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.