Years ago, when I was working as a hairdresser in Berkeley, a package with no return address arrived at my salon.
The receptionist (picture T.I.’s wife Tiny) and the salon manager (picture Jersey Shore’s JWOWW with a heavy Greek accent) opened the manila envelope, which was addressed to nobody personally, only to the salon itself. Inside, they found a heart-shaped box, just like the one in the Nirvana song.
At the time, I was cutting the hair of a regular client, a sweet, clean-cut Cal student with sandy blond hair and impeccable sideburns. My station was directly behind the front desk.
It had been a relatively quiet morning. The clients and stylists were uncharacteristically silent, and the only sound in the shop was the forever-maddening bump-bump of the techno music to which GWOWW kept the radio religiously tuned, 90% of the time playing this song:
I was only vaguely aware of Tiny and GWOWW opening the box, and probably would not have been at all had the two of them together not been such an unusual sight. Tiny and GWOWW really hated each other, but today they huddled close in curiosity of what lay within that tiny, heart-shaped box. When they giggled in curiosity, even I looked up from my sideburn-sculpting to see what kind of present the admirer had sent to our salon.
And then, crickets.
No, not the standard metaphorical crickets. Crickets. Actual crickets—what seemed like hundreds of them—all over the salon, leaping, chirping, landing everywhere. They were on me. They were on my client. Everywhere.
Terrified screams from women and gay men echoed off the bug-spattered but otherwise pristine white tile. My client leaped up out of his chair, shaking the wheat-colored creatures from the black cutting cape I’d put on him earlier. He grabbed a People magazine with the Spice Girls on the cover and started frantically smacking at the crickets. Someone else ran to the utility closet and grabbed a can of Raid. For about ten minutes, it was utter chaos, as humans raced about to recover normalcy, normalcy interrupted by tiny, quiet insects.
The police came and filed a report. They took the box and the envelope as evidence, but we never found out who sent us the crickets. Even after the cops left and the smell of Raid had dissipated, we were still finding tiny, stiff bodies for days. We swept them away, but still felt watched, stalked, infected.
Who had sent us the crickets? Why had they sent them? And the biggest mystery of all—how did that person manage to herd scores of leaping, chirping bugs into one tiny heart-shaped box?
But perhaps the most poisonous aspect of that day was the way it made all of us look at each other. With those crickets in the box came the elephant in the room: the unspoken yet resounding truth that the crickets could have come from any one of us--Tiny, GWOWW, even the clean-cut boy with the sideburns. With no words, no message, those small, agitated bugs served to cast suspicion upon us all.
Sometimes, even to this day, I can still hear them.