by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
June 16, 2004
THE BUG THAT SAVED SEATTLE
SEATTLE, Wash. -- I am out on the deck, gazing at the vast tranquillity that is the Puget Sound and at the Olympics, the travel agent's dream of a snowy mountain range, just beyond.
It has been, for this time of the year, a typical Seattle day: a blindingly bright sunrise, followed by horizon-to-horizon clouds up until noon, then more sun, with the mercury standing at about 68. Encouraged by this, I go onto the deck in my bathing trunks and lie in the sun, to read Umberto Eco on semiotics.
Presently, various little signs--dark dots on the page, ditto on the deck, messages from the derma ("I am wet") - tell me that it has begun to rain. But this is impossible.
Except in Seattle. Rain in Seattle has learned how to do without clouds, which are seen here as a needless formality. Besides, falling on people out of a vacant blue sky is more fun. It is much more fun when they are from the East. They will then look up in astonishment (What is this - rain!?), and the rain can pretend to be doing its nails, its attention fixed elsewhere.
A visitor from New Jersey will expect this rain, or whatever, to be followed by mosquitoes. But no, the mosquito seems never to have heard of this corner of the country.
Bob Ellrich (formerly Professor of French at Princeton, then at Washington, and now with me among the professors emeriti) invited us for dinner the other night. We ate in his lush back garden, one that could have been in New Orleans or Charleston. One thing was missing: mosquitoes. In New Jersey one could dine in such a setting only behind a Maginot Line of citronella torches and bug zappers.
Where are the mosquitoes? I asked. Have they not heard of this paradise of exposed human skin?
We don't have mosquitoes, said Bob. We have slugs. More escargots? The local lore is that there are no mosquitoes for the simple reason that they are all eaten by an extraordinary insect known hereabouts as the "mosquito-eater." I daresay the taxonomic name in Linnean Latin would be more complex, but my time is limited.
This nameless bug is one of the oddest I have ever met. A tiny thorax blunders through the air on a single pair of flimsy wings. But the six legs are its most fantastic feature. If you were this creature, your legs would be twenty feet long and look like unraveled thread.
The mosquito eater is the worst flyer that nature ever designed, if you call this design. It was born berserk and then went haywire. In flight, it reminds one of a debutante in a ball gown on her first pair of skates shrieking "Somebody stop me!"
They never file a flight plan and never seem to have the vaguest notion of where they're going, anyway. Looking up from my book the other night, I witnessed a three-way midair collision. What a mess! It looked as if three old ladies in a fit of pique had thrown their knitting at each other and then tried to stalk off, totally entangled, each in a different direction.
And this was not the worst mosquito-eater pileup on record! Natives tell me of wrecks that had to be cleared away by the Small Animal Control Authority.
What exactly was Evolution's little game? To what exactly is this nitwit of a bug an adaptation? And do they actually kill mosquitoes, or just wait until the mosquitoes die laughing and then eat them? If this is survival of the fittest, God help the unfit.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.