THE CICADA CALENDAR
THE SUN HAD SET, AND YOU COULD HEAR THEIR WILD, URGENT CALLS ACROSS THE TREETOPS. It was as if the air was being rip-sawed into small pieces. We headed to the tavern for refuge, and more soothing human voices.
“In just two cycles I went from young to old. And oh yeah, the world changed too.”
That’s how my old friend, Nate, an environmentally crunchy entomologist, began his impromptu lecture over single malt scotch, rocks.
Actually,” he said addressing his ice cubes, “I kinda like it.”
“Like what, Nate?” I asked my comrade, the professor.
“What? Here’s what… I like that you have a long and meaningful span of time as your marker. Seconds and minutes are not, of themselves, memorable. Weeks are mundane, and months are rarely worth a chapter, let alone a novel.”
I nodded, and downed another swallow of cold, fermented barley, with a splash of hops.
“But 17 years, now that’s a good chunk of time. Novelists like Proust and Tom Wolfe know this, and dammit, so do cicadas. Hell, they make Greta Garbo look like a publicity hound. Being a no-show for 17 years, and then making a dramatic, million-decibel entrance after everyone has basically forgot all about you –now that’s class!”
“Class?” I murmured. “Maybe. A memorable entrance, for sure.”
“But enough about those big-eyed, jumbo leafhoppers,” Nate insisted. “They surely make themselves known. So what’s to say about them that they don’t say for themselves?”
The professor swirled the remaining ice in his glass, looking into space. When he spoke again, his voice had softened.
“What was going on for you 17 years ago?” he asked me quietly. I thought about it, hit the internal calendar and started ruminating. But before I could answer he continued.
“In 1996 I had just met the woman who was to become my wife. The economy was humming, I was doing great, and it was just two years from my son being born. I had 10 years left of teaching, the road was still long. I remember the skies being blue a lot more… Maybe I’m making that up, I don’t know. But nobody I knew then gave a single thought to terrorists of any kind. Not an ounce of energy for idiot jihadists,” he said looking toward the bar’s well-used dart board.
“Things were great then. I was in my forties, I jogged everywhere like a happy fool, and laughed more then. That I recall. I was always laughing. It was a very special time.”
I decided not to interrupt him with my own doings from 17 years back. I was only 20 back then. Besides, it was pretty clear that he was not really talking to me.
The professor continued.
“Now, 17 years before that, I was just returning from a long period of study in Europe and Israel, and was about to begin my career. I was in my 20s—holy shit—fit and prime like you would not believe. My.” His last syllable hit a wall, he paused, and finally met my gaze.
“Catch this: Jimmy Carter was in the White House, still, in 1979, and there was disco everywhere, and I had spent a bunch of time overseas, and before that in Lotus Land. I did all my studies in California. College, graduate work, the whole bit. When the cicadas of 1979 made their appearance, I was a young man.”
Professor Nate was suddenly quiet again, and the rest of the tavern had quieted down. It was as if the other patrons were honing in, wanting to hear the rest of the story, too.
“So look!” he exclaimed suddenly, “In just two cicada cycles I went from this footloose 20-something to father, husband, homeowner and tenured professor, to a semi-retired insect specialist over 60 years old! Can you believe it? Young to old, bachelor to dad, long-hair to half-bald in just two damn cycles!”
The other pub dwellers were, in fact, now listening.
“That’s it, isn’t it? They pop up—these large, black, winged insects do—after living 17 years underground as grubs, listening to the roots grow and the earth shift, then they climb up into the tall trees and noisily munch away, buzzing at each other and buzzing at us each and every night.”
“And then they’re gone.”
You could hear a pin drop, or a single ice cube crack.
“In two cicada cycles I have gone from a young man to a decidedly not-young man, and while Jimmy Carter is still with us, so is Barack Obama, and damn, my son is a lanky lad in his teens –a piano player and a black belt, my son –and my wife… My wife is no longer here. Gone. Taken between the last cycle and this.”
I put my hand on Nate’s shoulder.
“Now isn’t’ that something, friend?” The professor looked down, and exhaled.
“Two cycles of the cicada and our human lives go through pretty much all there is to go through. Now, that’s something. That’s a big, fat novel, right? Can’t say how much I look forward to the next cycle. I’ll be in my late 70s then.”
I said nothing. Finally, he said, “Let’s go.”
We headed outside, into the long night, and walked in silence under the harsh, insistent song of the magi-cicada, the cacophonous magi of the summer eve, and of time itself.
Ken Taub is a New York-based independent advertising and marketing consultant, copywriter and freelance writer, and co-owner of a yoga studio, with a background in philosophy and a degree in Chinese Studies.. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.kentaub.com.
Ken Taub, Associate Editor
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