After I graduated from college, I ended up in Park Slope, and not the nice Park Slope with the restaurants and the strollers, but the crappy Park Slope with the crack heads and wine coolers. The apartment was on 5th Ave, near Atlantic, and having lived on Staten Island and the more genteel parts of Manhattan did not prepare me for this.
Many things happened in this apartment—-my cat ate my roommate's pot plant, people got into fistfights while playing dungeons and dragons, our neighbor's sink broke when she was having sex on it and fell into the apartment below--but what I remember most about 5th Ave was the vermin.
We had mice. I wasn't too pleased about that because the apartment was small enough without having to share it with more mammals, even if they were tiny. At first my cats had no idea what to do with them—-they'd never seen mice before. Eventually one of them figured it out, and left a dead mouse on my pillow as a present. The landlord offered us traps, but that seemed worse to me—-at least Ed the cat's kills were clean. But after a while the mice left—-they probably moved to a larger apartment in a nicer area.
One night I was watch TV in the dark and the cats were behaving oddly, like they were chasing something. Oh great, I thought, we have mice again. I could see by the TV light that the younger cat, Merv, had something in his mouth, and Ed was trying to get at it. I'd like to interject here that Ed and Merv are great names for cats who live in Brooklyn. So Ed and Merv were kind of having a Mexican stand-off when I suddenly noticed little legs wiggling out of Merv's mouth. Oh my god. Those are not mouse legs-—it's a giant cockroach!
I'd read about these giant cockroaches in the NY Times. They were hardly seen in NYC, but in the mid 80s the huge American Cockroaches or Palmetto bugs started showing up in Brooklyn neighborhoods. It was speculated that they migrated from the south. These were about twice the size of the normal NYC German Cockroach. And not only were the new insect immigrants huge, they flew. They flew! I knew when I read that article that I never wanted to meet one.
And here was one in Merv's mouth.
Merv! I yelled, and because he was startled he dropped the cockroach. It was still very much alive and had use of all 6 of its giant cockroach legs. It immediately began scuttling around. And it was loud! You could hear its cockroach armor scraping the floor as it ran around. I threw a combat boot at it, but somehow, even though it looked like a direct hit, it managed to crawl out, essentially unscathed. I grabbed a Joyce Carol Oates book and only wounded it. It shook itself and started running towards me. I jumped on a chair like a lady in a cartoon being menaced by a mouse.
My roommate came out and said "what the hell is going on?"
"There's a giant cockroach! Running around!"
"C'mon. You only think it's giant because you're from Staten Island." My roommate was from the Bronx and he thought he'd seen everything.
I turned on the lights and pointed to where it was.
"Wow-—I've never seen one that big," he said. "I don't think we have anything we can kill that with."
We tried to catch it with a coffee mug—we thought if we could get a coffee mug over it and leave it there it would eventually die of natural causes. But this sucker was fast.
I decided the only way to kill it was by using an entire can of raid.
I get the raid from the kitchen and I come back, poised for the kill.. I'm not sure how the giant cockroach knew, but somehow he did. And he did the unthinkable.
I still can see it in slow motion in my mind—he began to unfold like a transformer and suddenly sprouted wings! And he took to the air.
I couldn't deal with this. This was against nature. It was an abomination!
I suddenly realized that this was no mere battle between human and bug, but that this was a fight between the forces of good and evil. I'm not sure who was on which side.
The cockroach flew around the living room for a time, and eventually tired out and landed on a wall. I snuck up on it, aimed, and began to release the stream of toxic chemicals. The demon-bug thing flew away!
This went on for a good long time—-years, it seemed. I'd spray, it flew, over and over.
And then it did something that is so horrific I don't even feel right about mentioning it. But it's something you all need to know.
It shed its skin.
That's right, it sloughed off its chitnous exoskeleton, and emerged as a slimy alien insect.
I closed my eyes and sprayed. I'd peek every so often and it would still be slithering around, and I'd spray some more, and the cats would come over and I'd shoo them away and I'd spray and spray.
And then I ran out of raid. I was going to step on it, but it finally gave up. My roommate came out and got rid of the body.
Since then, I've encountered many giant cockroaches, and disposed of them handily. I've yet to meet an opponent as formidable as my first.