I’m proud to be just as lazy in 2021 as I was in 2004. The cicadas are here, and you’re going to be reading a lot about them. Manna from heaven? More like manna from Hades. (Not that I’m going to be eating any. Yechh.)
I’ve been spotting holes in the dirt for a couple of weeks, but it was only Wednesday that I actually saw the critters that had made them. That morning, I went out to get the newspaper from my lawn and spotted an empty carapace clinging to my front door jamb. On my walk with the dog, I saw dozens of empty husks on trees, curbs and fence posts. It looked as if the cicadas had been Raptured off.
Finally, I spotted some of the red-eyed bugs themselves. They were torpid, as you or I might be if we’d spent a long period locked-down and socially isolated.
Hey, wait a minute . . . The members of Brood X are emerging from their slumber just as we’re emerging from ours. I’m delighted to see these symbols of perseverance.
As I think of 2004, I can’t help but think of 1987. Thirty-four years ago, I was scrounging a living in D.C. as a freelance writer. I didn’t actually write any cicada articles back then. Somewhere in my attic is a form letter that The Post Magazine was sending out that summer to would-be contributors. I can’t remember what sorts of stories the editors said they wanted, but I do remember what they didn’t want: stories about cicadas.
Here’s what I want: poems about cicadas. It turns out that every 17 years, I sponsor a Cicada Poetry Contest. It’s a bit broader than my annual Springtime in Washington Haiku Contest. Haiku are fine — 5-7-5, please — but I’ll also accept limericks and rhyming couplets. In fact, you can send me any type of poem — even doggerel or free verse — as long as it is no more than 17 lines long.
Send your entry — with “Cicada Poem” in the subject line — to me at email@example.com. The deadline is May 31.
Doing the can-can
An important correction to Wednesday’s column about regional word differences. In the section on “pop vs. soda vs. coke,” a Mississippi-bred reader mentioned the song “Margaritaville” and how when he learned “pop” was a synonym for what he called “coke,” Jimmy Buffett’s “stepped on a pop-top” lyric finally made sense to him.
As many readers pointed out, “pop-top” was a reference to what was on top of the can, not what was inside it. Before about 1975, aluminum cans had a pull-tab that came completely off the can. You lifted up the ring, pulled it like the pin of a grenade and then tried not to injure yourself with the tiny scimitar you were now holding.
If you were a good person, you disposed of the pop-top responsibly, putting it in the trash or turning it into decorative chain mail. (Yes, people used to do that.) If you were a bad person, you just tossed that pop-top, millions of which littered American beaches, parks and streets.
In 2012, Tom Vanderbilt wrote a great story for Slate about the evolution of the mechanism that replaced the removable can tab. The modern aluminum can is crowned with a wonder of technology that was invented by Daniel F. Cudzik of Reynolds Metals. Called the Sta-Tab, it came on the market in 1975.
You can still remove that oblong Sta-Tab, but you really have to try, working that metal back and forth. And even if you do get it off, it isn’t curved and sharp like the old ones.
Of course, as dangerous as the old pop-tops were, they proved inspirational for Jimmy Buffett. Imagine if he’d had to go with “stepped on a hermit crab.”
Bye for now
I’m taking some time off. I should be back in this space on May 24.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.