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".


Anjuli said...

Read both part one and part two- cockroaches- they are pesky! You would do well to change your counter top to white instead of black :)...definitely will make it easier to identify your enemy.

I haven't noticed any here in the North West- maybe it is just where I'm living that is cockroach free. Strange how we so easily adapt to changes in our environment.

Bob J said...

This is really funny. You write a great story. Had me laughing at your images, your take on things. I'm going to show it to my wife in the morning. She has had her fair share of runins with these vermin. Used to call them Vermints, since she was in Vermont during this time. Well done.