Just about everyone I know has, somewhere tucked away inside their brain, some version of the fable of the grasshopper and the ant. You know the one: the grasshopper spends the warm months singing away, while the ants (and even sometimes the uncles) work like the dickens, planting, reaping, harvesting. Come the winter the shivering grasshopper, dying of hunger, asks for food and instead gets the moral of the story rammed down its throat.
Growing up, I had a talent for standing stories on their head, like the one in the bible about the bratty kid with the slingshot picking on the big lumpy guy with the thyroid problem. But I don’t think it ever occurred to me to question that the angels were on the side of the ants, and the grasshopper got what he (or more often she, especially in the paintings) deserved.
So, it’s a fable that’s always been particularly tough on me, especially at this time of year. Here at The WholeNote, you see, we’ve just put out a combined July/August issue instead of the habitual one a month. We took a whole two weeks off — a veritable binge of idleness … tainted almost from day one with the certainty that, as for the grasshopper, there would be a deadly reckoning somewhere up ahead.
It’s always tough to enjoy the gentle slipping of summer into fall when one has a chronic case of G.A.S. (grasshopper apprehension syndrome). But it’s ten times worse at a historic moment like this when, as happens from time to time, it’s the ants that are in government at almost every political level. There they go in their ugly black limo carapaces, quivering in anticipation at the thought of all the tongue lashings they will get to deliver once the legislature or house or hall reconvenes in the fall; looking forward to taking down a peg or two the indigent and the artists — all those who don’t know what “real” work is.
It’s time I think to stand this story on its head too. In my new ending the ant waggles its antennae at the grasshopper and makes its speech about “Idleness bringing want,” and how “To work today is to eat tomorrow.” And the grasshopper says to the ant, in the vernacular, “F**k off and die, dude. Here I spend the whole goddamn summer playing my mandola so you have music to work to, and now you tell me to go get a job!?”
So all hail the pickers and players and singers, slip-sliding your way from summer to fall, rejuiced and rejuvenated and ready to roll! Rest assured, there’s an extra seat at the just society’s table for anyone who can sing for their supper as sweetly as you-all do. And may all your seats be full of bums.