Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Bug Love

Despite all of my talk about this mysterious "summer" character, she did finally arrive, late, to her own party and I was not even here at the time! According to my sources, summer suddenly appeared one morning late in June, transforming our gentle 50 degree days -- so reminiscent of Seattle -- into a sweltering, humid 95 degree torment. Unlike Seattle, which really has TWO sweet little summers -- the first in May and the second, longer one, in July and August -- NYC has only one summer.

One hot, angry, sweaty summer. One looong summer.

Anyway, as I already mentioned, I was not here when summer showed up. Instead, I was at the Evolution meeting in lovely Chico, California, where I was presenting my lory research data publically for the first time. Thanks to my frequent practice talks that all of my colleagues hated and the six weeks I spent in mortal terror preparing for this Evolution meeting, my presentation was quite a success. Even my advisor was obviously pleased.

When I left New York City to attend this meeting, I was wearing a wool winter coat that was barely warm enough for NYC weather. But upon my return, within mere nanoseconds of deplaning in JFK, I realized that summer had arrived. It was difficult to ignore the sweat running down my face and dripping unceremoniously from the tip of my nose while my clothing clung to me like a straightjacket. Also difficult to ignore was the uncomfortable realization that I was so thirsty that I would kill someone, anyone really, if they dared to deny me a glass of rust-tainted NYC faucet water -- water that I typically reject in disgust.

Yes indeed, summer had arrived. And summer in NYC, like everywhere, is the season for love. Especially bug love. East Coast bug love.

This was the rare summer when I made more entomological discoveries than ornithological ones. This was probably because many arthropods, unlike birds, had the disconcerting habit of popping into my apartment unexpectedly -- especially into my shower -- and introducing themselves, usually in the wee hours when one is not quite sure where the boundaries lie between reality and imagination.

Some of these "buggy" discoveries were simply delightful. For example, it was not so many evenings ago when I saw my very first fireflies slowly rising like twinkling Christmas lights from emerald lawns in front of the museum. Later, I would "capture" several individuals when they willingly stepped from whatever they were clinging to onto my waiting finger where they continued their light show while I marveled at their graceful elegance.

Later this summer, cicadas filled the sweaty days with their circular buzzing love songs, reminding me of a similar chorus produced by the three species of cicadas native to Tokyo who sang for me when I visited six years ago. Finally one morning, thanks to a zealous American Robin who was beating one specimen senseless in front of the museum employees entrance, I finally saw a NYC cicada close up. They looked almost identical to one of their Japanese cousins ... big eyes, large oblong body ... but most amazing were their long transparent wings reticulated with delicate metallic green veins. Lovely.

Of course, not all of my spineless visitors have been so delightful, as some of you who read my reactions to the marching multitudes of pizza-fed German cockroaches and so-called "waterbugs" may recall. But I had made my peace with those monsters after filling the corners of my apartment with "creeping bug bait" and the cracks with Borax, thinking that they were the worst that NYC had to offer and as such, they were more tolerable than nocturnal visits from 12 pound NYC rats.

However, I discovered that NYC's arthropod terrors can exceed the horrors of a few cockroaches and "waterbugs" scrabbling underfoot. I made this discovery this morning, when I encountered a "bug" in my shower that was so big and so horrifying that I had to write a special essay about it to preserve my sanity.

This insect was a centipede that was so huge and terrifying that it has taken me all day to convince myself that I am not being engulfed in thousands of them crawling all over my body. I still have the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it. Apparently, at least a few readers of craigslist found my essay entertaining because it was nominated to be added to the "best of craigslist" archives.

Anyway, I thought I would never ever in my life say this, especially so soon after my first unpleasant NYC winter, but I might possibly be ... just maybe ... eager for the return of winter. Yes, wintertime -- you heard me correctly -- short, icy cold days in a studio apartment with no heat and no running water ... and hopefully, NO BUGS!

Don't worry; after winter returns, I'll complain about it: Probably after a couple showerless days spent wrapped in 12 layers of wool.



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