Delia knows exactly what kind of thoughtful presents to give me; she brought home the most awesome present for me:
Nevermind what’s inside . . . the box is super cool!
Look at the shiny, iridescent beetle necklace my girlfriend got me!!
There is a special reason why this pendant made Delia think of me; once upon a time I was a beetle breeder.
In elementary school I was always interested but totally lost and intimidated when teachers sprang special projects on us like building rockets, making volcanoes or constructing cameras out of milk cartons. It’s like I was always absent on the days that the secret instructions were handed out telling us to bring money for those brown motors or maybe it was always the OTHER class that got to do those things. I think the mealworm project studying beetle life cycles was one of those things the OTHER class got to do that I was totally jealous of.
So I did the mealworm project at home. Purely for fun.
My mom would never let me have a pet snake so I guess bugs were the next best thing. Not that I was ever totally unafraid of spiders and such, and I *hated* moths, but I was also fascinated by insects and all the little dark nooks and crannies and tunnels they could explore.
I consulted with my friend Ruth (she was in the OTHER class) to determine what supplies I needed: jars with airholes, oatmeal, apple chunks. I captured my own beetles from the base of our old apple tree in the backyard. It grossed my out a little, the way they skittered around so quickly, but I viewed overcoming this fear as a healthy challenge and soon grew to enjoy the tiny tickles of their little black legs scurrying up my arm.
I thought my ability to unflinchingly let bugs crawl on me was an enviable trait to cultivate that would impress people, like when nobody else in my class wanted to hold and stroke a small, velvety black slug during a field trip to the zoo. I don’t remember why the fuck this zookeeper was teaching us about slugs, but I do remember feeling that I’d found a niche where I could jump straight to the top. So what if I failed at rockets and wanted to cry on field day? I could save face by being an imperturbable slug and bug handler! Plus I kind of liked making girls scream and giggle.
In no time I was observing beetle life in all of its stages. The alien-looking pupae were the most disturbingly mesmerizing. I had to increase my containers to hold all of my grubs, pupae and mature beetles. I didn’t have enough covered jars so I just used different bowls from our kitchen and loosely covered them with plastic. Pretty soon the bedroom I shared with my sister started to smell like dusty oatmeal and decomposing apples, but in my role as omnipotent overlord of the beetles I could watch the beetles’ frenzied mating. They were exposed and vulnerable, driven by instinct to procreate in the open on beds of Quaker Oats.
They were also developing genetic defects because of inbreeding. This was a lesson the limited research of the OTHER class never got around to learning! I tried introducing new beetles to the population, but the rate of abnormalities increased. Soon there were albino beetles, pupae with black lesions, slow-moving beetles that failed to thrive and aggressive, kamikaze beetles hell-bent on escaping the bowls of oatmeal.
One day I looked at the bowls full of beetles spread all over my desk so close to our beds and was suddenly horrified by them. I could learn no more from them and they were on the verge of mutiny.
I had to get rid of them FAST before they overran the bowls and poured out in black waves (dotted with albino white) all over our bedroom. I pushed open a window and started flinging beetles and oatmeal outside. I couldn’t dump them quickly enough . . . they were trying to climb back up the wall outside to get in and seek revenge! I kept throwing bowl after bowl of beetles in various stages of life out of the window, shrieking when they clung to the bowl and started climbing up my arm. I cruelly flicked them off with my fingernails, trying to launch them as far away from the window as possible.
It would have been perfect if I could’ve graduated to snakes or lizards because then I could have fed my beetles to them instead of wasting them all like that. Once, when I was a little older, my mom got mad at me when I screamed after reaching into a bag of potatoes in our dark pantry and pulling out a few maggots on a damp spud. I wish I’d have had the presence of mind to point out her hypocrisy, having the balls to chastise me for reacting to a handful of maggots on our food when she had a snake phobia precluding me from having the best pet of all: a beautiful legless reptile to hang around my neck while reading.
Believe it or not, this is not my only story about bug-keeping. I’ll try to tell you about my other bug endeavors one of these days. . .