Orthopterophobia

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. 

Tales From the South!

Update: I was so excited when writing this post that I screwed up some of the links and instructions. Corrections have been made. 

 

The podcast from the radio show is available! There are several ways you can listen–here are a few:

♦ NPR: http://www.npr.org/rss/podcast/podcast_detail.php?siteId=106926336  

(This isn’t the easiest way to listen–in fact, you may not be able to find it there by the time you read this. I just like typing “NPR!”)

♦ Stitcher Radio: Go to www.stitcher.com or download the free app. Enter TFTS-157

♦ iTunes: Go to the iTunes store and click on “podcasts.” In the search bar, enter TFTS-157

My story’s called “About Face.”  It’s at around the 39 minute mark, but I hope you’ll listen to the entire show. It’s wonderful. I also hope you understand Southernese. The accents are as thick as kudzu.

Happy listening! 

*Amadeus came up with the title, which I love. 

Storm Clouds in Lalaland

I’ve been residing in Lalaland for many years now. It’s fabulous here–the weather’s warm, but not too warm, there’s glitter in the tree bark and no one ever has intestinal problems. The fishing is excellent. People are kind. Here, IRS stands for “I’m Reading Salinger.” Bills are the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. In Lalaland, I sit at my desk and write stories (that are sure to be best-sellers), while the laundry magically washes itself.  I sort of look like Gisele Bundchen.

But I have to admit, despite living in this zip code (which, by the way is !!!!!), I sometimes get discouraged. Writing isn’t just an occupation, it’s a lifestyle choice, one that sometimes involves isolation, frustration and a smattering of poverty. It’s okay-we’re good with it. Amadeus believes in me and I work hard to earn the honor. But sometimes it rains, even in Lalaland.

A week and a half ago, clouds began to form. I sat upstairs writing, a pursuit which I live in hope will someday increase our income. Optimism is a huge part of the Lalaland experience.

Six weeks earlier, I’d sent a story to Salon.com, and never received a confirmation or a reply. I wrote back to the editor–you know, just a “Hello how are you did you read my story do you like it will you publish it” thing. I never heard a word back, which to me, is more of a rejection than a rejection letter. Note to editors: It takes less than thirteen seconds to type “It sucks” into the body of an email.

A bit of self-loathing starting glomming onto me. What the hell am I doing? I asked myself. Why am I wasting my time? I’m a hack. I’m not making any money at this. And why is my hair so frizzy? It was the end of the month, a tough time for us financially. Thunder began to rumble in Laland. Physically, I was feeling like a baked potato–sort of lumpy, untalented and unattractive. In an unfortunate cost-cutting move, I went into the bathroom and hacked off a bunch of my hair.  It looked awful, but it took my mind off of writing for a while. After a few more hours of aimless typing, combined with three rounds of Candy Crush Saga and some moping, I went to bed.

The thing about storm clouds in Lalaland is that they move quickly. Sun rays start peeking out. I woke up the next morning, and boy, howdy, were there rays. I went downstairs, chugged some coffee and started a glorious new week. Here’s how things progressed:

Sunday: Checked my e-mail and found that one of my stories had been accepted for a regional NPR radio program! A special live, one-hour broadcast–the first in the show’s eight-year history. The producer wrote that it would be streamed around the world via satellite radio and would be podcast too. I almost tinkled from joy. Oh my gosh, you should have seen Amadeus. He was so proud.

Monday: Got a t-shirt in the mail from a musician friend of Amadeus’, along with two of his CDs. This was, I think, because I told him I love Jack Handey. That night, I had a lovely phone conversation with a blog friend in Portland, our first. It was so nice to hear her voice after so many years of typing to each other.

Tuesday: Freaked out half the day about the radio show. What would I wear? What about my hair? How could I lose ten pounds in five days? Was a face lift possible? The show was in front of a live audience, and was to be videotaped. I told Amadeus, “It’ll be fine. Surely I’ll find something in the closet that will work.” Between you and me, I was a little sad, but what could I do? As I’ve said, I chose this lifestyle, and it’s just not a hair salon, new dress type of deal.

Wednesday: Opened e-mail. Received notice of a PayPal donation from a friend/reader in New Zealand, the largest in the history of this blog. He wasn’t aware of any of the above–it was just a huge, serendipitous act of generosity. It still overwhelms me to talk about it, but you can read about it here.

Thursday: Bill paying! Shopping! Later, a friend came over with a miraculous hair straightening tool. I modeled my beautiful new copper-colored dress, and she and Amadeus oohed and aahed. Later, I went to hear my hubby make music with some other seriously talented musicians, and a drunk lady gave me her bracelet. I’ve since returned it, but it was such a nice gesture. Plus, it went with the dress.

Friday-Saturday: Insane non-stop fidgeting, worrying, stressing, but in an upbeat way. I asked Amadeus to take a pic of me in the new dress, so I could see what it’d look like on stage. I discovered I bore a striking resemblance to a Tootsie Roll. I rummaged around and finally found something I felt comfy in.*

Sunday: The Radio Show!** And another t-shirt! Followed by lovely people who told me how much they enjoyed my story! Followed by a margarita! Followed by a nap!

Monday: I was in the newspaper! Because of the above thing! I can’t stop typing exclamation points!

Tuesday: Another sweetheart of a blog friend, this one in New Hampshire, e-mailed to say that, in honor of the NPR show, he was sending me a gift–an entire mess of garlic from his garden and a new CD. It arrived today. Seeing that box of thoughtfulness sitting on the doorstep made my heart all melty. By the way, “a mess” equals fifteen bulbs.

There was so much goodness woven into the week, so many great moments. Songwriting with my hubby. The company of friends. Words of encouragement. Laughter. Little miracles here and there that let us know things are going to be okay.

The weather continues to improve. Life gets rough. Things gets tough. Then the world becomes beautiful once again. Rinse and repeat. That’s the way things work in Lalaland. I’m so fortunate, and so grateful. 

 

*It’s something I later discovered looked like a festive mumu on film, but living in Lalaland allows me to stay in denial about it until I see the video.

**I’ll post links to the podcast as soon as they become available.