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.

One thought on “A Roach to Hang With

  1. Jeff

    Once again, may I say, “I’m so glad you’re back!”.

    One reason I only lasted a year in L.A. was because I hated the weather. People always think I’m crazy for saying that, but they don’t understand!
    As for the roaches, Atlanta was a nightmare for me – they have the flying kind. Some people try to put a nice spin on it by calling them palmetto bugs. I’m no entomologist, so I don’t give a damn what the scientific name is or what they really are. To me, they’re giant flying cockroaches!

    Reply

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