The Ant and the Grasshopper

Portrait of a living grasshopper. Live green grasshopper sits in

You know the story. The Ant works all summer while the Grasshopper plays. Come winter, the Grasshopper is knocking on the Ant’s door…

The Ant didn’t set out to be an Ant. He really wanted to be a spy. He grew up on a little farm in a little town outside of Boston. He went to college at Dartmouth and majored in Russian. He interviewed at the CIA but didn’t get the job. Maybe he always was meant to be an Ant since he was always hardworking and immensely practical. He was one of those people who likes to save. Save, save, save. Never ever spend. He is frugal.

Along comes the Grasshopper. She’s from New York. A big city girl. She has a bit of a reputation, maybe. The Ant is intrigued. She agrees to go on a date with him. After all he has a motorcycle. They date for a few months. The Ant invites the Grasshopper to go to Cape Cod one Labor Day weekend. They take the bike and camp out on the beach, under the stars. He only has the one sleeping bag…

The Grasshopper gets pregnant. (I know, not technically possible, but…) The Ant being practical and reliable does the “right thing.” He takes a government job at the Agriculture Department. A boy is born the next year and then 3 years later, a Girl. The Grasshopper does her best to be a good housewife. She decorates their home with Danish Modern decor even though the Ant often objects to the expense. They go on frugal vacations tent-camping in Nova Scotia and Assateague and to visit family. She finds clothes at yard sales and dresses the kids like characters in a Trufaut film. She takes the occasional job, as a waitress or a secretary. They aren’t very challenging for someone with a degree in Psychology. She takes Japanese calligraphy painting and Pottery classes and makes a few friends. But she grows restless—looking for new experiences, challenging the status quo. She starts to think she’s not cut out for the domestic life. There has to be something more.

Maybe the Ant and the Grasshopper were never compatible or maybe divorce is just what one does in the ‘70s. They split up. Being the responsible one, the Ant stays in the big house in Northwest DC and raises the Boy and the Girl. He takes out a loan from his parents in order to pay the lump sum alimony to the Grasshopper and she hops off. He pays his parents off with interest.

The Ant has a good life, working his way up the ranks in the government, writing regulations for the Department of Agriculture. He rides his bicycle to work and packs a lunch. He saves and saves. He indulges a few hobbies—Judo, Skiing, Scuba-diving and driving old Saabs.

The Boy and the Girl visit the Grasshopper who’s living on a commune in West Virginia now with her grass-smoking grasshopper boyfriend. There’s homemade brown bread and duck eggs to eat. The Boy and the Girl sleep in an old barn with no heat. The Ant drives the kids back and forth from DC to West Virginia many weekends. More than once, believe it or not, the song, “Country Roads” plays on the radio.

Eventually the Grasshopper decides to move to California. When the Boy and the Girl visit her there, they have to take a TWA flight where beautiful stewardesses give them plastic wing pins and decks of playing cards.

In California they stay with the Grasshopper at whatever house she and the boyfriend are ‘housesitting’ (that’s a fancy word for not having a place to live). They eat english muffins if the Grasshopper remembered to get extra food stamps, ice cream sandwiches if she didn’t. (Her roommate works at an ice cream sandwich factory.) Sometimes there’s free food because the Hari Chrishna festival is in town or there’s an art opening. The Boy and the Girl spend all their time Venice Beach playing backgammon and trying to get strangers to buy them french fries from the Sidewalk Cafe. The only job the Grasshopper seems to have is doing Tarot readings or Astrology charts. But it’s never really winter in California, is it?

The Boy and the Girl love the freedom and lack of rules in California and start to think the Ant is really uncool. He’s remarried now, to another Ant this time and they enjoy their lives immensely, living simply. The Step-Ant is frugal and hardworking but being an artist and a woman encourages the Ant to occasionally buy nice girl stuff for the girl and send her to art school.

The Girl grows up. She wonders, is she an Ant or is she a Grasshopper? I guess she’s both. She does love to spend money, though. Especially on Danish Modern furniture.

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