Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Someone in this Story is Gregor Samsa

While sitting on the sofa the other night, watching the Colbert Report, my mirth was shattered by a piercing scream from another room.


I leapt from the sofa and ran toward the shriek, to the kitchen, all the time crying out “Chiara!? Chiara, are you okay!?”

There, in the kitchen, Chiara was paralyzed with fright.

I grasped her hands and asked her what the matter was. She pointed to a narrow gap between the fridge and the wall.

“What is it?” I asked.

“A aneemal!” she shrieked.

(She nearly always calls all living things simply ‘animals’ - insects, spiders, lobsters, snails, mice - it makes it exceedingly difficult to steel oneself appropriately for whatever variety of household critter removal one might have ahead of oneself.)

With a silent, frustrated eyeroll, I poked my head around the corner of the fridge. Sure enough - an animal. It was a big cockroach looking thing. The size, perhaps, of a circus peanut. I had no idea how to proceed.

I was afraid to try to spray it with an insecticide, thinking that it would simply dash under the fridge before I could deliver a lethal amount of poison. I was equally afraid to reach back there and squash it with a paper towel - what if it jumped on me? I quickly determined that Chiara would not allow me to use any of our kitchenware to capture it. I was in a pickle.

I went back to the fridge to see if the little bastard was still there. On closer inspection, it was belly up on the linoleum, its horribly articulated legs curled in a final supplication. But ominously, as I watched for any signs of life, its antennae waved gently.

I knew not if they moved by operation of the last spark of life granted the miserable creature or from the slight flow of air created by our central heating. I secretly feared it was only resting in some mockery of mammalian sleep and would leap to attention and arm-crawling-on as soon as its reverie was disturbed. I reached toward it tentatively with the broom.

It was as dead as a coffin nail (as Dickens would have it). I swept it into a specially prepared zip-lock bag and sealed it tight. I resolved to have an exterminator out the next day to whom I would show the insect. Hopefully something could be done about the army of its friends I imagined watching from under the broiler and from behind the dishwasher and inside the vents.

The exterminator’s name, when he arrived the next day, was Ken. Ken took one look at my trophy and pronounced it an oriental cockroach. Basically solitary, Ken assured me, they live outdoors and only come inside by accident or to get out of a deluge.

Ken offered to spray around the perimeter of our apartment so as to dissuade any other oriental cockroaches from coming in. While he did so, he talked.

Ken has horrible stories that we will never have. He has horrible bee stories and ant stories and raccoon stories and termite stories. He knows which restaurants to merely avoid (he wouldn’t tell me) and which to avoid like the plague (all the fast food places).

I gave him a glass of water and he said a curious thing: “I don’t want to drink out of your glass because I am sick.”

Did he imagine that I would drink from that particular glass before washing it? Did he have some sort of disease that dishwashing couldn’t thwart? Whatever his reason for trepidation, he was quickly cured of his worry or his disease as, by the time he finished refusing the water, he had already begun to drink thirstily.

As he was leaving, I pressed him to reveal what he described as “the worst job I ever been on.” He hesitated, but having brought up the topic himself, he was cornered. It involved an opossum, he warned me.

An opossum? What’s so bad about them?

“It was stuck in a drainpipe when I got there, wriggling and twitching,” he began. “I put on my gloves and reached down to pull it out. I grabbed it and gave it a tug and it just tore in half. The whole thing was filled with maggots.”

Then he left. I didn’t shake his hand.

I went upstairs and tossed the cockroach in the trash and then covered him with a layer of crumpled paper towels so that I wouldn’t have to see him every time I threw something out in the coming days.

Sic Transit Pestilentia.

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