Checking into the Roach Motel

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.

Second Coming (or “The Box Elders Get to Third Base”)

It is raining this afternoon and I am thankful for two reasons.  The first being that my car needed a wash after parking under a tree that, while just a tree whilst I was parking, apparently became a rehabilitation center for incontinent birds the moment I entered the store.  The second being that the rain will hold down the pollen, at least for a little while.

I was barely aware of what allergies were until I moved down south.  I laugh now at all the times I told friends and colleagues in Vermont and Maine that I was “suffering” from my allergies.  This, my friends, is like comparing a paper-cut to an inadvertent below the knee amputation with a chainsaw.

I know now, as with so many things, that I knew nothing in my youth.  I’ve now learned, having moved to a place where the local flora throws so much out into the air there are Code Orange air days due to what is affectionately termed “Smollen.” Short for “Pollen-Smog.”

The fact that the locals even have a word for the powdery ribbons of yellow gusting through the air like kite tails should have been a warning sign.  Like Eskimos and their hundred ways to describe snow.  Thick, yellow coats of smollen over everything from February to September.  Following the rain, the wavy ochre residue on the pavement resembles dozens of washed out chalk drawings; as if every child in the neighborhood had played hopscotch just that afternoon.  It gets on, and in, everything.

My first year living here, I quite literally landed in the emergency room on prednisone, so completely unprepared was I for such an unimaginable quantity.  I stepped outside into the fresh air that first fine Spring morning, inhaling deeply, experiencing my new home.  All went well for the first twenty minutes or so; shining sun, chirping blue birds and bright-eyed, bushy-tailed bank executives wandering the streets in great docile herds.   And then, I experienced a fiery sensation in my throat not unlike what I would imagine breathing acid vapor to be.  This was soon followed by the closing up of said throat.

Trees in the South, I’ve learned, are very forward and indiscriminate when it comes to pollinating.  Unlike their more urbane northern kin, they send out great squirting gushes of the stuff whenever the mood strikes them.  The botanical equivalent to tree semen.   Novice lovers, unexpectedly blowing it all your face without even properly introducing themselves.  For me, this simply will not work.  Even on my most relaxed standard days, I’ve always insisted on being bought a glass of wine first.

My fellow sufferers and I thought we had gotten off light this year; the mild winter caused the season to start a bit early, but peak blissfully early as well, in May.  But there seems to have been a second coming due to continued warm, wet weather.   My car is once again covered with the stuff and my eyeballs were burning so badly earlier today  I was tempted to scoop them out with a spoon, on the theory that the great bloody raw sockets would ultimately be less distracting than the itching.

Judging by the state of the local pharmacy allergy aisle, I’m not the only one.  On a quick dash for anti-histamine eye drops, I found it ravaged, like the bread and milk sections when a rumor of snow is in the air.  Though I eventually settled for Visine Allergy, the fact that I even considered shelling out $17 bucks for Zyrtec brand eye drops is a testament to my agony.

There was a fantastic ad campaign put out a few years ago by a brand I can’t remember.  Actors went through the T.V. spot introducing themselves to one another based on the allergies they had.  “Hello, I’m a pet dander” and “Nice to meet you —  I’m a ragweed, tree pollen,  mold.”  I thought of this spot as I looked around the Target parking lot this a.m., hearing a chorus of sneezes every time the wind kicked up and our dusty toxin snaked off the hot tar into the breeze.

It looks like I’ll spend the next four weeks dashing outside and back in the shortest time possible; jumping in the shower to wash my hair the moment I’m in-doors again.  A character in my own little post-apocalyptic drama; terrified of radiation fall out and living in mortal fear of getting genetically modified bubonic plague on his pillow covers.