"Bob Levey speaking."

"I'm only going to say this once, Levey. We're taking over the world."

"Who is this?"

"My name is not important. My message is. Take me seriously, Levey. You will regret it if you don't."

"Yeah, well, sir, it's been wonderful talking to you, but I'm a little busy, see, and . . . ."

"Perhaps I should introduce myself," said the voice. And through the phone came the most earsplitting squeal since microphone feedback.

But a few seconds later came the "ding" of recognition. This wasn't just any high-pitched noise. This was That High-Pitched Noise.

"It can't be," I said. "That's the noise that drives me crazy when I'm mowing the lawn, crazy when I'm starting the car and crazy when I'm trying to nap on Sunday afternoons. But it can't be one of you guys on the phone. Not a cicada!"

"It is, Levey. As you know, we have suffered from extremely negative press in the last month. So I have been named media relations director of Washington Cicadas Inc., in an effort to counteract this alarming trend."

"Wow! Pretty slick! In town for only three weeks, and the cicadas already have a fancy title and a PR guy. Acting just like any garden-variety trade association, aren't you?"

"Please, Levey. Don't use the word 'garden.' Just last Sunday, my three uncles were minding their own business in a garden in Chevy Chase. Two teen-aged boys who had been planting flowers decided to squash them to death. For thrills!"

"Well, I have to tell you that I have more sympathy for other causes and other insects. I've seen better flacks, too. What kind of media relations director calls up a newspaper columnist and announces that his group is taking over the world?"

"It was only a device to get your attention, Levey -- to grab you, I believe is the way you humanoids say it."

"All right, pal. You grabbed me. So are you saying that you're not really taking over the world after all?"

"We're saying that we are misunderstood."

"Come on, my man. What is there to misunderstand about the hostility in those big red eyes of yours? Or about piles of corpses on my doorstep every day? And what about the noise? The endless, awful, mind-splitting noise?"

"Levey, I remind you that we do not harm humans or plants or trees. I remind you that we do not get rabies or fleas or distemper. I remind you that we do not attack any other animal. Most of the time we simply sit still, wherever we have chanced to land. And for this we have been the subject of bitter editorials and nasty phone calls to local governments. Why, I don't believe I've eavesdropped on a single Washington garden party since May 15 where we haven't been the chief topic of conversation."

"I'll tell you something, Mr. PR man. There's only one thing you can do to improve the image of Washington Cicadas Inc. Leave town."

"Oh, but we will. By mid-June. We promise. And we have always kept our promise."

"For that whiff of hope, Mr. PR man, I will say this: You guys have performed one service of immense value. People around town have been so busy hating you that I haven't heard a word in the last month about bringing baseball back to Washington. Nor have I heard a peep about the humidity. Nor have I even heard that much about Oliver North. I mean, you guys are dominating the agenda."

"(Sigh) I knew you were too smart not to catch on."

"What do you mean?"

"You've guessed the truth, haven't you?"

"I have?"

"That the White House is behind this."

"The White House?"

"Yes, Levey. You see, the new strategy over there is that whenever the president is in trouble, they arrange for someone somewhere else to get into worse trouble. Which puts the worse trouble on the front page and the president's trouble on page five."

"You mean like when Gary Hart's problems and the opening session of the contra hearings fell on the same day?"

"Exactly! And now we are the red herring, if you will pardon the mixed metaphor. The president knew that trouble was looming on the dollar and on interest rates. So he called us up and said, 'Fellas, you haven't been here since 1970. You think you'd like to come back in May? Do a little PR favor for the Gipper?' We leaped at the opportunity."

"Mr. Cicada," I said, "I am a patriotic American, and I am shocked by what you've just told me. There is only one appropriate response."

As the cicada was asking me what that was, I fumbled in my desk drawer for a whistle, found it and blew one long, loud middle C into the receiver.

"Just got even, my friend. See you in 2004," I said.

For some reason, he didn't reply.