I lived in a cockroach infestation during my freshman year of college at Syracuse University, in a large four-bedroom home just off campus. A different student rented each room. The kitchen cupboards crawled with roaches, too many to concern themselves with hiding regardless of light or human presence. The only person I saw eating in that house was the Italian grad student, who brewed espresso and milk and poured it into a coffee mug filled with cornflakes. In his heavy accent, he said, “This is how Italians call espresso.” He kept the coffee and cereal right next to the milk, in the fridge, the only place the roaches didn’t go.
These were tiny northern roaches. Disgusting, and I can’t get some of the images out of my mind, but seeing layers of them squirming over the trash and sinks didn’t instill the spine-crawling revulsion I feel looking at a single Florida cockroach.
This morning, I hit snooze a few times but stumbled out of bed at 5:30. For those of you playing the “What Time Will Aaron Wake” home game, yes, I’ve been better about rising early to write. A combination of Minime’s hunger, getting to bed earlier, and not being so hard on myself about what I choose to write has made this easier.
After the accident, it took a year for my energy level to return one hundred percent. I can’t expect my mental state to be balanced and my heart to be harmonized right away. If I need to write blogs and whine in my journal at five in the morning instead of pursuing murdered children on an Indian reservation or an adopted Chinese girl with a dragon living in her basement or Barbie fighting in a tournament of toys, I’ll do it. I just need to get back into the habit again. Alarm goes off, cat gets fed, coffee gets made, and work gets done.
Anyway, a forcible reminder of the reason I started pouring bags of cat food into a large, airtight container for storage came home this morning, in the form of a medium-sized cockroach. You’ll be able to skip your morning coffee when you see one of these bad boys scrambling around inside a bag into which you’re reaching.
Heart pounding, wide awake, I snatched the bag closed. Minime was freaking out. The food is out of the cupboard, yet my dish remains empty. What gives, Man?
The cardinal rule of cockroach control – and by “control” I don’t mean getting rid of them, I mean maintaining the delusion of cleanliness which allows Floridians to inhabit these great old Gables homes Palmetto bugs seem to love – is not letting one get away once you’ve spotted it. When that happens, it’s like the dealer who lets people accrue debt. Word gets out that you’re soft, and then you’ve got problems.
I turned on every light in the place. I sprayed a circle of lemon-scented death in the living room and set the bag inside it. I let the bag open, prepared for anything.
There it was, crawling around on top of the cat food, freaked out by the light and the sense of two predators in the area. The small, furry predator’s threat was nullified by the stench of lemon-scented death. Moo Cat sat at some distance, ears flat, glaring at me. The large “predator” fairly cowered nearby, wearing hastily donned rubber dishwashing gloves and sneakers, spray can in one hand, waiting for his nemesis to emerge.
Its hairy little legs couldn’t gain purchase on the slick insides of the bag, so I got the chance for a nice, long look. To survive, cockroaches either freeze or run. You never get a chance to see them move in a leisurely fashion, because you’re too busy trying to stamp them into oblivion.
Devoid of the scrambling frenzy to find a crack in which to disappear, antennae blending into the brown of the cat food, the roach looked like a large beetle. I wondered why this insect made my skin crawl more than the spiders of my youth. Spiders bite, after all, and cockroaches don’t (well they do, but only when you’re sleeping). Is it the size? The heavy buzz when they fly across a darkened room, reminiscent of a Biblical plague of locusts? The way they startle me when they come from hiding, a survival instinct which feels like intelligent sneakiness?
I thought of what would happen if it got away. Would I be forced to break my lease?
I wondered what vital purpose cockroaches serve in the Circle of Life, whether the world would be better off if they all just disappeared.
I contemplated the absurdity of a six foot three man over two hundred pounds scared of a weightless, inch-and-a-half insect.
Most importantly, what good is Minime if she isn’t going to kill roaches for me?
With a mighty barbarian yell, I snatched the cockroach from the bag, opened my front door, and smeared it above the frame as a warning to any of its brethren who would dare to enter. Afraid the remains – food now, after all – would attract more of its brethren, I sprayed it for good measure. This wouldn’t kill them of course, but it ensures the next generation spawned will be that much more immune to lemon-scented death.
When I got back inside, I finally fed Minime. I’m sure the feline judgment I imagined coming from her was just the shame I felt at my squeamishness.