The Roach Motel

While I don’t have any hard numbers, nor do I really know where I’d go about finding those numbers, I’m going to estimate that in New York City there are probably anywhere from thirty-eight million to ninety billion people living in apartments, though those figures may be a little conservative. It’s roughly half the number of McDonald’s that we have here, or perhaps a quarter of the number of Starbucks locations in Manhattan.

I mention all that to discuss another aspect of living in a New York apartment–roaches. Like them or not (…but who, really, likes them? Bag ladies? Insectivores?), they’re an inevitable and inseparable part of living here. Put out all the boric acid, roach motels and other assorted roach-icides you want, but don’t actually expect them to do anything.  Trust me, I’ve tried–I even killed a roach and sacrificed it in a ritualistic manner (it involved torches and chanting and waving an incense-burning censer) to try and scare off the other remaining roaches. But it turns out that most roaches don’t really participate in organized religion, anyway, so they just sort of shrugged and went back to their roachly daily routines.

You’re probably asking, “But what about the exterminator?” You’re right–New York law stipulates that landlords are to provide extermination to their tenants on a regular basis. And yes, I’ve had the exterminator here several times now. In fact, he showed up here at about 6 AM the other day before I was even out of bed for the day. He didn’t seem to be all that shocked to see me stumbling around in my underwear, though I doubt seeing me fully clothed is all that much less horrifying.

Honestly, I think it’s probably in the exterminator’s best interest not to destroy all of my roachy friends. After all, if all the bugs went away, how would the exterminator support his family? I don’t know what’s actually in that tank he carries around with him. For all I know, he could secretly be lacing the crown moldings in my kitchen with roach pheromones. I mean, I saw more bugs than usual out to play after the guy left. In fact I think if I’m not too mistaken the roaches are building a fairground in the back of the cabinet under my sink. They’ve turned the plumbing down there into a carnival ride, complete with tiny blinking lights. Those roaches are sophisticated, you know, and it would explain why my electricity bill is higher this month than it should be.

The roaches generally confine themselves to my kitchen, though… good thing they stay away from something important, like my bed. It’s much better that they remain in the area where food is stored and prepared. (They’re very high in protein, or so I hear, hold the bacteria and viruses.) But every now and then I will see one skitter out from under my dresser or from the closet, though I’m not sure what appeal either of those places hold for a roach. While it’d make sense that a bug could find some food in the crevices around the fridge or the oven, what the crap is a roach going to eat that it could find under my bed? Lint? Extra winter quilts? Sock lint?

Perhaps it’s more esoteric than that–perhaps a solitary roach decides every now and then to be the Lewis and/or Clark of cockroach-kind and sets out on a vast adventure to “the other room,” possibly to never be heard from again.  It’s hard to say, seeing as how the insect-human language barrier remains frustratingly unbroken.

We never had any sort of insect problems in North Carolina, though I do distinctly remember my grandmother having issues with ants invading her kitchen. But ants are distinctly different monstrosities than roaches. Ants tend to merely annoy–I mean, who’s ever seen a woman run screaming from the kitchen shrieking at the top of her lungs because she saw an ant? And besides, I’ve not really ever heard of any ant-transmitted diseases. I’m pretty sure that ants are much too small to effectively transmit ant flu or ant herpes to people.

But anyway, I’ve learned to deal with it. At the very least, it means I won’t actually have to ever make an effort to have guests over for dinner.

—2004