October Men's Room Column
Halloween approaches, the season when creepy crawlers haunt the recesses of our collective nightmares. And, while snakes and spiders may evoke fear and trembling, when it comes to pure visceral disgust, one creature lurks alone: the dreaded cockroach.
My first experience with roaches was in college when I lived with a bunch of guys in an old Philadelphia row house. While our partying skills were A+, our housekeeping habits were less than stellar. Rather than regularly wash dishes or mop up the pools of spilled beer, we stoically accepted the resulting roach activity as our new normal. One night, however, I woke to hear “Click….WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!” Then silence. Minutes passed. I heard it again: “Click…WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!” When I finally investigated, the kitchen was dark. Suddenly, the lights clicked on and my stoner housemate Jared began flailing madly with a spatula at the roaches that had ventured out in the darkness. Jared had, it seemed, reached his limit.
After college, I moved to Wilmington where, despite Southern euphemisms (think “Palmetto bug”), roaches are, regardless of your housekeeping habits, just a fact of life. Soon after arriving, and in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, I made the ill-advised decision to share a humid room in an old house by the river with a new (and highly unstable) girlfriend.
I quickly sank into a morass of existential melancholia. To this day, I mark the night I woke in that stifling house as two roaches scurried across my sweaty body as the precise low point of my young adulthood.
Over the years, I’ve grown less squeamish about cockroaches. (Except for the albino variety. The white roach I encountered in a storage shed still plagues my darkest dreams.) I’ve learned that even a direct hit with a heavy object is no guarantee of stunning, much less killing, a cockroach. Roaches have a preternatural ability to flatten their bodies and will often simply conform to the shape of your weapon. I once repeatedly pummeled a roach with a metal bathroom trash can only for it to casually stroll away.
A much more effective weapon, I learned from my girlfriend, is a spray bottle of glass cleaner set to STREAM. The first shot slows the roach. The second often causes it to flip on its back to be easily and neatly dispatched with a paper towel.
I’m generally a live-and-let-live kind of guy, so it would not surprise me if, in the future, I view my current treatment of cockroaches as barbaric.
I justify my behavior as one of self-preservation since roaches are known to spread disease, but I suspect I’d still kill cockroaches even if they were harmless. Why? They creep me out. It’s no more complicated than that.
Until I evolve to a higher level of consciousness, I’ll keep my spray bottle of glass cleaner handy just in case.
Dylan Patterson is a writer and filmmaker who teaches English at Cape Fear Community College.
To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to markweberart.blogspot.com.
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