Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s it was unmentionable. Like you were dirty…didn’t keep a clean house. The reason you got them. Shhhh.,,Cockroaches. Pronounced cock-a-roaches.
Other people you talked about. You tried not to call in Mr. Olsen the super to fix something because he’d see one and tell his wife, Lena, and she’d blab it to the whole building. The only worse fate than cockroaches would be losing your rent-controlled apartment. Though I used think if you lost your rent-controlled apartment, maybe you’d move to a new apartment and you’d wouldn’t have any…and even if you did maybe the neighbors wouldn’t find out. At least for a while.
Meanwhile, of course we didn’t even have cock-a-roaches. Or if we did my mother didn’t tell me for fear I’d blab it around the building.
But I did absorb the fear of talking about it.
Dealing with them some 50 years later on my own boat I’ve discovered you experience Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s classic steps of Dealing with Grief.
First is Denial. Can’t be…it must be a mosquito...a big fly. The fact that it doesn’t fly, no matter how hard you try to make it, is a small wrinkle in the theory.
The distinctive orange-brown color makes it also hard to maintain it’s an ant.
I didn’t even tell my husband Gary. When I finally showed him one, of course he did the same thing. When I ran my “Maybe it’s a fly, a mosquito, an ant nonsense by him, he came up with, “No, it’s not a roach, it’s a centipede.”
Yeah right. Is this what they call co-dependence?
Next stage is Anger. Fury. How could they do this to us. We’re good people. And what can we do back? We buy the Raid. The Baygon. The traps. The pellets. No good.
Overcoming my fear and antipathy I go on Killing Sorties every night…at least I now have an excuse for my insomnia.
One night in the galley I find a big one lying on a killing pellet, like a lounge chair, like he’s come out for a midnight snack and a nap.
Plus a bunch of his kids crawling up the backsplash like they’re on a playground climbing wall.
At least when Gary fixes a boat something it’s a lot of effort but it’s fixed…
They‘re smaller than we are but a much bigger enemy. More of them. And implacable.
We’re in charming, cobbled Alghero, on the west coast of Sardinia. Of course I want to tell nobody. But at least it’s not English, it’s a foreign language. I look up the word. Scarafaggi. Sounds much cuter than cockroach. Or even cock-a-roach.
I certainly don’t want to tell our marina boat neighbors, the Salty Dogs; they’ll think we’re dirty. I go to the marina office. Whisper. They send a sterminatore. Emanuele.
Basically a jerky-looking guy. His price is 300 euros.
What??? Plus we have to stay at least three more days at 90 euros a day. One to wait for his services, a second for the job. Day Three to clean up from it. We don’t like marinas. We’ve been stuck here waiting for a repair that’s now done.
But our anger is boundless. They’re coming on stronger. We see the biggies and more babies. Now, big ones will die but babies will grow up to be big ones and make more babies. The way of the world.
Emanuele comes. All he does is pop the lids off 10 little cans of not-very-expensive-looking stuff and leaves. Meanwhile we have torn the boat apart, emptying drawers, cabinets, lockers—whatever empties—opening up floorboards, sofa cushions—whatever opens. Then we have to leave the boat for six hours, so we have to tell the Salty Dogs, so we can stay on their boat. They don’t seem to think ill of us.
We return. Find four or five dead ones only. And within eight hours we are visited by both big and little scarafaggi.
More anger. We leave Alghero for Corsica.
In France they’re called Blattes. A nastier name I think. You can really belt it out. Still without having to say cock-a-roach.
(Now much as I don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes or infer that anyone is dirty, especially in this context, but we spent 11 years in the Caribbean without seeing so much as one scarafaggio or blatte and here we are infested in Europe. There, I said it.)
A week later, at a cost of 44 euros, we buy our own little can bombs, empty the same drawers, cabinets, lockers, floorboards, sofa cushions, plus take down ceiling panels this time, and we set them off ourselves. These bombs appear much more potent. As we race off in the dinghy the boat smells vile and toxic and is smoking from all ports—like it’s fuming too. We’re smug—we’re sure it’s worked.
We come back and find not a single casualty. In four hours we’ve got the usual complement. Maybe even more teeny bubalas.
I take to the Internet. We tramp to the local supermarché. We buy Boric Acid. And Sally Homemaker makes Cockroach Cookies. Easy and they require no baking.
Here’s the recipe, just in case. No one needs to report back to me. I’ll understand. And here’s a picture of the disgusting things. Teenagers I think.
1 cup Boric Acid
½ cup flour
1/8 cup sugar
¼ cup milk
½ medium onion, grated
Mix to cookie dough consistency, form into quarter–size discs. (Use gloves or they burn your hands. I know.) Set out near sinks, drains, toilets, in dark, moist, food-storage places.
Tough luck for us…by morning I’ve killed about four babies and I see one mama. One baby was eating a cookie and actually moved off nonchalantly. Did I even sense triumph in his walk?
I didn’t wait around to see if he convulsed. And I didn’t have enough self-control, I schpritzed him.
They do seem to be lessening as a result of all this but still, they can reproduce.
I’m thinking garlic in the next batch… anyone have a better recipe?
We’re not quite in Brooklyn Brownsville tenement mode here. Yet. They confine themselves to the galley. (I think.) Just killed a little-un as I’m writing. These ones don’t apparently know enough and still come out in daylight. I’m hoping there’s no Scarafaggi Child Protection Agency and if they make it home they get big spankings.
I’m now sort of at Stage Three: Bargaining…Now basically we’re good people. Don’t commit too many sins and don’t have many chips.
We do recycle (mostly.) We don’t steal and we pay our taxes (hardly ever fudging.) I didn’t support Bush or the Iraq War or any sort of torture. Other than speeding tickets, I stay on the right side of the police. I don’t drive all that safely, it’s true.
Although I’m not a believer I find myself cheating and making deals with some higher power just in case—take them away and I’ll give more to your favorite charity. Just let me know what it is —and would You hold it against me if I get airline points on VISA?
I’ve been pretty much wallowing in Stage Four, Depression, since this all began and I don’t think I can possibly get to Number Five, which is Acceptance. What would it look like anyway?
I can’t knit for them. I don’t have needles that small. And there are so many of them, it’s a daunting job, worse than hunting them at night. Maybe more relaxing than living with all this anger, though…
I can’t see getting little leashes for them and taking them for walks—people would see that.
Having favorites, rooting for them in their little races? I can’t yet tell them apart. And then grieving if one of them dies? Not killing one on sight? I can’t imagine that…at least not yet. After all. I’m still really not out of Stages 3 and 4.
I could shop and cook for them. They do seem to like my leftovers.
No, my best idea so far is tricking them into thinking we love them, then leading them into the dinghy on the pretense of an evening outing… I can almost imagine the long, orange-brown, leggy parade through the boat now.
And then drowning them.