Austin, TX. Monday 7:56 am:
“WHAT. IS. THAT.”
“What’s what?” Erin answered from her room.
“WHAT. THEFUCK. IS. THAT,” I repeated, my tone drawing her out of other room immediately.
A very large…something. On the floor. Unmoving. But with insect qualities. My brain wanted it to be a rabbit foot key chain.
Is it…an orange and black feathery accessory that fell off of one of Erin’s purses?
Is it a moth? It MUST be a moth. Look, those..that..part appears to be…wings? And antennae. I walked to the other side of the couch, away from it while Erin performed her inspection from a safe distance.
“Uhhmm. I think it’s a roach?” Erin offered delicately.
I thought of my bed and its proximity to this creature. Cottage cheese and coffee threatened to come up on me. I have a hard enough time getting breakfast down as it is. I couldn’t get any nearer than three feet to help confirm. I couldn’t help confirm.
We put a tupperware over it and some weight on it and resolved to tell my pal Juan, the building guy, as soon as possible. “We will tell them. And they will SPRAY.”
I got in my car to head to work. My breakfast was still sitting high, ready to defy gravity with one mental misstep. I hoped his friends wouldn’t come to visit him while we’re gone. I considered the warnings that we’d received from our friends: bugs are a given here. I didn’t believe it, but here it was. Fruition. Then I wondered what other kinds of bugs we would encounter here in the wilds of Texas.
You see, Erin and I, we have a long and loathsome history with bugs.
Logan Square, Chicago, IL. Winter 2008:
One of my silliest memories of the solidification of my friendship with Erin was in our first apartment in Chicago. We had a third roommate in that era, but for whatever reason, she wasn’t there when we came home drunk late one night/early one morning, chatty and uncharacteristically chipper. Erin stood in the kitchen sipping some water as I flipped on the light to my room and discovered a large, many-legged bug of the variety I’d never seen before. It was repulsive, taking a leisurely stroll, led by its grotesque antennae, across my wall near the ceiling. As I remember it, I was drunk enough that I was willing to attempt to squash it on my own and put on quite a show as I stood on a bed and a chair and a shelf and tried to swat at it with a shoe while Erin watched. We laughed and shrieked and laughed and shrieked and finally it was just an ugly brown smear on pallid chartreuse paint and I could pass out safely.
I wouldn’t see many house centipedes again (maybe drowning the one or two that unfortunately found themselves in my sink) until our next apartment, where they stalked me with a vengeance for killing their crosstown brethren. There in Roger’s Park I slept with a dim light on* and would jolt awake in the middle of the night, 1:00 am or so, open my eyes and find a centipede settled on the wall within arms reach of my bed. Its antennae twitching revoltingly as it watched me sleep.
Roger’s Park, Chicago, IL. August 2009:
Our apartment in Roger’s Park was also the setting for a completely unique kind of bug attack. We had a fabulous porch on the third floor that overlooked the yards behind us, with room for a couple of plastic chairs and an overhang to shade us from the afternoon sun. Only a few weeks after we moved in, Erin’s chair near the center of the porch was suddenly bespeckled with strange brown paint-like spots. Little circles, only a handful of them larger than a drop of water. Because it was Erin’s designated chair and not mine, I didn’t think much of it at first besides, “Glad that’s not mine and I don’t have to clean it.” I don’t know what she thought. One night we came inside after a few beers and under the harsh reality of the kitchen lights, we noticed a couple of the same mysterious brown spots on her shirt.
“Come to think of it,” she said, “There was a weird stain on my other shirt too”.
We popped back onto the porch and gazed up. Dozens and dozens of little spiders, a few big ones. Some hanging from webs, some curled up in the wood rot, raining down a foul brown spider juice that I have never found a satisfying explanation for. Bug guts from the dinners they held at dusk? Spider excrement?
It would remain that way. We used entire cans of Raid, bombing ourselves at the same time as the spiders, without success. The rest of the time we lived there, come nightfall we had to take shelter.
“So many ruined shirts,” Erin remembers.
Barcelona, Spain. September 2011:
During our post-Korea travels, we spent three weeks working on a property nestled in the mountains outside of Barcelona. We harvested almonds, drank Cava and found ourselves delightfully exhausted each night from spending a full day outdoors and participating in the closest thing we’ll ever know to ‘manual labor’. At the end of these unforgettable days, sunburned, full of delicious food and freshly showered, we retired to a little shack at the bottom of the wooded driveway that boasted two cots, a shoddy bathroom and enough distance from our host to make it desirable despite its filth and neglect. Our first task upon arrival was to clean out our living space, which I saw as a perverse evaluation of our abilities but should’ve recognized as a portent of our host’s general apathy. We used a broom to remove colonies of daddy long legs and breathed sighs of thanks that the daddy long legs appeared to be the worst creature with whom we had to share our digs.
“Remember the pooping spiders in Rogers Park? Ew.”
It was evening five of our stay in Vilafranca de Penedes and we sleepily navigated our way down the gravelly driveway to our casita. Erin opened the door and flipped on the light and I made my way to the bathroom at the far end of the bungalow. We were all the way into the room when I noticed a coaster-sized spider lurking in an impossibly clever hiding spot: that unreachable corner where the ceiling met the wall met the bookshelf. I shrieked and pointed and we shuddered with the knowledge that we had to get rid of this thing somehow before either of us would get any sleep. But it was so big. Erin went for the closest weapon, the broom, and we both yelped and recoiled in horror to find a second fat, nasty spider perched just above it, rendering us mostly helpless. As breathing became more difficult, I stood in the middle of the room and tried to imagine how we might conquer this situation without the aid of a 37 foot vacuum attachment.
“If only we had something to spray them with,” Erin said.
“I’ll go back up to the big house and see what I can find. You stand guard,” I ordered.
I turned and reached for the door handle and saw a third monster-sized spider hanging just above the door jamb. I let out the most dramatic scream of my life and flung my hands up around my face, horror-movie style. BASTARDS! TERRORISTS!! THEY HAD US SURROUNDED. Somehow I escaped but I don’t remember how (post-traumatic stress amnesia y’all). I fetched help and help came and rather than KILL the spiders, removed them with the lid of a Monopoly box and said, “All good.”
But we knew better. We knew they’d come in from the holes in the walls where pipes had once been and insulation should be. And they did. Not every night. But some nights. I never slept well there again. I lay awake while Erin snored on the other cot, reading my kindle in the dark, squinting at the hole next to the bookshelf wondering if I’d seen movement. Is that a leg? Then the creepy crawlies would start. It’s in my hair! It’s on my leg! Where is it?! Those were long nights.
Austin, TX. March 2013:
On a sad Sunday we nursed our SXSW bender hangovers, lounging on the couch and trying to ignore the beautiful weather outside. An extraordinarily large hornet, easily three inches long, buzzed lazily on one of our patios. Its size is really what caught my eye (I thought it was a bird) followed by the leisure with which it inspected our porch.
“It’s doing recon,” Erin said.
“No. No nests. Please.”
The hornet remained for most of the afternoon, raising our suspicions further. But the next day it was gone. And the day after that.
Erin got up for a snack. I left the room to grab a notebook. Thirty seconds later we both returned to the living room and found the same massive hornet floating above our heads.
“WHERE DID IT COME FROM?!”
“DID IT COME THROUGH THE CHIMNEY?!”
Panic! Disbelief! Action! We opened the doors on either side of the apartment and armed ourselves. Erin went for the broom, I grabbed a large bin lid. We looked at each other: Why does this keep happening?
We didn’t have much of a strategy, but hoped with two giant open doors he’d find his way out with a little guidance. I bent my knees and assumed a ‘ready’ position and Erin slowly lifted the broom toward the ceiling. Before I knew what was happening, the hornet was in a dive maneuver straight at me. I had .5 seconds to realize I had cornered myself. My only escape was out the door, where I was hoping he would go so I didn’t want to interfere. I panicked and hit the deck in a way I have never done before and will probably never do again. I screamed, fell to my knees and covered my head with my insufficient plastic shield as Erin shrieked. The hornet changed directions and flew out the door, leaving me collapsed on the floor in a fit of laughter and tears and shock.
“It’s an American cockroach,” Erin confirms. “They like to eat beer and cheese like me.”
“And leather and bakery products.”
“And hair and dead skin cell dust.”
“If you find one, it definitely means you have more.”
We pour over the internet awhile longer**, trying to diagnose the severity of our little problem. Erin continues to read about the droppings and scents of the American Cockroach. I land on a page about Tree Cockroaches, American’s cousin who prefers outdoor camping to indoor squatting.
“They like to live in trees and only reproduce in decaying logs not pantries and they find themselves indoor mistakenly and don’t bring their friends!” I cry.
“So, Franz then just wandered in accidentally and keeled over in our living room?”
“He just wanted a nice place to die is all. Some dignity.”
“I don’t know…”
“Shh. Yes. That’s what happened. It is. Just a little tree roach come to visit. That’s all.”