Sep 24, 2010

(cockroaches, part 2)

From the Insect edition of The Daily Beast I'm getting this: in New Zealand female snails exposed to the chemical TBT grow penises from their heads. An invasive species of predatory shrimp in England often leaves its prey uneaten after killing it.

You can only conclude: the insects are different than you and me.

As for cockroaches the more I find out, the more I respect the power of their culture. And fear it. You'll shake your head but it's a little reminiscent of the Tea Party Movement: relentless, oblivious. Instinctively proud. Seemingly fearless. Bound by a Darwinian obsession that anger, not might, makes right. And the more you say, 'but you are of no consequence, you don't represent anything significant. You just live...." The more they smile condescendingly. "Go Crimson, boom-ba," they say and so caustically.

Go Crimson boom-ba to you, you say, but you're not serious. You have no idea what you're saying, but they do.

It's their intelligence I've begun to understand. I see it. After all, they've been here for 2 billion years; they must have experienced some evolutionary upgrade. Recently, a scientist counted 1,000,000 brain cells in a cockroach, a fraction of the 100,000,000,000 humans have, but the point is they're on the board. They're still way down the totem but they're starting to make a run. And so when they feel the heat wind of your presence they can drop off a counter, a four foot free fall, with no thought, as though they're genetically trained for this, which I suppose they are, and then land like moon rovers and move off.

Moreover, they're don't have a hive like ants. There's no Hq. They operate much like al qaeda cells. And they're always looking for a new forward operating base. When you find one on a chair two rooms from the kitchen then you're seeing a searcher. A probe. And when they see you they spread the word. I am convinced they use a kind of neural IM facility. Insect telepathy. How else to explain the way they scatter, no two in the same direction. They know what they have to do as individuals in order to survive as a group.

And where do they hide? In a place "where they can feel pressure on their back." This according to the Terminex man. Like those bed-in-a-drawer stops in Japanese airports. It's as though you liked to sleep under the sofa, or in the overhead compartment in an airplane, or if you had the capacity to get in the crawl space behind the books in your bookshelf.

As an aside, this is from "Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge," written in 1983, in answer to the question, what's the best way to kill cockroaches?

Calm yourself and pay attention to your Uncle Cecil. There are two proven approaches to dealing with la cucaracha: (1) borax, and (2) arson. Assuming your landlord objects to the latter line of attack, hie yourself down to the basement and mix up the following recipe: 4 parts borax, 2 parts flour, and 1 part cocoa powder.

Now, you may regard borax as "pansy-ass," but that's because you're young and ignorant and haven't yet grasped the subtleties of Total Insect Warfare, which requires fanatical dedication. You must mix up oodles of this stuff and apply it with the enthusiasm of Robert S. McNamara dumping Agent Orange on the Mekong Delta. Pour it in a continuous line along the walls. Put an extra dose under sinks and around kitchen cabinets. Hell, fill your damned house to a depth of one foot with the stuff. The little bastards will die piteously, I promise.

Incidentally, should you also be happen to be troubled by rats, I have here an ingenious formula for inducing rat death: Mix equal parts cement and flour. Place a pan of this powder out next to a pan of water. The rats eat the cement, then they drink the water, and by the next morning their bowels have turned to concrete. Sadistic, eh? I knew you'd love it.

We tried all that. Maybe it works. Not clear. Or else simply soapy water in a plastic spray bottle, envelop them in dish soap and they die right before you, suffocated, but you have to clean up, otherwise, night of the living dead, they revive, pick themselves up out of the drear and zombie back to the survival at hand. But yesterday the Terminex man arrived; an Irishman no less, the Terminating Angel; Sir-X-terminator, or simply Charon, the ferryman, coming for his vermin passengers.... And that is the best word to describe them: vermin — as difficult as that word is to use. Even now. When I grew up "vermin" was like "The Holocaust"; it had only one context, Jewish extermination. The word was out of bounds. If you used it in any context other than this particular historical one there was the suggestion, and the feeling just by saying it, that you were being anti-semitic.

Nevertheless, lately in my doldrum — when I turn on the midnight kitchen light and there they are, a dozen in all sizes, as though caught in some pornography, Satanic insect-baby abuse, suddenly six legs to the wind, running for any corner or shadow — that's when the word rings true. Even the sound of it is precise and evocative. Vermin. Something underneath, subterranean, but versatile, a smoothly adaptive thing like vermouth. Vermin. Verminesque. Verminating. Vermined! As though the despicable nature of roaches is below mentioning, at the root's end of evil — and incidentally we're including rats but not foxes or birds, although they're vermin.... As though the despicable nature of these creatures is boundless, beyond God or His understanding — and they don't care, they don't know, it's not efficient to worry, only to survive, so they're always on the move. Don't you marvel at the roach reich's ability to direct droids to find sustenance in shit, rot and grease; even the detritus you'd find in a dust breeze: body parts, fecal and pusicles. They are the filthiest of filthy, not to mention eating the glue that holds books together, undoing civilization, itself.

They've drawn me completely into their little 'talk shows'. That's where it's at. I think of little else. And now all the analogies and metaphors are merging. I don't know what's right or wrong. And it's so subtle, but also insistent, insatiable. I don't go into the kitchen anymore, ever, without having to confront their existence, without having to arm myself, to get set to kill. Anybody that knows about this, knows it's total war. Late at night I've been conceiving of an autobiogaphy. The title is "Call Me Gregor Samsa".

Sep 12, 2010

Three months ago an advance guard of German cockroaches arrived in the kitchen. They took up positions under the oven and frig, and, for a time, in the frig door hinges, as well as in a stereo receiver above the frig and in the microwave on a nearby counter. I can barely stand to use the microwave anymore.

Several even made their way down a short hall into the HP printer in our bedroom. The printer sits on a 20-inch high wooden book case. Wires from the printer run up to a table with an i-mac. Occasionally, you'll be looking at the screen and on top of the computer frame you'll notice something, and then you realize what it is and that you're being observed, by an intelligent life form, no less — by what looks like a little brown man crawling along with a surf board on his back.

I kill it immediately, and wherever there's one there's always another one. I kill them all immediately. And now it's become what you might think of as hand-to-hand combat. I, and now we, use books, magazines, the bottom of bottles, cans, plastic bags, old sponges, the broom, cooking tins, and our shoes. Roaches are prevalent around midnight, according to one sources I found. I verified that and sometimes — although it's hard, I have an increasing aversion — but sometimes I'll show up just then, throw on the switch and sure enough they're scurrying between oven and the frig. I step on them as quickly as I can. I may get 10 or more and make a special effort to get the smallest ones. I hesitate to use the word 'babies'.

Through an exterminator we traced the invasion to a man living in a downstairs apartment. He eats largely fried foods, the smell is horrific. The exterminator told us he'd never seen such a dirty kitchen. By the way, the man smokes himself to death. He must be in the last stages of emphyzema, the sound of his wretching late at night or early in the morning is death-defying. Yet whenever I see him he's striding down the street at a fast clip, with a placid expression, in his blue baseball cap with the name of a U.S. navy destroyer over the bill.

Lately, I've begun to think he may have lost his job because I hear him during the day, which I never did before. I assume he watches the Horse Racing Network because I hear him yelling out, "C'mon run, c'mon you can do it, run you bastard'. And then suddenly, inevitably silence.

I've asked the landlord to say something but he's reticent and doesn't. There is an illegality here that I won't go into. In any case, the exterminator comes every six weeks but he needs to come every day for six weeks. We've begun using Borax powder, spreading it in all the usual places, on ingress and egress routes as we used to say at SAC Hq.

Naturally, we have employed roach motels. But I've found the roaches always find a counter measure. I look in the motels and there are rarely any residents. These roaches are nearly human in their ingenuity and determination. I feel I am now leading a counter insurgency but frankly I don't know if I can win. This is the problem: I have no hearts and minds to convince.

Or do I? This is what I'm getting to.

You understand what I'm facing. The other morning, around 11, I walked into the kitchen unexpectedly and approached the sink. I didn't see the roach but it saw me and jumped off the top of a bread board on to a counter, which is fake, black fleck marble. I couldn't see the damn thing. I slammed the toaster on a shadow, I hammered the plastic dish rack on where I thought it might have gone. I tore everything up and nothing. I don't if it got away or not.

Later, I remembered two interior designers I interviewed years ago. Husband and wife. Quite attractive people but strange. One of them, I can't remember which now, had a withered arm. I think it was the woman. They always wore black. Black suit, black shit; black pants, black blouse. Their design breakthrough they told me was that they always did kitchens in black marble. This was their signature. It seemed like magic to them because they claimed that with black counters you couldn't see a mess. You could leave the dishes after a dinner party and it looked like an interesting photograph or painting. With black any deformity became artistic.

But you see now I don't know whether I killed that roach or not. I assume it's still there, out in that black marble no-man's land, but I don't want to look too earnestly. The other day I threw up just thinking about going in the kitchen...

If I had my way the kitchen would be virgin white. I would design miniature search lights and barbed wire. I would employ gheckos. Which I did years ago. This was in the mid 1970s. I lived in an apartment at 94th and Riverside Dr. in Manhattan. Nat King Cole's daughter lived on the same floor. Terrible infestation of roaches. So I bought a gecko and set it loose in this little pullman kitchen. You'd come home at night and that thing would be upside down on the ceiling. Sometimes it would run very fast from one end of the room to another. It made a lot of noise.

I don't know if it made any difference. I went away once on a trip out of the country and a colleague stayed in the apartment. He claimed he got the gecko stoned on dope. I don't remember what happened after that.

(end of part 1)

Sep 10, 2010

Jimmy? Not the brightest bulb on the porch and sometimes, it goes out altogether. Just pitch black and you can whack it all you like and it still won't come on. Mamma Jimmy says, not her fault she always put that Borax in his cereal. So he does a little time here, a little time there. Then his friend Mikey Areola has an idea. It’s big. We gonna rob Peter to pay Paul. Sound good? Jimmy’s all ears: “what’s the plan?” You like hospitals right, says Mikey? “I don’t go to any”, says Jimmy. That’s okay, says Mikey, there’s a VA down in Escondito. We go down there, I know a nurse, we get to look around, maybe see where the meds are. You know what I mean? Sure, Jimmy gets it. “I like meds. That’s easy, then whatta we do?” Then, says Mike-o-rama, we sell ‘em. “Like out on the street?” says Jimmy. Out on the street, says Mikey. Real easy. Can’t miss. “I’m in”, says Jimmy. “I like it when it’s easy.”

So they hop down to Escondito, slip into the emergency room where Big Joannie does security. Carries a stick and a real mean expression. People look at Big Joannie and they’re thinkin’, I don’t like you. That’s okay, says Mikey, you’ll get used to it. “Yea, but I still don’t like her,” says Jimmy. “Plus who made her that big? That’s big.” Leave it to me, says Mikey. So he talks to Big Joannie on her break and says, now you know I’m gonna cut you in 50/50. Like old times, right? You just get us some — he pronounces it ‘more fine’ — some morphine and we’ll be gone and I’ll send you the proceeds in about a week. Shouldn’t be any longer than that. If it is, I pay interest.

Joannie’s not a smiling person but the bulb is always burning. Plus she’s got kids. She loves those kids. Little Bubba and Littler Bubba. Sure, says Big Joannie, with her sly eye real big. You just stay right here.

So she’s gone like maybe 20 minutes. Jimmy’s feeling good already. He likes the emergency room. Plus they got good magazines. So Big Joannie comes back with a little white bag. Here it is, she says but nothing is gonna put a smile on that face. You just run along now, she says and they do.

But just as soon as they’re out the twirling doors boys ‘n blue are all over that case. “What’s this?” says Jimmy. Grand theft, says the cop throwing on the links, fooling with a police officer, possession of stolen stuff, on and on. And meanwhile, Big Joannie’s lookin’ out. Like a bee, she’s saying, and dancn’ up and down.