There are crickets in Brighton.

I do not miss many things from my childhood. I hated Arizona from the moment I was sapient enough to realize there were other places in the world, and that they were probably different. I cope poorly with extreme heat and dehydration, I have issues with UV glare, and socially the place is a hole in the face of civilization. But there were three things I used to hang onto, lying in bed late at night: The chirping of crickets, the sound of the train whistles from a railroad crossing three or four miles away, and the mass of leaves on the bougainvillea vines right outside my window.

None of these were perfect. The crickets in Arizona are desert-colored, which in insects mainly means translucent gold. They made excellent scuttling, hopping little anatomical models. My mother, who grew up in the Midwest with shiny black bugs, was forever skeeved out. The train whistles were from a freight line; so far as I know, there was, and is, no passenger service through that part of Phoenix. The train cars were all full of coal or corn syrup or rocks or whatever it is BNSF hauls around these days, and none of them would carry me away. The bougainvillea was so invasive I am still not entirely convinced it wasn't carnivorous. One summer it grew so rapidly that one of its branches prevented me from closing my bedroom window, and I couldn't get anyone to take care of it until I alarmed my parents by walking into my father's computer den and asking innocently, "Daddy, where's the hacksaw?"

Crickets, mass transportation, and green leaves were all things that existed elsewhere. They were incongruous enough in the middle of the barren desert that I could pretend I was somewhere much nicer long enough to fall asleep.

People who have grown up in a more temperate climate -- weather-wise and socially -- have no idea what I'm talking about. "There are trees outside my window," I say, in a tone that suggests I think this is one of the nicer things about my apartment. "Ye-e-e-e-es," they say slowly, "outside is generally where we keep the trees." It does not occur to them that there exist places where, if you don't want to be somewhere anymore, you cannot escape by just walking out the door. There is no shade, no concealment. Life, where there is any, is hard-shelled and prickly. There is no such thing as a "common" in the desert. You do not congregate outside. Outside will kill you. You spend your existence hermetically sealed in a series of buildings, separated and alone.

There are no freight lines where I am now, but the light rail still uses trolley bells. I'm sure it's a recording triggered by a button rather than a real bell and a pull-rope these days, but they dutifully chime departures up and down Commonwealth Avenue, just as streetcars have for over a hundred years. Traffic is never far away. There's a Catholic rectory down at the end of the block, also with bells, which rings the time quietly even in the wee hours of the morning. I know most people complain about city noise, but I go mad without it. It reminds me that, no matter what is going on in my little world, civilization still exists, and whatever is bothering me is completely irrelevant to six million other people, who will not pester me about it when I talk to them. When I wake up tomorrow, there will still be things for me to do and places for me to go.

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