afraid, he was angry, and the strength in that anger calmed me a little. My next door neighbor enlisted in the Army within days. At least there were three guys I knew who weren’t shaking in their boots.

At first, I stayed glued to the TV, but it was impossible to take it all in. The city had been leveled in more ways than one. No rich, no poor, just lost souls wandering dazed amid tons of rubble, looking for their loved ones. The images were horrifying–office workers jumping to their deaths, the charred remains of what had been the tallest building in the world. Footage of airplanes exploding into its towers looped constantly.

I have PTSD, and it was kicking in something fierce. Terror and dread made it hard to think. I couldn’t stop shaking. I had two children to care for, but the realization that I couldn’t protect them from the world felt like a kick in the stomach. It was impossible to shelter them from this tragedy. Like most parents, I grieved, knowing they’d never experience the freedom and safety that previous generations had taken for granted.

We found some solace in creativity. I wrote a very bad song about love and sang it like a mantra. The kids and I painted pictures– some of the towers, some of other things. Later, we went to the campus and visited with an Episcopal priest I knew. I was seeking wisdom and comfort, but she had none–in fact, she seemed almost as traumatized as I was. I remember thinking, “There are no wise men today.”

We attended a campus vigil, held beside a beautiful fountain. Someone brought candles, and we lit them and placed them on the wall around the water. Some sang songs, some said prayers, some cried. We were all lost in grief. We were afraid. We were mourning for the world.

I’m more of a thanker of the Universe than an actual praying woman, but I remember praying on 9/11. If anyone was listening, I wanted my words to be heard. A couple of days after the planes hit, I visited a beautiful old church. I’d passed its red brick, ivy-covered walls covered many times. Not being a churchgoer, I’d never been inside, though I’d once written a fan letter to the kindhearted, outspoken priest who led it. I sat alone on a long pew in the sanctuary. Soft sunlight poured through stained glass windows the color of gemstones. I cried an ocean of tears and silently spoke to whoever might be tuning it–God or fairies or atoms that might carry my plea for peace to the proper universal authorities. “Please help us,” I begged. I have no idea how long I sat there, trying to get it together. I felt I had no where else to go.

Nearly 3000 people murdered in less time than it took to bake a cake. Safety was an illusion. Clouds felt suffocating, every airplane held a bomb. For me, almost a year passed before the impact of the tragedy began to ease up.

A dozen years have passed. My brother’s no longer flying, my brother-in-law’s retired. My daughter’s now in the Air National Guard, at a training school in Mississippi. I miss her terribly. We spoke last night via Facebook, and the subject of Syria came up. I sent her a poem I’d written about these endless, senseless wars. “That’s a good poem, Mom,” she wrote sweetly. Then I asked her what she thought of it all. She said:

“I think I don’t like when babies die because of corrupt leaders. And if someone asked me to risk my life to try to prevent someone from gassing thousands of people including hundreds of children, I would ask when my plane was arriving.”

I was a bit dumbstruck (or keystroke-struck). Her heart’s bigger than twelve World Trade Centers. How was such a girl born to a chicken-hearted pacifist like me? How do we ever begin to thank those who take on the task of defending and protecting other human beings? Regardless of politics, greed or the hidden agendas of the Powers That Be, our soldiers are the ones who put their lives on the line, so that children can paint pictures with their mothers. There’s love in that. There’s selflessness.

I don’t know why I’m writing this. I’ve just been thinking about that day, and about the thousands of families who lost loved ones on 9/11. We’ve all moved on, but we’ll never forget.