The infernal chirp rings in autumn, wrings out nerves

September 27, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

A friend has been taking a shower with the same cricket every morning for a month.

She can't bring herself to stomp on it with her bare foot, so she asks one of her children to do it. Her kids, even her girl children, are not repulsed by the cricket -- they are just sort of bemused. So they take it outside and release it.

"And the next morning, sure enough, it is right back in the tub," she says.

How do you know it is the same cricket, I ask? "After all this time we've gotten to know each other," she replies.

My husband was watching the Colorado Buffaloes on Thursday night college football when a cricket of about the same size as the players on the TV screen bounded across the family room rug.

"We've either got a herd of crickets in the basement," he reported the next morning, "or one of them is doing laps."

It is cricket season, and I am half mad with their chirping and their intrusion. I don't know how they get in my house -- no one ever knows how crickets get in -- but they are everywhere.

My daughter has found them in her shoes. Not, unfortunately, before putting her foot in and feeling that sickening crunch. "Gross, Mom," she said. A cricket leaped out of her backpack at school and took years off of her life.

I have found them in my wash, in my onions, in my newspaper. My husband's retreat -- the garage -- is so overrun with crickets that he gets motion sick.

When the chirping seemed to follow him to bed one night, I, in an awful state of wildly agitated half-sleep, accused him of carting crickets upstairs in his pants cuffs. I thought he was going to put a pillow over my face.

My son, the entrepreneur, wants to sell them. "Can you describe your target market?" I ask.

These crickets, with their hard, black shells and their inane jumping trajectories, are not the stuff of Disney. I would welcome any creature into my home who wanted to take over the thankless role of group conscience.

Nor are we talking about Chester, the musical star of the children's book, "The Cricket in Times Square," who rescued the failing newsstand of an immigrant family with his public concerts.

We are talking about disgusting insects that invade our homes this time each year to mate in warmth and to search for "decaying vegetable matter" to eat, according to "The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders."

Jessie is right. Gross.

I have women friends whose fingers are bent and frozen around Raid cans. My friend Patty has driven crickets off of her washing machine lid with the force of the aerosol.

"I don't step on them because I can't stand the thought of their guts on my shoe," she said. "It is something left over from my childhood, I think. So I just spray them. It has gotten so I like watching that death dance they do."

A co-worker is baffled by her third-grade son's science project: breeding crickets. "I asked if he couldn't just take some from home," she said.

I sent my son under the deck to spray what I thought was their secret passage into our basement. The poison caused dozens of crickets to rain on him from beneath the edge of the wood.

"Gross, Mom," he said.

Crickets are lucky, I have heard. And they have been revered. In China, crickets have been kept as pets, valued for their song the way we might value canaries, for more than 1,000 years.

The imperial mistresses fashioned jewel-encrusted cages for their crickets and listened to their songs during the long nights when they were not the Emperer's choice.

"Whenever the autumnal season arrives," reads a volume of 6th century Chinese history, "the ladies of the palace catch crickets in small golden cages.

"These, with the crickets enclosed in them, they place near their pillows, and during the night hearken to the voices of the insects."

Can you imagine? How bored is that?

Now, I wait eagerly for the first frost that will chase this year's crickets, and I hearken to the words of my son.

"Hey, Mom. At least it isn't snakes."

hear Susan Reimer read one of her columns, call Sundial and punch in the four-digit code 6156. See the SunSource directory on Page 2A for your Sundial number.

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