In the summer of ’64 suburban New Jersey was hit by hundreds of millions of “periodic” cicadas. They were absolutely everywhere. I’ll never forget the sound of “singing” male cicadas, a kind of courtship whine that they create by “vibrating membranes on their abdomen.” And I’ll never forget the crunching sound when you walked upon them on hiking trails and along neighborhood sidewalks.
Nor will I ever forget a kind of makeshift cicada torture chamber built by my younger brother Tony and three of his friends. They invented a cicada guillotine with a small stone and a Gillette razor blade, and a kind of body-crushing contraption. They also invented a cicada electric chair with an electric transformer that had been used for an electric train set. They would insert positive and negative copper wires into the cicada’s body and turn on the juice. The current would make the cicada’s wings flap a thousand times a second.
I realize that children who pull the wings off flies are commonly regarded as junior-grade sociopaths, but this was different. We were living through an Egyptian plague. Those awful cicadas were a pestilence, worse than swamp mosquitoes.