The Widening Gyre

The roaches appear to be gone. We haven’t seen one in over a week; and have begun using the dishwasher again without mishap. It’s a slow journey back to recovery for some of us–OK, for me. I still jump backwards every time I open a drawer, shriek at the stray  raisin, and squeal at every shadow, but at least I’m in the kitchen. And cooking, even. After a month of eating takeout Whole foods salads and microwaved Trader Joe’s burritos, it’s nice to have home cooked food again. Although I did enjoy the burritos profusely. I could eat one for every meal and be pretty much fine.

I’m a routine eater, like my child. Left to my own devices, I’ll eat the same thing over and over again, happily, for years on end. When Mike and I started dating I had one type of food in my kitchen: an obscure brand of organic turkey chili. Of course, I had enormous quantities of it, but that’s because I ate it for pretty much every meal. I used to clear the shelves of it at Whole Foods. Until Mike and I started dating. At that point I slowed down on my consumption, and soon after discovered that Whole Foods had stopped carrying it. I soon realized that I, and I alone, had been keeping that chili company in business. It was hard to contemplate the jobs lost, the lives disrupted, simply because my love life had taken a turn for the better, but it’s a guilt I’ve learned to live with.

I digress. The point is, I could eat TJ’s burritos for every meal, but because the roaches are gone I don’t have to. It’s luxurious to have the choice. Plus, Mike would rather shoot himself in the hand with a nail gun than eat a frozen burrito for dinner once, let alone ten times; if we’re going to dine together, I have to be willing to expand my menu.

Speaking of expanding menus, I forgot to give Mina her Frontline last month, and now she’s infested. This means that in the last month we’ve had roaches, ants, and now fleas. All of them killed with pesticides. This makes me wonder, first, if we’re going to get cancer, and second, if some new type of bug is going to come into our house to eat all of the insect corpses we’re generating. I really can’t think about this, though, because I’m too busy worrying that MJ is going to get bitten by a flea and come down with the plague.

When I don’t think about that I dwell on Donald trump and become sick with fear.

And when I’m not incapacitating myself thusly? I’m planning MJ’s 7th birthday party.

This is a source of stress, too, as she’s decided she wants to have a “falconing” theme. What this means, in her little, curious, brain, is that she and her friends will hold stuffed birds, wear gloves, and run after “flesh-colored” bags filled with “carrion candy.”

What it means to me is planning hell. Let me tell you, falcon-related party favors are not a thing. There are no falcon plates, cups, or napkins. No falcon toys. No falcon anything. Google falcon party. You’ll see. Get ready for a lot of Angry Birds.

I went to Michael’s today to find flesh colored bags. There I thought for sure I’d at least find some falcon stickers to put in with the candy. After all, Michael’s has stickers in every possible theme: beer, Ireland, dalmatians, snorkeling! But not, it turns out, a single bird sticker of any kind. Except for owls. Since bringing owl stickers to a falconing party is sort of like bringing a kielbasa to a PETA brunch that’s not going to help.

I decided to try my luck in the plastic toys section. There I found packages of dinosaurs, fish, horses, kittens, even vegetables! Vegetables? Surely there would be a falcon set. Or at least a bird of prey collection. Eagles? Birds of any kind? A god damned chicken? Nothing.

So, aside, from the “find the flesh bag” game, plus an amorphous activity called “pin the falcon on the glove,” we’ve got nothing. I did, though, find a bakery that will make me a falcon cake–for an indecent, breathtaking amount of money. The sort of John-Edward’s-Haircut amount that would quickly take down my career if I were a politician.

Other than the cake, though, this party is going to be about as falcony as a DAR potluck. Which is to say, not at all. Hopefully the kids will bring their imaginations, because they’re going to need them.

In the meantime? I am dreaming of “days after.” The day after the party, the day after the election, and maybe—should Trump win—the day after the apocalypse, when the roaches will emerge from their hiding places, nibble on falcon cake, and say “who needs a theme? We own it all!”




Roach Trip

Day 21.

It’s been exactly a week since Corky’s came for their “follow up” appointment. Since then we’ve seen only three or four roaches, all dead. Or mostly all–one was doing a pretty convincing zombie imitation, but he became dead quite fast. After Mike smashed him with a paper towel, that is.

And for the last three days, nothing. Dead or alive.

Except for the imaginary roaches. Pesticides, apparently, don’t work on those.

This invasion has clearly taken a toll on my mental health. Now that the real roaches seem defeated, I’m seeing phantoms everywhere–in the cabinets, on my leg, in the bath mat, at the park. I’m like that guy from “A Beautiful Mind,” but with little brown bugs. Who don’t talk. But still. I’m haunted by the specter of these horrible insects, and God only knows when it’ll stop.

Just the other morning, for example, while getting MJ’s lunch together for school, I saw two giant specimens on her snack bag and shrieked at the top of my lungs. They turned out to be pictures of bees. That had always been there. Mike and MJ got a good laugh out of that one, and understandably enough. My anxiety can be quite comical.

But I could tell this morning when I screamed at a hair clip under the toaster that my freak-outs are wearing thin. Even MJ is rolling her eyes. And Mike? He’s going to have me committed. If only Corky’s had a spray for that.

Maybe things will improve when we finally use the dishwasher. Which we can, in theory. Mike has done his checks for days now and found nothing. Still, neither of us can bring ourselves to turn it on. Too soon.

Not to mention, if I’m seeing roach ghosts where roaches have never roamed, imagine what I’ll see when I go back to the scene of the crime. I’m not sure my heart can take it. Or my family’s ears.

So there’s the conundrum: I’ll feel better when we’re using the Bosch again, and I can’t use the Bosch again until I feel better.

Welcome to being in my head.

But not in my dishwasher. Maybe next week.




The Battle of the Bosch

It’s all come down to the dishwasher.

Ironic that this, our highest-end appliance, the one I swore would change my life when we upgraded from our Soviet-era clunker, has become the final holdout of our entomological invaders. Bosch dishwashers may be rated four-and-a-half stars on Amazon, but it turns out they get an abysmal score for being pest-repellent. To the contrary, roaches, like everyone else, seem to prefer German design, for we are now seeing the little bastards there, and there only.

“It’s the warmth and the moisture,” Dave explained when I called him about it. “Totally normal, to be expected.”

If we live in a world where it’s normal to open the dishwasher and see roaches racing across the silverware tray then sign me up for intergalactic travel now. Because I am out of here.

We’ve stopped using the thing, of course. Except as a giant roach motel. Twice a day, now, Mike grabs a paper towel, approaches the Bosch, opens it quickly, and kills any roaches he sees. I, meanwhile, get as far across the house as I can and enter a mewling fetal position until he’s done.

“How many today?” I ask, my head still between my armpits.

Mike likes to preface his answer with the word “sadly.”

“Sadly, one,” he’ll say. Or “Sadly, two.”

We haven’t had more than that yet; he’ll have to come up with a stronger adverb if we do. “Horrifically” would work. “Catastrophically” sums it up nicely, too.

What is sad to me is that we don’t have none. Abandoning the rest of the house, the roaches have dug in to this final stronghold. Strategically speaking I suppose it’s good–we’ve got them surrounded, like the Romans were at Cannae. But our foes are better defended; the Romans weren’t encased in steel.

In my darker moments I wonder if we’ll ever get them out. Assuming this is a siege, they could go on in there for years, living off of the crumbs in the filter and the moisture in the bottom of the drain. Roaches, after all, can survive for months on a single drop of water. The average enemy can’t. We may be looking at a new Empire, here. And all run out of my long-coveted appliance!

Tomorrow, thankfully, is Corky’s follow-up visit. It can’t come soon enough. Especially since Dave won’t get on the phone with me anymore. I think he’s burning out. I know I am. I need my kitchen back. I need my dishwasher. I need my life.

And who knows? I may need siege engines.

In the meantime? We’re cleaning our plates by hand, keeping the kitchen spotless, and praying for a turn in the battle.

B-roaching the Subject

So, I’m at work today, and it’s quiet. Reeeeeally quiet. September and October are the dead season in retail. I’ve just returned from lunch at a new restaurant and I’m telling my co-worker about it. There are no customers in the store; we speak freely:

“I just ate at True Food,” I say, leaning casually against the counter.

“Yeah? ” he says, from across the room. “Was it good?”


“Everyone says it’s fresh.” says my co-worker, straightening a jewelry form in the case. “Was it fresh?”

I cock an eyebrow at him. “Certainly.”

He keeps talking, flipping his keys in the air. “The freshest food I ever had was salmon I’d just caught. Killed it, cooked it three hours later. BLAM. Fresh.”

I shudder. Savage.

“The freshest salmon I ever had was sushi,” says my boss, entering the room from behind us. “In Hawaii. Ate it right off the boat.” She mimes a knife, presumably filleting a living fish. “Delicious.”

Jesus. I make a face, imagining this. It makes me think of–

“Did you know that roaches cannibalize each other?” I say loudly. “They even eat their own children.”

My co-workers swivel their heads towards me, clearly taken aback.

I go on. “If you poison them they crawl back to their nests to die. Then their friends eat them. Then they die. Then they get eaten. Talk about a vicious circle.”

Silence. No one’s keys are flipping now.

I feel driven to go on.”They eat defecation too. Theirs, I mean. Imagine eating your kid’s poop, then eating him. Then being eaten!”

A customer walks in. We spin towards the door and smile.

“Hello!” we all chorus.

“Just looking,” he snaps, moving past us and into the next room.

A beat. “Guess we should get back to work,” I say morosely.

“Sushi has just been ruined for me forever” my boss mutters under her breath as she walks away.

These roaches are not only going to be the death of me. They’re going to kill my job, too. And maybe my even appetite.

But hopefully they’ll keep theirs. Bon appetite, suckers!




Day 8.

At 7:30 this morning, after doing a cursory check of the kitchen and finding it clear, I spotted a roach crawling across our dining room floor. He was aimed towards the utility room–probably heading for the the dog’s water bowl. I’m told the poison makes them very thirsty. Pitiful, really. Standing there in my robe, I had a vision of the linoleum floor as a desert, and the roach as a skinny man in ragged clothing, dragging himself across it towards a distant oasis…

I killed him with Mike’s Birkenstock.

The thing about it is, they’re spreading. This is the first non-kitchen sighting, and it’s profoundly disturbing. I’m trying not to call David over it, but it’s hard–after all, entire new avenues of therapeutic possibilities will be opened up if we start finding the bastards in other rooms.

And it’s difficult to talk to anyone else about this stuff. People fall into two camps: they’ve either never had roaches, and look at you suspiciously when they hear about yours, or they have, and are sympathetic, but seem mostly interested in regaling you with tales of the horrors they’ve endured:

“I used to live in a place on the lower East side,” one guy said kindly, as if offering solace, “where the roaches were so bad they’d crawl along the ceiling and fall into your bed in the middle of the night.”

“We had them too.” a different friend chimed in. “I used to turn out all the lights and wait in the kitchen with a can of Raid. When I heard them clicking I’d turn on the lights and gas em!”

“You should see the ones in the South,” said yet another. “They’re eight inches long. They fly at you, and bite. You can only kill them in the microwave.”

Stories like these, while meant to be encouraging, just give more fodder to my obsession. I hear a clicking sound: Is it Mina’s claws on the floor, or an army of roach reinforcements? I lie in my bed staring at the ceiling. Each crack becomes a potential attacker. I see something fly through the air; it is one of MJ’s toys, but I scream, thinking it’s a Bionic roach, come to avenge his friends.

So I’m a wreck. And now we’ve got roaches in the dining room!

I’m taking it a day at a time. A minute. A second. If I can just get to tomorrow I will allow myself one David call, and then try to get through the weekend.

We all need something to cling to.


The Cork is in Session

“OK, OK. Thanks for talking me down.”

It wasn’t my therapist I’d just hung up with. It was David, the Corky’s guy. This was my third time speaking to him since the spraying last week. My third time calling hysterically because we are still. Seeing. Roaches. In. The. Kitchen.

David has an easy way about him. A gentle approach. He uses the phrase “get you where you want to be” a lot.

“We’re going to get you where you want to be,” he says this morning, as he has every time we’ve spoken. “It just takes some time.”

I don’t have time. I will be in a mental hospital soon, knitting my own bathrobe, and then I’ll have time. But now? No.

“I just want them gone, David.”

“I know, Jessica.” We are on a first name basis. We could hang out. We could watch the debates together, throw orange peels at Trump. “We’re going to get you there.”

If David’s voice were an instrument, it would be a cello. He’s good at his job. He does a lot of empathizing. I wonder if he’s taken a course.

“When will we get there, though? WHEN?”

“Yup. It’s frustrating.” This doesn’t answer the question, but I am lulled by the tuneful sound of his voice. Wait. Am I?

“I need a date.”

“We’re gonna get you where you want to be.” Cue the oboes!

“A date. David. Please.”

Sotto voce, he replies.”It’s generally about two weeks after the second visit.”

The second visit. Which is at the two-week mark.  We haven’t even reached that yet.

“So a month? This whole process takes a month?”

We’ve had this conversation before. Every bit of it. It’s like Kabuki theater, but without the makeup. Still, I am not hearing what I want to hear.

“Can’t we make it faster?”

The music swells. “These things take time.”

“I hate them.”

And swells some more: “We’re gonna get you there.”

“I can’t even go in my kitchen!”

(Andante)”It’s very stressful.”(Accelerando) “We’ll get you there.”(Tenuto) “These things take more time than we’d like.”

Show over, I walk across the house to where Mike is checking his e-mail. He looks up. “Did you call them?”

I nod unhappily. “They’ll get us there.”

Mike shrugs. There is nothing more either of us can do, and we know it. Powerless in the face of these repugnant, brown interlopers, we can only wait for the mysterious spell of Corky’s to take effect.

Good thing I have David. I’m going to need him.

And he’s going to need a vacation when the month is up.

A Roach to Hang With

Los Angeles, for all intents and purposes, has only two seasons: a mild, temperate one of great brevity that we refer to as “winter,” and a second, which lasts for about eight months and is known, informally, as “hot.”

Autumn, as one typically understands it, doesn’t exist in these parts. While people in other places get out their chunky cardigans, plan leaf-peeping trips, and shake the dust out of their duvets, we in L.A. gag on forest fire smoke, stagger through week-long heat waves and slather our kids in sunscreen so they don’t fry at the Pumpkin Patch.

And then there are the insect infestations.

Usually these involve ants, but this year Mike and I got a new and completely unexpected kind: roaches. To say that this was unexpected is to put it mildly. One of the reasons I live in L.A., aside from lethargy and a mordant fear of the unknown, is the fact that there are no roaches here. Earthquakes, yes. Traffic? Fine. Stucco, plastic surgery, rampant and vapid fashionistas? I can take all of it. But roaches? Objection, your honor. Out of order.

I’m from Brooklyn, and grew up in an apartment building with a bug problem so profound that you’d consider yourself lucky if you saw only ten or twelve roaches in a twenty-four hour period. On a good day none of them flew. Bonus points if they stayed out of your shower, but that was rare.

I’ve said it before: I am phobic of all insects. But roaches have a special place on the entomological spectrum for me. I think of them as the Devil bug, evil incarnate, the filthiest, most terrifying, most repugnant, and least desirable of all pests on this or any planet with existing life. I would rather have lice. I would rather have fleas. I would happily take lice, fleas, and pantry moths while enduring an earthquake and roasting over charcoal briquettes before having a single roach in my house.

Yet the season of “hot” had different ideas.

Two weeks ago I saw my first. “Couldn’t have been one,” I thought. “Impossible.” It scampered away, and I relegated it immediately to the giant bin labelled “denial” in my brain.

Three days later, a second sighting. “Mike,” I said, shaking my head. “The weirdest thing. I thought I just saw a cockroach…”

“Oh, yeah,” he replied, not missing a beat. “I saw one yesterday. Strange.”

This conversation, too, went into the box. Denial is my friend. Roaches are not. I thought no more about it.

Two days later another, on the pantry door. Then, an hour later, one in the dishwasher.

“Jesus!” I shrieked. “They’re really here!”

Mike looked up from the plate he was drying and considered me, his head tilted questioningly.

“The roaches!” I snapped. “We have to do something about them!”

The next morning at 8 AM sharp I was on the phone with Corky’s. Discerning my hysteria, they promised they’d have someone out the next day. They also told me calmly, as if it were no big thing, that we’d have to prepare our house by emptying the bathrooms and kitchen of every single thing in them. Like we were moving. All cabinets would need to be wiped down. As for the food in them?

“You’d be best off just tossing it,” said the young woman on the other end of the line. “Any of it could be infested.”

I got off the phone looking, I’m sure, like Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.” Head spinning, eyes pinned, mouth in a ghastly grimace. When I spoke, it was in a stream of profanities so intense it would have made a pirate weep. Roaches and my house torn apart? This was my idea of hell.

Mike and I spent all that night packing up. It was a nightmare. Not only was it  labor intensive, but I was terrified of running into a roach. Jumpy doesn’t begin to describe it; I was like a meth-head on an eight-day run. Every time a shadow moved I screamed shrilly. Spoon dropped? “SSHHHRRRIIIEEEKKK!” Dog scratched? “AAAAGHH!”

“Do you want me to do this by myself?” Mike asked at one point, palpably annoyed.

I took a deep breath. I had to man up.

“No,” I said, with all the bravery I could summon. “I’m OK.”

But I wasn’t.

Still, Mike and I got everything packed up. Exhausted, I went to bed, visions of brown insects clicking at me furtively as I drifted to sleep. My dreams, I assure you, were not good.

Corky’s came the next morning. That was six days ago, and it’s been four since our last sighting. We’re not out of the woods yet–I’m told it can take a month to kill every roach–but things certainly seem improved. I can be in the kitchen again without cringing in fear. Tonight I cooked for the first time. It’s getting better. It will continue to do so.

But man, it’s been a rough, long, season. Tomorrow it’ll be 103. The air quality still sucks.

The roaches may be gone. As for “hot?” It’s a lot harder to kill.