When I was a child, people still read Aesop's fables, and I grew up on, among other stories, "The Ant and the Grasshopper." Except I grew up on a somewhat Disneyfied version.
The story goes that one warm summer's day a Grasshopper was hopping about a field playing his song — or her song, if you're telling the story in a Romance language where both "Grasshopper" and "Ant" are feminine nouns — but as I heard it in American English it was his
song, and the grasshopper was playing a fiddle and having a fine old
time. Anyway, Ant comes along dragging an ear of corn, and the
grasshopper asks the ant why she's working so hard, and Ant says she's
laying in food for the winter and advises Grasshopper to do the same.
Grasshopper points out that the weather is still beautiful and goes
about playing, while the ant gets back to work.
Winter comes and the grasshopper finds himself starving and crawls up
to the ant hill and sees the ants eating heartily of the food they
stored up, leading to the MORAL: "It is best to prepare for the days of
Okay, but between the set-up and the MORAL, there's a climax to the
story. In the version I heard as a kid, the grasshopper begs the ants
for food, and they invite him in and feed him and let him join their
winter party, and he learns his lesson. In the original, the ants let
the grasshopper starve (although hyperthermia probably killed him
I only recently learned the original version, however, and between
childhood and my current old age I worked my butt off in school and went
on to teach and got to observe a fair number of rich, spoiled, and
energetic-at-play (only) figurative "grasshoppers" among my fellow
students, and then just my students. I lived thirty-five years in a
college student neighborhood in Oxford, Ohio, and around the corner from
a consolidated high school, and, in some rare moments, I got a bit
bitter. So now and then I retold the story.
Same buildup in my version, but when Grasshopper begs for food the ant
queen invites him in — and looses on him her hit squad of ichneumon
wasps, who paralyze him with their stings, inject their eggs, and the
hardworking ants and wasps together feed on the grasshopper for a joyous
MORAL: "Payback is a motherf*#%er!"
But that story is bitter and overstated and, if you know about ichneumon wasps, a little bordering upon cruelty and the grotesque.
So I'll switch to a more upbeat story, from the prime of my life, when I
was in grad school at the University of Illinois and living in
Champaign, IL, sharing an apartment with two other graduate students in
what had pretty well been a grad-student enclave.
We three graduate-student ants worked our jobs and taught and studied
and had a good first semester. And then, mid-year, the new neighbors
arrived. Undergrads. Undergrads who'd been residents of the dorms; they
were, as my more bigoted roommate called them, still basically "Dorm
Rats" or, more neutrally, "Dormies." Dormies in their first apartment.
Right downstairs of us. Dormies who left with us at the end of the
school year the two traffic signs they'd stolen. One was a stop sign,
and the other, for a nice touch, was a caution sign showing
silhouette-children playing or trying to cross the street.
The new neighbors were definitely Grasshopper-ish: playing their music,
loudly, and singing drunken songs, badly, and having a fine old time in
that last term before graduation.
(The Dormie-hater got a bumper sticker for his car warning, "I DON'T BRAKE FOR UNDERGRADUATES.")
And then final exam week approached — three-hour finals were standard
at the U of IL, essay exams and problem-solving ("Show your work!") in
the more respectable programs — and our ex-dormies got quietly desperate
as they crammed for their finals.
We were grad students. We'd worked hard all year and had completed the
work in the courses we were taking. We taught courses where you could
assign a final paper and have a lot to do the last week of school, but
then we were finished.
So we threw a party toward the end of the last week of classes. And we
invited all the neighbors (except the grasshopper crew downstairs), and
our guests invited friends, and a couple guys showed up with enough dope
to share — dopers in that time and place still remembered their manners
— and some ATO's arrived about midnight from hell-'n'-gone in Urbana
with cases of beer on their shoulders, saying "We heard you were
throwing a party." And the cops arrived about 2 a.m. and said it was
without doubt the best party they'd been called to break up at least
that month and stuck around until their next call (finally exiting by
stepping over the passed-out body of our major dealer).
And the party went on until we hosts just went to bed, knowing we'd
brought happiness to a lot of people — way more people than the fire
inspector would've been happy with — and proud to have impressed such connoisseurs of inebriated brawls as the Tau's and the Champaign cops.
Our neighbors, so we guessed, passed their exams and didn't flunk out of school, got drafted, and sent to Vietnam to die.
Anyway, they left us their signs to dispose of, which was recognition
of our competence if not exactly a totally unambiguous gift. (My
roommates dropped the signs off at a police station very early one
morning: on the lawn to be precise, and leaving the scene at a goodly
We figured there were no hard feelings from the aging boys downstairs;
and we all learned something. Grasshopper in the fable learned, "It
is best to prepare for the days of necessity"; as we grad students got
confirmed in the belief "'Revenge is a dish best eaten cold,' with some
cheap white wine to wash it down, passing a bong, and playing classic
rock loud enough for a block party."