Last week it rained, not heavily but relentlessly, for three solid days. On the third morning of the deluge, the biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen crawled up out of my shower drain. A He-Man among his kind, he was actually hefty enough to push under the stainless steel drain cover and skate up into the stall — an act of desperation to escape the unexpected stream of hot soapy water filling his new home. I’m told by the locals that this happens whenever the ground becomes saturated — vermin, normally content to burrow in the warm soil, obey their primal urge to seek higher ground, as their ancestors did long ago, fleeing the Ogygian flood. They enter houses through open drains, dryer vents, attic eaves and the like.
After being told this, I immediately closed all the sink and tub drains in my condo, even while doing so realizing it was already too late. They’d been open for days of rain and I was already effectively living in the Roach Motel. So, now I’ve got that going for me too. I feel an uneasy shame. Even though I realize there’s a possibility it’s only one bug, but I can’t shake the new vision of my home as one opossum short of a run down shack on the outskirts of a New Orleans swamp; a ramshackle hovel filled to rafters critters and varmints. It just feels dirty to me now.
It makes me think of the first — and only — time I made the eighteen hour drive to visit my parents in Maine. Strapped for cash, I broke up the trip by spending the night in a $38 motel room in Allentown, Pennsylvania; effectively the halfway point between Charlotte and their farm in northern Maine. That’s right; $38 for the night, breakfast buffet included. You are most likely cringing as you read that. And you are right to do so. The room was everything you’re imaging and worse — a pillow moist with Brylcreem, a duvet scented of farts. Even taking into consideration the kicking woman’s leg of the neon sign advertising the strip joint directly across the street, the pièce de résistancewas indisputably the four inch long cockroach I found relaxing in the sink, antenna gently waving as if in an unseen breeze. Not running or scuttling, just laid back and chilling. Unlike me, he knew he belonged there. “C’mon.” He seemed to say. “Pull up a piece of that dry rot and have brew.”
Despite the shower invasion, it turns out that I got off light. My coworker, whom I’ll call Helena, was literally crying in the office — there was a snake in her basement, also fleeing the damp. She had turned on the lights, looked down the basement stairs and there it was; all coiled up, thin shiny and black in the middle of the cement floor. Since she has a puppy, she at first thought it was a dog leash, somehow discarded and wondered how it got there as she walked down the steps to pick it up. As she leaned over, hand outstretched, inches from touching it, the snake lifted up it’s head and hissed at her. She screamed, ran up the staircase and out onto the street, unfortunately leaving the basement door open.
It’s at this point that those I tell the story to divide into two distinct camps. Camp One: “Well of course she did.” Camp Two: “Why didn’t she just shut the basement door as she ran out?”
Helena spent a few minutes out on the street calming herself down and finally called her father. When he arrived and looked, the snake was gone. He spent hours walking through the house with her trailing timidly behind, once again a little girl begging him to check in the closets and under the bed for the scary monster to no avail.
Needless to say, she spent a nerve wracking night, waffling between “It went back out the way it came in,” and “It came up the stairs and hid somewhere…” Invariably, her vision of somewhere being wherever she was inserting a part of her body into at that moment. “…Like in my slippers! …Or under my pillow! …Or under my comforter!”
She was a wreck when she got into work the next day; jittery and nervous even miles away from her house. We tried explaining that the snake was unlikely to take the trolley, but like a babysitter in a horror film, who just knows the masked killer is coming to get her despite the ostensible safety of the police station, Helena remained on edge. She spent the morning calling pest controls companies, getting more hysterical with each telling of the story, literally sobbing by the end.
The two camps make themselves evident here as well. Camp One: “Well of course she was upset.” And Camp Two: “Why didn’t she just make the phone calls in private?” It’s at this point I’ll own up to being a firm member of Camp Two.
If I had pest control problems, as apparently I now do, I wouldn’t broadcast it to my coworkers, for fear that they would judge me as harshly as I were judging them. “Oh, sure… you have snakes because your house is so clean. It’s just the rain.” And if I were fleeing the basement, as I did when I fled the shower that morning, I would take a moment to firmly shut the door. I would then perhaps pause to install a deadbolt for good measure.
Once out on the street, I would likely further halt, calmly weighing he pros and cons of a tactical nuclear strike.