Those bugged by bugs look for hideout every 17 years

May 24, 2004|By Kevin Cowherd

YOU hate bugs.

Bugs trigger the automatic ewwww! response in your cerebral cortex. Bugs make you shudder. If a bug lands or crawls on you, you jump like Jerry Springer just draped an arm around your shoulder.


But you don't hate bugs the way Ellen Bauer hates bugs.

Just thinking about bugs gets Bauer all creeped out. She wants to go hide in a closet.

And God forbid she actually gets anywhere near a bug.

Because then her palms start sweating. And her heart starts pounding. And a voice starts clanging in her head like a fire alarm: Run away! Run away!

So you can imagine how Bauer, who is 42 and lives in Bel Air with her husband, Phil, is dealing with the cicadas.

Here's a hint: not well.

Look, the woman actually talked about wrapping her Jeep Wrangler in mosquito netting. Like she lives in Kenya or something.

(Actually, since the Wrangler has no air conditioning, Bauer's fear was that a horde of cicadas could fly in an open window and freak her out while she was barreling down the road to her job at the sales office of the Holiday Inn Select in Timonium.

(Memo to self: Don't get near any Wranglers on the highway for the next few weeks.)

The point is, with the cicadas gathering again for their every-17-years Woodstock, these are tough times for entomophobics like Bauer.

The little critters have yet to make a full-scale assault on her neighborhood, although Bauer hears them back in the woods, crooning their mating songs, the cicada equivalent of a Johnny Mathis album.

No matter. Even back in March, when she called a local radio station and first poured out her fears about the coming swarm on the air, she'd formed a mental picture of cicadas.

And that mental picture was something like this: the sun blotted out by hundreds of thousands of swarming insects intent on making her life miserable.

"They're ugly," she says when asked to explain exactly what it is about cicadas that terrorizes her. "And maybe it's the unknown, too. Because I haven't experienced them yet."

No, she didn't live in the area the last time the cicadas set up camp around here.

And don't bother telling Bauer that cicadas don't bite or sting. It's like telling the landlord the check's in the mail.

"I'm told they don't bite," she says. "But they look like they could."

To Ellen Bauer, cicadas are just a tad less cuddly looking than vampire bats.

It's that simple.

Anyway, Bauer's fear is so great she thought seriously of splitting for Hawaii and her sister-in-law's house until this whole cicada reunion blows over.

Yet if you knew her history, you'd think she'd be the last person in the world to freak out over cicadas.

After all, she grew up in rural southern West Virginia, which was practically the home office for every species of bug - although not cicadas.

The hills of Fayette County were also crawling with bears and panthers, which tend to freak out your average human being way more than bugs do.

But with Ellen, it was always things that slithered and crawled and alighted on you suddenly that struck fear in her heart - "anything fuzzy, with a lot of legs," she says.

Her dad didn't help matters, either.

"When I was 11 or 12, my dad had a little garden," Bauer recalls. "I was helping him one day when he dug up a little garden snake. And he tossed it at me.

"It hit me on the shoulder. ... I cried, I screamed, I went looking for my mother. `Make him stop!'"

Memo to Ellen's father: Don't be shocked if there's a Daddy Dearest memoir in the works.

Me, I figure the snake incident is good for at least three chapters.

Bauer says she's never really considered therapy to overcome her fear, even though it sometimes leaves her feeling sheepish.

"There's a lady in my office, she has a granddaughter who's not even 1 1/2 ," Bauer says. "And that little girl will play with the cicadas and pick them up and everything.

"And here I'm 42 and I'm scared of them. It makes me wonder why."

In the meantime, in lieu of forking over $150 an hour to sit in an analyst's office and yammer about why bugs make her want to live in a biosphere, she has an amazingly well-thought-out plan for coping with the cicadas.

"I won't go outside," she says. "I'll get in the car in the garage. Our porch is screened in, so I can sit out there if I want sun. ... I'm staying away from them."

There are times, she thinks, when nature is overrated.

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