05/06/2004 Entry: "They are coming..."
It was a hot May of 1987. Senior year of high school. I was walking home from work, and I thought I hear this ... weird UFO-like noise. A distant whir like a flying saucer from a bad 1950s science fiction movie. The sound was distant, but continuous. Since weird stuff happens in my life a lot, I just chalked it up to something I would keep quiet about. I walked through a small patch of woods through a churchyard, and noticed strange dimples in the ground. Like little holes. Huh.
The next day, same area, I was hit by some large flying object about the size of an almond. Then another. I wondered if my shampoo was attracting insects. When I took the same shortcut, I saw a lot of holes, and the tree bark had a lot of those bug skins on them. I was used to seeing those bug skins, but there seemed like a lot. As my eyes adjusted to the shade, I realized that there were a lot of moving things around. I decided to walk around the woods. The whirring was much louder now.
Next day at school, I heard kids talking about the noise, which was much louder now, and you could start to hear it indoors. "My dad says that the 17-year locusts are coming," someone said. I had heard about such things, but never in our area. Then more people started talking about them, and by the end of the day, the whole school was convinced that we were under some kind of locust swarm. When I walked to work, I saw more of these big black things flying about, crashing into everything.
Now, up until this point, I had a phobia about insects. I was terrified of them, and the sight of large bees would have me paralyzed with fear, curling up into a ball, screaming like a stuck pig. Thankfully, I had gone through therapy and had enough coping tools to assess the situation. My mother had now been dead for 4 months, and I was still in shock and denial about the suicide. My mind was occupied, and my fear circuits had shorted out. So I was able to calmly state, and I recall the feeling to this day, "If I don't deny this fear, I will go insane." I had to will myself out of the phobia.
People in my area were transitory, so very few people were around during the last swarm in 1970. The few older people who had been around spoke of a swarm so great, it darkened the sky, but they didn't seem to afraid of it, so I always thought of it as exaggeration.
Then we had a very unusual cold snap, and the bugs all started to slow down. They were still coming up, but they were cold and sluggish. They mostly clung to trees and huddled in huge vibrating carpets. It was like a bottleneck in the release process had clogged, and they just kept building and building up until it warmed up again and ... they were everywhere. I wouldn't say the skies went dark with them, but I'd say the dispersal was about 1-2 every cubic yard, more near wooded areas. The sky was peppered with them. Sections of ground were tilled by the hundreds of larvae crawling from down below.
They were curious creatures. A dark green in color, they didn't so much navigate when they flew; they just sort of flew around until they crashed into something, then flew the opposite way, like some weird kid's toy. The males would emit this terrifically loud whir from some weird vent behind their legs. They landed on people a lot, and if you wore light colored clothing, you could have as much as 3 or 4 on you at any given time. One day, some friends and I adopted one as a pet. He died of boredom during art class.
For about a week, they were everywhere, gumming up engines, getting trapped in everything, and crashing into people's faces, making them trip and fall or run into things trying to get away. Some people freaked out when this happened. Some people just got annoyed. I totally short circuited. For a few days, I was just on the edge of running into traffic to kill myself. My insect phobia was just on the edge of total panic when I was outside, which was a lot. I didn't have a car, and I had to talk from home to school, then work from school, and then sometimes Kate's house after work. But as time went on, the fear subsided, and I grew kind of numb like a thick scar. I filled a jar with them, and lowered a mike into the jar and taped the sounds for Neal. I was going to release them, but then I killed them in nasty ways I'd rather not admit to. They started to wind down, but were still a big problem for about three weeks afterwards.
My high school graduation was during the tail end of this. It was a mind-numbing six hour long event, and having it outdoors, in the summer heat, with all the cicadas, was horrible. Many of them flew into the stadium lights and fried like a big bug zapper. All the poles around the lights were about knee-deep in dead, fried bugs.
All in all, the experience was good. I grew out of my fear of insects at this time. They sprayed from low-flying planes for a while to kill the bugs and "break the cycle of Brood X," but that seemed to make a lot of people sick, so they eventually stopped. But I knew that in 2004, they'd be back. I curiously wondered what 2004 would be like.
Now it's 2004. The news seems to be ready this time. They are almost ready in Cincinnatti, Baltimore, and Washington DC, but am I ready? Are my dogs ready? Wait, did the Baltimore Sun just say they are Atkin's friendly?
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