Cockroaches: Every last thing about them conjures up the most profound grossed-outness that I can humanly muster. Where I’m from, cockroaches signify that you are Nasty and not in that fun-sexy way the kids all dream about. Cockroaches signify that you are white trash, and not only are you white trash, you are white trash, you diseased-vermin-having motherfucker.
So, you know, I have a huge aversion to them. I wouldn’t say I’m terrified, but I could say with a good deal of surety that more than five of them gathered together in one spot would drive me right up to the ledge of Seriously Skeeved In A Way That Might Make Me Irrational.
Where, you know, ‘Irrational’='blowtorching a twenty-foot surface area’. Okay. Now you’re clear on my stance toward cockroaches.
When my boots hauled me out of the South, I ended up bobbing in the Pacific on this hunk of lava that many people believe to be some form of Paradise. Okay, overrated, but whatever. My time in Hawaii was weird. Not your standard operational weird, but the kind of weird that makes you believe that maybe everyone has a ‘Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas’ experience under their belt, just stretched out over several months, all skewed landscape and protracted pace instead of crammed into a jaunty weekend journalism expedition.
I’ve had a couple, but we are talking cockroaches here so I’m stuck with Hawaii for this story. Did you know that there are Big Mystery Bases in the pineapple fields? Well, one for sure (I’m surmising the rest). And I don’t know if it’s such a mystery anymore? My friend from work, a Navy wife, invited me home with her one day and I’ll be damn: We drove off into a sunset of pineapple stalks and arrived at the heavily-manned gates of a tiny military installation that I’d no clue existed until that moment.
While I was slipping my military ID out of my wallet, I asked her quietly, Your husband’s MOS?
Oh, computers and stuff, she said glibly. ‘Computers’ wasn’t really a throw-away word yet in 1990, you know? It was still very weighted with science fictiony overtones.
Right, cockroaches: One night I was watching television with my first husband (third time’s a charm). I’d been putting things back for my first home since I was a little girl, and by the time I was a senior in high school I had what I needed to modestly equip a house. I went into that marriage ready in ways that most people aren’t; I had already put the work in to make myself a standalone model, no relationship or kickstand required.
As a result, I had no obligations toward the frenzied buying of things like spatulas and rugs, so I was able to push some decent money toward a really fucking good console teevee.
Thus me lying in the floor on my belly, elbows crooked and hands propping head, watching I-don’t-even-know-what.
I just remembered part of the reason cockroaches skeeve me so: Their incredible speed. Their nervous system may be underdeveloped compared to your basic biped, but a cockroach can get the jump on a human every fucking time. Their speed is creepy. Their unapologetic will toward survival is disturbing.
I wonder if God ever thinks this way about us?: Their unapologetic will toward survival is so disturbing, so downright creepy. Reason number 10,428 that I could never be God. Humans are pretty dang creepy, film at eleven.
On my belly, one ankle kicked up in the air, foot at the end of it lolling in lazy circles. My eye catches it, my brain is slow to register it, and before I can even figure out what I’m freaked out by, my body has already coiled, leapt to its feet, and offended the air with a shriek. The cockroach whose carpet-scurrying had sent me flying in the opposite direction was approximately an inch long.
Which, you know, was what I knew of as a Bigun up until my residence in Hawaii.
I immediately became militant about bombing the shit out of our domicile, which was on the seventeenth floor of a forty-four story apartment building. Having never been an apartment dweller before, I had no understanding that such an endeavor was futile and that, unless you get everyone in the building to have a go at the Raid all at once, we were doomed to cohabit with roaches forever and ever amen. I also had no logic to tell me that I lived in a tropical locale whose mild climate and propensity toward moisture was not only Paradise for spoiled white folk and obnoxious Japanese tourists (yes. there are obnoxious Japanese. I was startled, too), but for your basic Periplaneta americana, as well.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m fancy. I had to look up that clever little snippet of Latin. I can’t believe how pretty the Official Scientific Name for cockroach is. Just look at that, would you? Periplaneta americana. That shit looks like whatever it’s naming represents pure possibility, dunnit?
Oh, cockroaches. I guess if you wore a bag on your head, you would live up to your fancypants name. In theory, you are possibility: You survive no matter what. I hold fast to my theory of thirty years that if we were to suffer a nuclear holocaust that you and Tupperware and Twinkies (preservatives) would survive. Let’s hope I never get to say “I TOLD YOU SO!!1!” on that one.
Anyway, I hadn’t the climate and dwelling logics to tell me that I needed to just get over myself where roaches were concerned. I was convinced that our immaculate new dwelling was somehow Nasty and that I needed to stage Cockroashima. The first bombing kept them away for three days, then they were right back to startling me when I opened the cabinets to reach for my cornflakes.
The second bombing bought us twenty-four hours. We started to catch on a little that they were just packing it in and moving to the neighbor’s until the air cleared. While I was fumigating a third time, a pretty Chinese girl laughed at me and my efforts. I had been bemoaning our situation over coffee at work.
“OH, you don’t get it, do you? In Hawaii EVERYbody has cockroaches. The clean people have the little ones”
(here she held her finger and thumb an inch apart)
“and the Nasty people have these ones,” whereupon she indicated a critter of about four inches.
It was then that I knew I’d never, never be home in Hawaii. Not ever. I was right. I appreciated my time there, but when friends from back home sent me missives about how lucky I was to be where I was, I rolled my eyes. I didn’t try to explain because I knew they’d not get it. Even Paradise is not without its troubles.