Bugs! Fish!! Car-eating Holes!!!

May 01, 2004|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

Say that, somehow, you manage to survive the imminent invasion of the 17-year cicadas by holing up in your house during the infestation, nailing plywood over your windows and using a baseball bat on those who manage to fight, gnaw and buzz their way through, like dried-out zombies droolingly eager to shed their crunchy skin.

Suppose that, just maybe, you are able to sidestep a confrontation with a northern snakehead, avoiding lakes, oceans, rivers, ponds, swimming pools, puddles, bathtubs, toilets and other bodies of water where the huge-fanged, ground-crawling fish might - possibly even without warning theme music - suddenly surface.

Imagine, if you can, that you are able to drive to the mall, find a parking space and go inside to shop - all without the ground opening up and swallowing you.

Then what are you going to worry about?

This week's news around the Baltimore area reads like the Friday night lineup on the Sci-Fi Channel, or a local edition of the Weekly World News: Killer Cicadas Set to Swarm Northeast! Frankenfish Is Back, And He's Hungry For Your Flesh!! Sinkhole Consumes Entire Car and Occupants!!!

This isn't Oz, but to paraphrase Dorothy, "Cicadas, snakeheads and sinkholes, oh my!"

Sure, it's great for TV ratings. It probably doesn't hurt newspaper sales. And it makes for interesting conversation. But the truth is, there is no real cause for alarm. The sky is not falling. Wait, better check that. No, it's not falling.

Quite the contrary and - though the mother and daughter who were treated for minor injuries after their car plunged into a two-story-deep sinkhole that suddenly appeared at a mall entrance won't see it this way - this week's spate of oddities is, in a way, refreshing.

None of them are exactly new occurrences. Before a northern snakehead was caught in a lake park in Wheaton Monday, several members of the predatory species of fish from Asia were found two years ago in ponds in Crofton. The 17-year cicadas last invaded, oh, about 17 years ago. And sinkholes, though rarely as huge and immediate as the one at Owings Mills Mall Wednesday, do appear in old cities with aging infrastructures.

But, relatively speaking, they were fresh and exotic (and relatively harmless) things to anguish over and fret about - a welcome change from the boring old reliables we fall back on: The Weather, Bad Hair Days, Cholesterol, Income Taxes, Telemarketers, In-laws, Lower Back Pain, Paper or Plastic, Is Your Spouse Cheating on You, and Who Got Kicked Off American Idol.

We should be able to do better than that, worry-wise. We need worries that aren't too worrisome, worries that aren't - like war and terrorism - too real. Given that humans must worry, let's at least make it fun. Call it recreational worrying.

It's why there are scary rides, it's why we say "boo!" It's the reason for scary movies - including two upcoming features that will depict national and international calamities of such mind-boggling proportions that cicadas will seem like nothing more than loud and annoying bugs.

You've probably seen the promos already. In one, both the Golden Gate Bridge and Seattle's Space Needle are toppled by earthquakes of unthinkable magnitude. In the other, a tidal wave washes over the Statue of Liberty.

In 10.5, a four-hour miniseries that begins on NBC tomorrow night, earthquakes threaten to wipe out the entire West Coast. In The Day After Tomorrow, coming to theaters this month (from the makers of Independence Day, about the near destruction of Earth by aliens), global warming leads to a cataclysmic chain of weather disasters around the world, including hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, tidal waves, hail the size of grapefruit and a new Ice Age.

And we're worried about fish and bugs?

It is human nature to worry. It is Hollywood's nature to figure out what worries us most, inflate it, conceive of the worst that could possibly happen, portray it as realistically as possible, then charge for tickets.

If you're thinking sinkholes or snakeheads might make for a good scary movie, you're too late. Snakehead Terror, starring Bruce Boxleitner and Carol Alt, premiered in March on the Sci-Fi channel: "When a horror from the deep hunts on land, there is no place to hide."

On Hostile Ground (originally titled Sinkhole), premiered in 2000 on TBS. In it, a geology consultant named Matt and his girlfriend, a city official, try to save New Orleans from being swallowed by a giant sinkhole during Mardi Gras: "Matt must risk his life to keep the French Quarter from collapsing into a deadly abyss."

Inane? Far-fetched?

Yes, exactly the kind of worries we need.

Fear the cicada. Fear the snakehead. Fear the sinkhole. But keep in mind that, without them, we would have only real things to worry about, and that might be the deadliest abyss of all.

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