The Truman Story
A few weeks ago, after some of the coldest arctic air in a generation flowed down from the North Pole and over the lower 48 states, I began hearing news reports about how this polar vortex phenomenon might have killed off 95% of the stinkbug population in the United States. Stinkbugs apparently don’t like the cold. That’s why when winter approaches they look for cozy indoor accommodations.
Most people seemed to be elated with this news. I was worried, for it had been awhile since my favorite stinkbug, Truman—named in honor of author Truman Capote—had paid me a visit. He usually appeared whenever I sat at my desk to write, careening across the room and landing awkwardly on the top of my laptop or on a nearby lampshade where he’d perch to keep me company.
I’m certain many of you are wondering why in the hell I’m musing about stinkbugs. Aren’t they agricultural pests causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage each year? Don’t they invade people’s homes and businesses in the winter?
My story started nine years ago when two stinkbugs showed up on my desk. Amused by their circus-like acrobatics, I wrote about them in a 2010 column for Letters. Up until that point, I think it’s fair to say I’d neither seen nor thought about the brown marmorated stinkbug. Heck, they weren’t even discovered in the United States until the late 1990s as stowaways in cargo shipments from their natural East Asian habitat. They’ve since spread to just about every state. And I’ve been visited every winter these last nine years by a stinkbug.
I know what you’re thinking: where there’s one there are a hundred more. Yes, brown marmorated stinkbugs tend to congregate. Once in a safe place for the winter, they emit a pheromone call for their friends to come join. I’ve read the horror stories about how they invade homes by the tens of thousands and how people literally have to sweep them off of walls and vacuum them off of curtains.
It’s not like that with my stinkbug and me. Truman never invites unwanted guests. He’s a solitary bug. Believe me, I’ve searched behind paintings and furniture. I’ve shaken the draperies and the throw pillows. Nothing.
A few days after the polar vortex stories first appeared, a second round of stories debunking the mass die off claim started to circulate. Savvy journalists had noticed the stinkbug study was less than rigorous. It was, in fact, more of an “observation” by a Virginia Tech (wouldn’t you know) entomologist who kept a big bucket of stinkbugs outside of his lab. Most of them died in the cold. Duh….Most stinkbugs don’t live outside and exposed during the winter.
As I sat in front of the television watching CNN and snacking on shelled walnuts, I felt certain Truman had merely burrowed in somewhere comfortable. Then I bit into something very strange. A bitter taste filled my mouth, a cross between cilantro and dish soap, and my mouth began watering. WTF! This was no ordinary walnut. I spit out the masticated mess into a yellow cocktail napkin and took a closer look. Good Lord, I had eaten Truman!
Stinkbugs are known for eating a range of things from trees to vegetables and fruits to cotton. Clearly, they like walnuts too. Truman had somehow found his way into the big bag of shelled walnuts sitting in a sunny spot on the kitchen counter, snug as a bug in a rug, as they say. Being brown, he blended in well with the walnut halves.
While some progressive types today are touting the environmental and dietary benefits of consuming certain insects, trust me, the stinkbug should not be on anyone’s plate. Unless you’re gaga for cilantro.
I folded the yellow cocktail napkin into a tiny makeshift casket, brushed my teeth and gargled with Listerine, and then flushed what was left of poor Truman and the walnuts down the toilet.
Clearly, this should be the end of the story, but something’s still bothering me. According to scientists, the average lifespan of a brown marmorated stinkbug is 8-9 months, which means the stinkbug visiting me all these years wasn’t Truman. Hmm…. So, I’m supposed to believe that every winter one arbitrary stinkbug just happens to show up alone. And this random stinkbug enjoys watching me write, keeps me company in the kitchen when I cook, and sits quietly on the bedroom lamp when I go lay down and read?
Perhaps you share my skepticism. Clearly something strange is going on between these stinkbugs and me. Truman might be dead, but this story isn’t over…. ▼
Rich Barnett is the author of The Discreet Charms of a Bourgeois Beach Town, and Fun with Dick and James.