A Personal Horror Story

(Cockroach Stories v. 2)

Colleague Patrick Tomlinson writes up a highly amusing story about bugs and Living in Florida. You can find it Here: https://twitter.com/stealthygeek/status/1170128466722852876 Anyway, that story reminded me of my own personal bug epic, one that played out in my apartment one evening during the summer of 1993 when I lived in Austin, Texas.

To start with, Texas has lots of bugs. I bought a used couch in the first weeks I lived there (it was in very good condition and included a hide-a-bed, so it was well worth the 25 bucks) and the couch turned out to have a few fleas (or, perhaps more accurately, flea eggs) so I found ways to deal with that. A lit pillar candle in the middle of a water-filled pie tin suckers fleas in every time. They head for the heat source, and drown in the water. There’s the fire risk to worry about, though it did seem quite effective. But I digress.

Having dispatched the fleas in one overnight pogrom, I discovered, in one of the many ways one does, that my apartment had cockroaches. I wan’t happy to learn this, but the apartment complex regularly hired a pest-control firm to take care of this issue. It made me feel a little better even though it didn’t really seem to help.

Anyway, in Austin, summers (or at least the summer when I was there) are like this: low temperature of 75 degrees (F), high temperature of 95 degrees, 90+% humidity, and no rain. For three straight months. My air-conditioning, set at 78 degrees, used to turn on at 7 AM during those days. Coming home from my air-conditioned workplace meant venturing out into the blazing hot soup that Austinites call air and driving home, by which time, I had heated up such that I could fry an egg on my thigh. My car had air-conditioning: it was just that in Austin in the summer, the sun is only a foot away, so the solar flares seeping through my windshield nullified any benefit. I frequently came home and stripped off my clothes in a nearly vain effort to cool down for a bit before making dinner.

That particular day, I had to use the toilet as soon as I got home. Naked, I strode into the bathroom, flipping on the light and sitting down on the porcelain throne. I looked up. On the ceiling directly above me was the biggest cockroach I had ever seen. It was, and I kid you not, FOUR inches long. It looked like it belonged in the Carboniferous period, during part of the time when dinosaurs held sway over the earth. I did my business without taking my eyes off the mammoth beast, and ducked outside to get my broom. Confidently armed, I returned and took a mighty swipe at the intruder…

It is important to note, at this point in the narrative, that I was not familiar with Palmetto Bugs. This wee beastie was one of those. Still nude, I swatted the thing with the broom, aiming the stroke to knock the gargantuan arthropod into the tub. It was a foolproof plan.

It is further important to take note, here, that Palmetto Bugs have two qualities normal cockroaches don’t share: they aren’t afraid of light, and they can fly. This lunker avoided the broom and buzzed its way around the bathroom a couple of times before finally landing on the outside of my shower curtain.

Good thing I had already used the toilet.

So I closed the door — from the outside — to keep the thing from leaving the bathroom, and caught my breath. I kept the broom, but also picked up one of my shoes by way of reinforcement. I slowly opened the door. The enormous creature was still sitting on the shower curtain where it had landed, arrogantly staring at me as if to say “Is that the best you can do?”

It turned out that that WAS the best I could do. Sticking to plan A, I swatted the curtain with the broom to knock the massive vermin into the tub. It tumbled down the curtain, seemingly stunned that I had connected at all. I quickly switched weapons, smashing my shoe down on the bug with a sickening crunch. Lifting my shoe away, I saw the roach attempting to crawl to the drain. I stuck it again; less of a crunch, but still a sound, and for good measure once again. The Palmetto Bug was now flat, an ex-Palmetto Bug, and I scraped its corpse off my shoe and into the toilet, giving my honorable opponent an equally honorable burial at sea.

I never saw a bug that big in my apartment again, and luckily, the normal-sized roaches confined themselves to the kitchen. When I was moving out in late December however, I found a flattened, desiccated lizard under my mattress. Glad I didn’t know about that one.

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