sound a sleep: louder in the dark
A few months ago while at the park with Tofu and Hisako we ventured into a little building that was home to many kinds of local insects. A kind old man monitored the space and gave tours to the people who stopped in. He gave us one such tour at the end of which he showed us something really cool.
They are the larva of kabutomushi, or Japanese Rhinoceros Beetles. The kind old man asked us if we wanted one. Tofu quickly said he did and I in a moment of insecurity said I wouldn't know what to do with one. So the man found a styrofoam cup and filled it with dirt and a larva then went back to showing us around the place.
As he showed us other critters and crawlers I found that I was no longer listening. I had gone to a place in my head where regret is all that is audible and I listened to my future self pine over not having said yes. The truth was I really did want a pet beetle, even if it was also true that I would have no idea what to do with it. So I pulled Hisako aside and told her how I felt. She just smiled at me and politely asked the man if it was too late for me to also have one. It was no problem, the guy had found a few dozen larva that morning in the woods. He found another cup and filled it for me with dirt and a larva.
We left the park and headed to the pet store. Next to the rabbit supplies we found the beetle supplies and bought a big bag of dirt and some bins to keep our larvae in.
The man told us they would have to sit in the dirt until June (this being back in February or March). That in may the larva would build a cocoon and in early June the beetle would emerge. He said to try no to disturb the beetle and things would work out fine.
Over the past few weeks I would ask Tofu if he had been checking in on his larva. Other the naming it Nobunaga (a famous samurai of local lore) he had all of the patience and good sense to leave it well enough alone.
I on the other hand, nearly twenty years his elder, couldn't help but pick up my box ever day or so and see the different places the larva had burrowed to. I often wondered if I shouldn't be moving it around so much but, like scratching a mosquito bite, I couldn't resist.
A few more weeks past and the time when I would move to Nagoya was fast approaching. I was worried about my little larva for two reasons. The first was that on several occasions I could hear it rap-tap-taping its many legs against the bottom of the plastic container. I was afraid it had run out of clean dirt and was surely going to suffocate in its own poop. It would remain a larva forever and I would never get to see in its glorious beetle state. The second reason was that once it became a cocoon it really was not supposed to be moved. These little bugs, as larva, as cocoon, and even as beetle, are highly susceptible to dying of shock. I was worried the trip from Gifu to Nagoya would surely be its end.
I moved it anyway and for the last month and a half it has been sitting in my closet in the dark. It hasn't made a sound, and it hasn't moved. It has done nothing and now we are in the later part of June. I am trying to get some sleep and my beetle pet was never my beetle pet. I am resigned to the fate of my beetle and try to resign also to my own. It is later than it should be and I am not as tired as I should be.
The night does strange things to perception. The most interesting of stories can lull us to sleep. Garrison Keillor's voice, the BBC, the films of Fritz Lang all fascinating to me, and yet they are a sure step in the direction of snoozeville. It is almost a pavlovian reaction, as if I have been trained to fall asleep to these sweet soothing sounds. Sounds that are not so soothing have the same effect; rain beating on a tin rooftop, the incessant trains that rattle ten stories below my window.
I try very diligently to render myself tired. I drink a beer, I read, I watch part of a bad Ben Stiller movie that had successfully put most of America to sleep upon its release. I find myself bored, but not tired, so I turn on the latest episode of A Prairie Home Companion and crack my sliding door to let in the sounds of the trains. The bell rings, I spill a bit of drool and before I know it, I am wonderfully asleep.
Two hours later I was met with consciousness and confusion. As the loud and captivating had put me to sleep, the minute and annoying had brought me out of it. As if somewhere on the other side of my brain there is another pavlovian trigger that is flipped in reaction to a world both microscopic and deafening. The buzzing of a mosquito in my ear, the shuffling of a mouse in a trash can, and the tiny ping of cockroach legs against a drain stopper. Sounds I would never notice in my waking state wake me like waves of cold water.
Something was disturbing my blissful state. It sounded like a watch alarm going off several doors down. A high pitched, unstopping and inaccessible beep beep beep. A sound so small and yet so grating, like hearing someone trim their fingernails in public. I however remained determined to sleep out the few hours I had left before a similarly aggravating sound would come from my alarm clock. I rolled over, I pressed my head against my pillow to muffle at least half the sound. Nothing doing.
It was as if the sounds of things small had decided if anybody was to remain awake tonight it was me. The beeping stopped and was quickly replaced by the faint but growing sound of a mosquito. The sound grew until I was sure it was in my ear. I slapped it hard and it stopped. No more buzzing. Now just the faint ring of an ear that has been slapped with a cupped palm. I rolled over again and again. Still nothing doing.
Then came the sound that would win the fight. A pinging sound so small and yet all together too loud for whatever was producing it. It was a small sound, but to be so audible the small creature making it had to have been very strong. A quiet yet forceful and all together disconcerting sound. The unmistakable sound of beetle feet.
Where I lived in Albuquerque cockroaches were, to me, not so much pests as they were an interior design motif. They were not the target of scorn, but rather amazement. Amazing just how many there could be in a single sink, and oh look at how many colors there are. Now that I live in Japan my opinion of cockroaches has changed rather dramatically, and this surprises me. It surprises me because I have only seen one or two in the five months I have been here.
However the few I have seen have made quite an impact on me due to the force of impact I would have to inflict to squish one. They look like thick shiny black thumbs. They are unpleasant creatures that beg to be crushed. Yet I never crush them because as unpleasant as they are crawling across your floor, the thought of what they would look like smeared like spilled paint is far less pleasant. (Have you cleaned out an old fashioned mousetrap, or stepped on a frog?) Oh and did I mention that in Japan cockroaches can fly like birds?
So the sound of beetle feet somewhere in my room, the room where my bed is a short mattress on the floor, finally got me to stop trying to sleep. I sat up disgusted and discouraged and thats when I saw it.
In the pitch dark that was my room there was something that was even darker. A gleaming black speck that was more of a spot than a speck and really more of a stain than anything. It looked to be about the size of a D battery and it was slowly making its way across the head of my bed to my pillow. Sitting upright I went through the same possible actions as I always do. First, smash it and feel no remorse. Second just let it go on its way, we are all creatures of the earth after all. I didn't like either option so I thought maybe I would just flick it really hard. It would surely fly a few meters from my bed, and with any luck it would hit the wall and die from some sort of internal injury. This would be the best option, no bug and no messy clean up, so I pressed my thumb to the nail of my middle finger and made for the approach.
Within flicking distance I had the impulse to stop. Even in the dark something seemed particularly safe and sanitary about this cockroach. As if perhaps it wasn't a cockroach at all, but rather some strange and wonderful creature who's presence I had been anticipating for months. Still under the spell of a sleepy mind I couldn't really understand my own thoughts so instead I went with my gut. I didn't flick it. Instead I turned on a light and found my glasses.
Though still rather shaken up and in a state of alarm what I found myself looking at filled me with joy. It was not the sewer dwelling, sky soaring, uncrushable monster I thought it would be. It was my new pet.
He hadn't died at all. In fact he had escaped and had been wondering around my apartment for who knows how long. Excited I grabbed a plastic bin and began cutting air-holes in the lid. I wasn't sure if the guy would be hungry, but just in case I put a small drop of jelly in the corner of the bin. When I came back into the room he was right where I had left him. I anxiously approached him and tried to coax him into the bin. At first I tried sliding a piece of paper under his legs but his grip was to firm. I couldn't get between him and my bed sheet. So I decided I would use my fingers. Little kids all over Japan have these as pets so I wasn't worried about getting hut, but I was a little nervous all the same. I didn't know how strong it was, or how fast, or how fragile. I just tried to be care. I placed my thumb and index finger around its back and before I knew it it was scurrying up my naked arm.
I got him in the plastic bin and after my heart stopped racing I fell back asleep to the unpleasant sound of a large beetle held in captivity in a plastic bin. Scurry, scurry, flick flick. When I awoke he had settled down and I ran to the convenience store to buy a banana. If he really had just come out of the cocoon he must be hungry and I wanted to give him a proper welcome to the world. On my way to the store I saw that someone had thrown out a couple of plastic dresser drawers. I saw that they might make an excellent terrarium so I snatched them up. I cut up the banana, ripped up some paper for temporary flooring and placed my new friend in his new home.
He has been in there all day and he has not touched the banana, or he has and is taking tiny little bites. He also has not moved expect for when I have attempted to touch him and inspect him. From what I can tell he is a healthy male kabutomushi with six legs and two eyes. His nose/horn is a little crooked however and so I have decided to name him Gonzo.