Editor’s Note: Elliot Williams is a CNN legal analyst. He is a former deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department and a principal at The Raben Group, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm. Follow him on Twitter @elliotcwilliams. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
My friends, I have seen the face of terror. It has beady red eyes, antennae and translucent wings.
Earlier this week, I survived a vicious cicada attack. It is a gift that I am still here to be able to talk about it.
OK, fine. It wasn’t as much “vicious attack” as “being indoors and finding a live cicada on my clothing.” Potato, po-TAH-to.
How it transpired: I was at CNN’s Washington, DC, bureau, about to join Wolf Blitzer’s “The Situation Room,” looked down and there it was, stuck to my pant leg. I did not react like my colleague Manu Raju in a video that has now gone viral, because, well, a cicada on your pants isn’t as bad as one climbing on the back of your neck (I like the ring of that and feel like I need to coin it as a catchphrase). But, still, it’s jarring.
Look, I realize I initially used strong language. But, real talk, these creatures are not to be messed with. For instance, an acre of land can have up to 1.4 million cicadas emerge from it. Which means – take a deep breath and look around you – if you’re in your 10 foot-by-10 foot bedroom right now and it happens to be carpeted with vegetation, it probably has over 3,200 cicadas in it.*
I mean, come on, these things figured out how to band together to ground a White House press plane. Or, in an obvious act of attempted cicada espionage, President Joe Biden was, ahem, bugged this week, leading him to warn a cavalier public, “Watch out for the cicadas.” Amen, Mr. President.
Am I the only one who thinks we might be mere days from submitting to the rule of our sentient insect overlords? When we’re all put to work harvesting tree sap, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I’m just saying: There’s a whole “Twilight Zone” episode about what happens when swarms of mysterious but peaceful-seeming invaders show up on the planet claiming to want to coexist with humans. It doesn’t end well for people, people.
This said, in the process of gently getting the cicada off my suit (again, not a euphemism – yet) and ensuring that it was returned to nature where it could spend its remaining days in the company of millions of its compatriots screaming indiscriminately at the top of its lungs for hours on end, I learned a few things.
One, they’re kind of hard to remove from clothing. I’m convinced that they don’t spend their 17 years underground molting five times but really are just doing intense squat and dead-lift workouts the whole time. Cicadas clearly don’t skip leg day.
Two, they move slowly. Slower than you’d think. I understand they might be groggy after nearly two decades ensconced in a subterranean womb, but, come on, Brood X. You’ve got five, maybe six weeks to live above ground. Way less than that if any of your known predators – lizards, birds, pet labradoodles – are nearby. Get out and seize that day! Because today you might be fine; tomorrow you might become a sex-crazed zombie whose genitals fall off. I’m just looking out for you here.
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Three, they taste like … well, I don’t know, because I’m good on lean protein sources, thanks. Particularly ones that have been known to explode gooey insect entrails into your mouth as you consume them. Besides, CNN usually doesn’t let me bring my air fryer on set.
Finally, like so many of nature’s phenomena, they’re not visible to us: Here for a moment and, then, in an instant, gone. In a metaphor, the Japanese liken cherry blossoms – another fleeting natural experience – to the human existence: The season in which they bloom is captivating but almost tragically short-lived. I guess we should enjoy it all. It will be over soon.
And besides, a lot can happen in 17 years before they return. In 2004, the last time cicadas were here, “Friends” was on television, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were together, and “TheFacebook” was in the news. Totally different from today, right?
Who knows what world our vicious, six-legged masters will discover when they return to take us over.
*Perhaps I should disclose that I am neither an entomologist nor an individual who studied mathematics past high school, and I did not consult with either in the drafting of this column.