A front-page story in this newspaper last week reported that the stink bug invasions that Western Pennsylvanians had come to hate were much less common this year.
We sent a Morning File correspondent to the stink bug headquarters to investigate. He filed the following report:
I walked in, notepad in hand, and the first thing I noticed was the overpowering stench. A stink bug media flack escorting me to their oval office apologized, explaining that a heartless, intolerant teenager had wiped out an entire delegation of lamp-buzzers that morning.
I persevered, having survived assignments of similar harshness in Somalia and Kosovo. I was then welcomed by the stink bug ambassador to humans, who invited me to take a seat and observe as though I were a fly on the wall.
"What if I act like a stink bug on the wall? Just leave a light on for me," I drawled, hoping to get a big laugh. No one smiled, and that's when I realized that serious business was afoot.
Some wonky stink bug then gave a report on the species' local numbers that sounded even worse than the collapse of Pittsburgh's human population in the 1980s -- right down to the part where he said you could fire a cannon down the main drags in Braddock and McKeesport today without hitting a stink bug.
Afterward, no one said anything or moved for a long time. I watched and waited ... and waited ... and waited.
Just as I was about to conclude that stink bugs are the most boring living objects I'd ever come across -- other than some of the people on a public access channel -- the stink bug president moved from a window and addressed one of his aides.
"What are our polling numbers hereabouts?" he wanted to know.
"Not good," said the stink bug who evidently managed their media operations.
"If there's some public support for us, I can go to the local foundation community or universities, make a pitch for some research studies, and have the academics figure out what we need to get boosted back to normal population levels. Really, now, how low can our popularity be?"
The pollster didn't hesitate. "If our positive rating was one point higher, we'd be right where Rick Santorum was in Shadyside before he dropped out of the presidential race."
They all sat and stewed on that bit of cheer for a while. I thought to myself, Jeez, and I thought Allegheny County's Republican Party had problems.
Coincidentally enough, that's when the leader of the stink bugs' right wing spoke up. She was flapping her antennae about the bugs' defenses, or lack thereof.
"Look, we just wait for someone to kill us, and we don't even move or put up a fight when they approach? And our strategy is to emit a foul odor that's detected after we're dead? After? I hate to give Ed Rendell credit for anything, but when he talked about a 'Nation of Wusses,' I really believe he had to be thinking of us."
The president must have been descended from some stink bug that enjoyed clinging to Gandhi's modest home, because he insisted they'd always been a peaceful species that just wanted to be somewhere warm in the winter and eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, while hoping to be able to multiply in numbers without ever harming anyone.
Just then, a precocious young stink bug spoke up, probably an intern just a few weeks old.
"Look, I hate to be the stink bug that smelled bad at the party," she said, "but I think we've got a marketing problem, more than anything. I think we need a name change."
Name change? What? Lots of murmuring ensued among those older. Maybe the kid was on to something -- and not just a window frame this time. It was agreed a rebranding could turn their fortunes around.
The intern proposed, "I think if we went from 'brown marmorated stink bug' to something like 'round little sun bathers,' no one would really mind us. And we should be more discreet, traveling in twos or threes instead of dozens clumping together. And avoid the busiest windows. C'mon, let's be smart out there."
Out of the mouths of babes. It was all put to a vote, which was unanimous. So they're still out there, just less conspicuously, for now. And if you think the whole thing stinks, well, we guess you'd be right.
Gary Rotstein: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1255.