20 June 2007

I amend, because, well, just because

The opossum remains.  I was told Monday that it would be gone by today, but no dice.  It's been cool enough the last two days to turn off the AC but I can't open the windows along the back of the house without it smelling like we live on a landfill.  I'm grateful that I don't have to deal with the collection of this ex-opossum and think that fact alone should keep me from complaining anymore about it.  He doesn't have anymore company back there, which is nice, because that aspect of the situation was really starting to nauseate me.

Oddly enough, I can sit on the deck and not be aware of its presence, a benefit of gentle breezes, I suppose.  So today I sat outside and read in the middle of the afternoon.  It's been much quieter lately and I think the cicadas are on their last legs.  Apparently when it's their time, it's their time.  They go suddenly.

I had five fall out of the trees and onto me in an hour.  Only one of them was alive at the time of plummet, and he didn't last much longer when I escorted him off my body (carefully, of course).  Ah, soon, very soon, I shan't be writing about cicadas anymore. 

I wonder if I shall still be doing this in 2024?

I was thinking about how I labeled this as "the summer of death" a few days ago and I would like to amend that to "the summer where it seems an awful lot of things that are not human are passing on" before something really unfortunate happens and I get blamed.  I happened to be thinking about this as I sat in bed reading last night, and shortly afterward Kristen noticed a bug flying around the ceiling.  It was too small (and quiet) to be a cicada, and it moved too fast to be a moth.  I think it was a box-elder bug (which seems to be a type of insect 'round these parts that no one has heard of, at least no one I have spoken to today, which pretty much means that my wife has never heard of it before) and just as I was getting ready to get up and try to get rid of it (three gets in less than half a sentence!  Genius.  Super Genius.) it flew into the ceiling fan and quite stunned itself.  After a short rest, it did it again, making a very large "thwack"ing sound that told me that there was no need to worry about getting rid of this bug because it had succeeded quite well in getting rid of itself.  Thus I renamed my summer.

No death allowed in the Random 11:

1. "Push"-The Cure.  Great.  I proclaim no death and the first song that comes up is a song by The Cure, featuring the happiest lead singer in the history of mankind, Robert Smith.  This song does mention strawberries and cream, though.  It's the only way to beeeeeeee, yeah.

2. "Harvest Moon"-Neil Young.  Songs like this make me hope that I am still around when my 50th wedding anniversary arrives.  My wife, too, of course.

3. "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"-Paul Simon.  I don't think anyone does lyrical metaphor better than Paul Simon does all through Graceland.  And he was a decent senator to boot.

4. "Untitled"-The Cure.  This is the last song on the Disintegration CD.  Do not listen to this song without the maximum amount of endorphins flowing through your brain, or it will whack you good.  I'm bemoaning lost loves listening to this and I don't even have any.

5. "Flight Test"-The Flaming Lips.  Love, love, love this song.  "I don't know where the sunbeam ends and the starlight begins/it's all a mystery/and I don't know how a man decides what's right for his own life/it's all a mystery.  Have I mentioned that I love this song?

6. "5:15"-The Who.  I suppose this calls for some type of "why should I care" joke, but I'm blanking.  The slogan for their current tour maybe?  Jam Records presents 50% of The Who.  But hey, it's the better half.  Eh.  Start again.

7. "Keep the Car Running"-Arcade Fire.  How did I get through forty years of life without this band?  Of course, when I listen to the lyrics of this song closely, I decide that it's about death.  But it's such a pick-me-up, plus there is a hurdy-gurdy being played in the background.  "We don't know how and we don't know when its coming/keep the car running"

8. "A Murder of One"-Counting Crows.  I like this song even though I think the leader singer of this band has one of the more annoying voices ever created.  That reminds me, do you say "larynx" or "larnyx"?

9. "Black Books"-Nils Lofgren.  Quite possibly the best song ever used as a closing to The Sopranos.  And I would sincerely like to thank David Chase for using "Don't Stop Believing" for the final-ever scene of that show.  Now I no longer have to think about the 2005 White Sox whenever I hear it.

10. "Catch My Fall"-Billy Idol.  I am 16 again for three minutes and forty-three seconds.  It could happen to you/so think for yourself.

11. "God's Gallipoli"-Poi Dog Pondering.  We say no death, yet we start with death and end with death.  I blame the cicadas.  I'm glad that they will be gone soon.  I think that I want this song played at my funeral and everyone in attendance will beforced to participate in a musical number, which I will have choreographed beforehand.  And I will be watching.  Five, six, seven, eight...


18 June 2007

In which I label the season

The cicadas, still loud, plentiful and annoying, are starting to die.  Every day on my deck I find fifty or so lifeless, leg-up bugs that spent 99.9% of their lives underground sucking on tree roots yet made enough noise in their .1% above ground that my head will still be vibrating when they return in 2024.

I found out something interesting about this breed a few days ago.  I was out for a walk in my neighborhood when I heard a loud, shrill buzzing ten feet or so ahead of me and saw a cicada flopping around on its back, unable to right itself, sounding like a chainsaw.  So I did what I've done a billion times in the last month-I brushed him with my foot so that it could turn over.  And that's when I saw that it was missing its head.

If you had asked me what cicadas had in common with chickens, I'd have guessed that they taste relatively the same when deep fried.  Or that they make way too much freakin' noise as soon as the sun comes up.  Add to the list: they both freak out and live on for an undetermined amount of time when they lose their noggins.

Yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, I went outside to water some flowers and as soon as I did, I was overcome by a odor of rotting insects--or so I thought--hundreds of them, all piled together somewhere within the range of my nostrils.  I had to find where they were and get rid of them.

I wish I had not.  My first inkling that something wasn't right arrived when I looked at the foot-long space between the house and the AC unit and did not recall rocks on that part of the ground; and then I saw them moving--tiny, rice-grain size "rocks"--millions of them.

Maggots.  Gamboling upon the rotting corpse of a unfortunate opossum, which, by my completely unscientific process of inhalation, had been there for at least a few of the past 90+ degree days.

It was one of the more unpleasant things that I have ever seen.  I went back inside and debated what to do.  There was no way that I was going to deal with the carcass myself, but should I do something about the maggots?  What gets rid of them?  I thought about bleach, but thought it better not to introduce that to the freon that might be wafting about the AC unit.  Water?  If I drown them, where do they go?  Do other maggots come to feast on dead ones?

In the end, I chose to do nothing.  This morning I decided to call the city, which does not deal with dead animals on private property.  Fortunately the association that we live in does.  I told the gentleman who took my call to make sure that he warns whoever gets the shortest straw to stuff his nasal passages before venturing over here.

By early this afternoon my morbid curiosity took over and I had to take a quick look to see how much worse it was than yesterday.  Turns out I couldn't have been more incorrect; just about all the maggots were gone.  It still reeked, of course, but the poor, skinless, late opossum was all by his lonesome.

The demise of the cicadas and the opossum, combined with the fact that every time I watch the news or log on to the Internet it seems like all I read about are people dying in all sorts of strange and imaginative ways, has me thinking that 2007 appears to be the summer of death.  I even heard a news report yesterday saying that there have already been a few heat-related deaths in Chicago, which reminds of me of summer 1997, when they were dropping like flies.

(Sorry, I couldn't resist)

Ordinarily I would think this rationalization to be a bit morbid, but I can explain it quite simply: ever since I found out that I am going to be a father at the end of this year, I have become much more aware of mortality--my own and that of every other thing on this planet. 

I'm guessing that this is somewhat normal, so I'm not all that spooked by it, though if you should see me hanging out in cemeteries and watching Night Gallery marathons, please feel free to shake me out of it.

I expect it to pass.  Should it not, I may have to buy a new wardrobe.


08 June 2007

Walk on

There are moments when I find it embarrassing to be a human being, because I want no one to think that I am capable of the behavior of others.  For example, this whole Paris Hilton thing.  Why is it such a big deal?  She is quite possibly the largest waste of DNA ever, and the media is going apeshit because she has to spend a month or so in jail?  I'm sure that any of the hundred or so people who have been exonerated of crimes that they spent more than ten years in jail for are following this story closely.

What a waste of time.  Poor spoiled little rich girl has to be held responsible for something she did.  My heart, it breaks.

Apparently, cicadas have Internet access and can read, because ever since I accused them of being dumber than George W. they have been at it non-stop.  Everything I read about them said that once the sun goes down they clam up, but for the last two days they have been making noise 24/7.  Last night at around 2 AM I thought the belt on our central AC was getting ready to snap because I could hear a high pitched squealing until I realized that the AC wasn't running.  As I gravitated towards the noise at the back of the house I realized that it was cicadas, gyrating like it was high noon.  Must have been no-cover night.

I am on the back deck as I write this, noticing the two bugs that keep flopping over onto their backs, no matter how many times I right them.  One is missing a wing and quite clearly is not going anywhere until he meets his final reward here soon.  There are a few other late ones lying about as well., but there are enough flying about above me that the din is covering up some of the noise from the jets that pass over as they make their final approach to O'Hare.  If I stick my fingers in my ears only a small portion of the noise goes away.  This is as loud and persistent as anything outdoors that I can ever remember.  And when I look up, they are still everywhere, hundreds flying in among the trees.  I can only imagine what it must be like for people who are terrified of bugs this summer.

End of cicada-palooza, for now.  Today marks the fifth anniversary of the death of my father.  This day is like any other except for the realization of just how fast time passes whenyou are not paying attention to it.  To think that five years have passed since one of the irrevocable lines drawn into my life has passed simply blows me away.  It doesn't seem possible.  There isn't a level of sadness or sorrow that comes with this day, just a little bit of bewilderment.

Today is no different from the 1726 days prior; I think about him every day.  I don't think about how he died.  I think about how he lived.  I think about how I lived when he was alive, and I think about how I have lived since he died.  There are few things or processes in this world that I find difficult to put into words, but the feeling of how one deals with someone who was always there suddenly not being there is just about impossible to convey.  It is intensely individualistic, and if it hasn't happened to you yet I don't know how to tell you about it.  In the month or so after my father died, I talked to a lot of people who had also lost their fathers, and they all pretty much said the same thing, something along the lines of "yeah, I know what that is like."  And I realized that indeed, this happens to a lot of people.  My father was only a dad to three, but since I can't imagine a father being any other way than mine was, when I hear about someone else's father dying I automatically think that they have lost someone who was just like mine.

I don't think that death has a Doppler Effect.  You never hear it fade out as it moves away from you.

(As soon as I finished writing that last sentence, the cicadas stopped for five seconds.   It was completely silent.)

The only times that I struggle with the idea of my father no longer being alive is when I get caught up in the aftermath of life here on Earth.  If I could have any question answered, I would want to know where he is.  I am not completely bound to my existence by faith.  Sometimes I believe in Heaven and feel that my father is there, and other times the scientist in me is convinced that life is but a random series of events and that we are all destined to spend eternity in oblivion.  I go back and forth and find this pendulum to be moving faster and faster as I get older.  I know that my father still exists in my mind and in my heart, along with the minds and hearts of many other people, but I wonder where his mind is; what happened to all his knowledge, where have his feelings have gone to?

My father poured his heart and soul into his family, and I can't believe that when he died that all went away.

I am currently reading a novel by Philip Roth entitled Everyman.  It's about a man nearing the end of his life, and since I am only a little less than two-thirds of the way through it I am still unaware what the significance of it is.  It's a great metaphorical title, obviously, because one way or another, we are all Everyman.  I get that.  I have for quite a long time.

My father's death turned out to be a motivating factor for me to examine my life and decide if I was truly happy with where it was going, and after some time thinking about it I realized that I was not.  I would like to think that I would have come to that conclusion even had my father lived.  I will never know.  In the last five years I have become a completely different person in that I have jettisoned the things that were sandbagging my psyche and as a result I have experienced many things that I had thought were not going to happen to me, the most significant being marriage.

After I got married, I realized that if I examined my life next to my father's, there was only one thing different: he had children, I do not.

Well, we've taken care of that issue now too.

We are going to be parents in December.  The true ramifications of all this have not hit me yet, and I am to the point that I don't think they will until I see our child for the first time after its birth.  People tell me that this is normal, so I am not that worried about it.  I've spent a lot of time around children for the last twenty years or so.  I am ready for this.  We are ready for this.

So in about six months, I too will experience something that my father did, the awesome responsibility of bringing another life into this world.  He won't be here to witness it, but since he lives on inside me and others our child will know him as well as they could if he were still physically here.  I will make sure of that.  I am looking forward to my child getting to know all about their grandfather.

In five years, when my father has been gone for ten, our child will be almost five.  I try to picture what life will be like then, but I have no way of knowing what it is going to be like.

Six years ago, if you told me that I was going to lose my father ina year and to try to imagine what five years without him was going to be like, I would have had no idea.  I suppose I would have said that I would be just happy to have survived it.

I (and we) have done a lot more than that.  It is a cliche, but it is indeed true that life goes on.  Amazingly we have preserved and grown stronger, fortified our lives and our souls and continued on towards whatever destiny the fates have in store for us. 

Life without my father is not better, because that would imply that we are all better off without him, which is highly ridiculous.  It isn't worse though, which kind of surprises me.  And of course, it is surely different.

Whatever power and influence that my father still has over me will increase when our baby is born, because that will be another person who will know who he is.  He may never be able to hold his grandchild, but I guarantee you he will be present in its soul.

My ramblings about my father become more metaphysical with each passing year, so I must have faith in some sort of value of existence beyond life on this planet.  I do believe that one day I will lay eyes on my father again, and that we will spend time together.  I'm not even remotely ready for that day, and that is partly because he prepared me to want to live out this life until I am satisfied with what I have accomplished.

He was the same way.  I know that on the day he died, my father had absolutely no regrets about the way he lived his life.

I have no regrets about the way he lived it either.

06 June 2007

I don't remember '73 or '90 being like this

I'm about to go insane, if I am not there already.  Stress?  Nah, you kidding me?  I haven't felt stress in a long time.  The Cubs?  Nope, past that too.  World strife?  There's a naive part of me that always feels that no matter how crazy the people who run things are, it will all work out.

Cicadas?  BINGO.

I cannot believe how noisy it has been the last few days around here.  We live in a subdivision that wasn't here seventeen years ago, so if I walk outside and down the street I won't see a single cicada.  However, our back deck faces a neighborhood that was there seventeen years ago.

It's cicada spring break, and directly behind us is South Padre.

I was six in 1973 and all I remember is the occasional bug flying into me (which I'm sure caused me to wig out since I was scared of everything until I was about, oh, 28).  In 1990 I remember my then four-year old nephew being absolutely fascinated by the cicadas as they emerged from the ground and attached themselves to anything they could to molt.  I left shortly after the emergence that summer to spend the summer in Iowa City, taking a few classes before my senior year.

So I guess this is really my first time experiencing the cacophony that these red-eyed creatures create.  They never shut up, unless it rains.  Maybe they are like turkeys; when it rains they look up and drown.  Anyway, it starts at sun-up.  The noise is two-tiered; there is a constant scream in the distance that short of sounds like a billion chickens in choir practice (or a motion sensor alarm going off, but that's something perhaps only Mr. Retail would know), and close by there is a rapturous hum of cicadas looking to get their groove on.  It sounds like the crackle that you hear if you stand under a huge electrical tower, except that it starts low, erupts into an ear-bleeding screech, and then dissipates for a blissful nanosecond or two before it starts all over again.

Our bedroom is at the end of the house where there are not any cicadas.  They woke me up this morning anyway.  And they sang me to sleep last night.  They don't make noise at night-I heard them for so long yesterday that the sound stayed in my head until I fell asleep.  I can hear them now, and they aren't making a peep, so my cerebellum must have the capacity for awesome echo retention.

I keep thinking that there is a loose wire somewhere in my house, spewing sparks and live electricity.  And then I remember that this is the summer of the bugs.

It is actually quite fascinating.  Watching them emerge from the ground just before Memorial Day was interesting.  I'd find small holes everywhere along my mother's house, and there were so many shedded skins at the base of the two trees in her front yard that you'd think she piled mulch there.  The little buggers spent seventeen years underground, and I was surprised at the numbers that never made it to full-blown cicada-hood; some never made it out of there shells before they were devoured.  My sister and her family, which includes a small dog (Roo, also affectionately referred to as the "niece-pup") were here for Memorial Day and I think Roo ate 57 million cicadas.  She gained twelve pounds and six chins in three days.  Others died as they tried to shed their skins, and the really unfortunate ones shed their skin but had something go wrong and popped out with mutilated wings.

The ones that made it fly around all day and make noise.  It's a mating call, they say.  There are billions of cicadas out looking for Mr. Goodbar.  I sit on my deck and look up into the trees that hang over the deck and I can see hundreds just flapping around the trees.  Come here often?  Their wings aren't so graceful-they almost tumble instead of fly.

And they're dumb.  Lord, are they dumb.  Cicadas might be the dumbest living creatures that I have ever encountered (and I know plenty of St. Louis Cardinal fans).  If they somehow wind up on their back, they can't right themselves; they just sit there with their legs going light speed but nothing happens.  Eventually they die of exhaustion.  For some reason I find this hysterical.  I've taken the initiative to try to help these inverted cicadas by turning them over, but they are either almost dead and lacking in energy, or they spin in a circle for a moment or two before they manage to wind up on their backs again.

Again, not the smartest insect out there.  I understand that there are a significant amount of earwigs that are members of Mensa.

Cicadas cannot swim.  I have found many in pools of water that have collected in odd places.  I'm thinking that by 2024 someone could make a lot of money developing a cicada life vest.

You know who is having a party summer?  The birds.  They are all over the place.  Everyday I clean fifty pounds of bird waste off our deck.  Perhaps I could get them to consider Depends.  We even have gulls hanging out in this area.  We're about ten miles away from the lake here.  I've never seen gulls out here before.

I admit that I was looking forward to the cicada experience this summer, since it had been so long since they were here last, but I'm ready for it to be over.  Male cicadas die shortly after they mate, so I've been leaving suggestive video tapes and mini-smoking jackets all over the place in the hopes that they'll get excited much more quickly.  The females don't kick the bucket until they leg their eggs, so there's nothing that I can think of that would speed this process up.

They'll be back in 2024, when I will be 57 and grumpy, so I will have invested in some ear plugs by then I'm sure. They'll be here in 2041 too, when I will be 74.  If I'm still alive then I will probably have lost some of my hearing, which I will be slightly thankful for.