A BUG'S LIFE

It's hard to get used to Florida's more resilient creatures.

click to enlarge THE UNDEAD: The zombie cockroach that just won't die. - forestryimages.org
THE UNDEAD: The zombie cockroach that just won't die.

I was born in Orlando, and moved to the Bay area about 16 years ago after a childhood and adolescence spent everywhere from Ogden, Utah, to Zaragoza, Spain. Sixteen years is plenty enough time to settle in to a place and make it a home; I'm not a native, but I might as well be, and I've long since acclimated myself to most of the state's charming and/or ludicrous peculiarities.

I'm used to the humidity. I'm used to the traffic. I'm used to the pop-cultural time lag. I'm used to the uniquely bizarre cross-section of humanity, from the real estate tycoons to the pickup jockeys still waiting for the South to rise again, to the working-class families from what seems like every nation on the globe. I'm used to the fascinating and often terrifying array of indigenous wildlife: snakes in the pool; prehistoric dragons on the golf course; bonnethead sharks trying to steal my catch when I'm wade-fishing around the Skyway; anoles and geckoes freaking everywhere.

I'm even used to the bugs.

Well, most of the bugs.

Spiders have never bothered me. (I get a big kick out of telling arachnophobes that old urban myth about how the average person swallows eight spiders a year.) Mosquitoes don't find me particularly appetizing, possibly because my blood usually tastes like Milwaukee's Best Light when I'm sitting on the porch after dark.

Mole crickets are, quite frankly, pretty neat. I can't handle those toy helicopter-sized biting horseflies they've got down in the Everglades, and the massive black-and-green grasshoppers that appear every summer always make me think of those wonderfully crappy '50s nuclear-mutation fright flicks. But aside from an inordinate and completely out-of-proportion fear of all creatures wasp-like, I'm cool with insects.

(And really, there are places in the continental United States with much more imposing buggage — New Mexico's got those giant Clash of the Titans-style scorpions, as well as crawlies so creepy they upset the eyes, centipedes with, like, legs growing out of their heads and shit. That scene from the King Kong remake could be CGI, or it just might've been shot on the outskirts of Alamogordo.)

A lot of people I know, even Florida lifers, never get over the cockroaches. (They're actually palmetto bugs, as you all know because mouthy pedants like me never tire of telling you.) Some folks just can't handle a dark-as-death, six-legged critter the size of a Zippo skittering across the nice, clean white of their bathtub from time to time. Becks won't even go in the garage if she sees one negotiating the concrete out there.

All of the really serious roach-haters — like my sister, for instance — have a story about one of the big bastards running over them while they were lying in bed or lounging in a beanbag or whatever. They always make it sound as if The Grim Reaper Himself strode by, letting his skeletal fingers play lightly across the tops of their thighs as he passed.

I've had a roach or three use me as a shortcut from the toilet to the silverware drawer; it wasn't sex with Sherilyn Fenn, but it wasn't exactly traumatic, either. They're a part of the environment with which I've come to an understanding. I even kind of like having them around, if for no other reason than those rare, priceless occasions when I happen to be on hand when someone discovers that those buggers can fly. For whatever reason, I'm just not afraid of cockroaches.

Regular cockroaches.

Zombie cockroaches are a completely different story.

You know about the zombie cockroach. The zombie cockroach is the one you find resting where the wall meets the window frame, or in the middle of the bare kitchen counter, just begging you to take a whack at it. It's the one that doesn't even move when the light comes on, and is still in exactly the same place when you come back into the room with a shoe or the latest Musicians' Friend catalog and start whaling on it like it's a symbol of everything that's wrong with your life.

You kill the hell out of the zombie cockroach. Legs are torn free; white stuff oozes from the cracked carapace like foam from a boiling-over pot of rice. You're so sure the zombie cockroach is dead that, no matter how afraid you are of live cockroaches, you can pick it up with a tissue or a paper towel. There's no motion, not even any necrotic twitching. You eliminated that thing with extreme prejudice. You know in your heart of hearts that what you drop into your little bathroom wastebasket is a dead fucking bug.

Then, a couple of hours later, after you've blown your nose or run a wipe over the faucet and you go to make another deposit in the trash bin, you notice that you can't see that tiny bit of murky green wing jutting from that wad of soft paper. Maybe you do a little stirring with the toilet brush. Maybe you immediately take the wastebasket out to the big garbage bag, watching closely for the ruined corpse to drop out as you dump it.

But the cockroach you were 100 percent certain was no longer among the living, is gone.

Gone how? Gone where? More importantly, gone how far?

The shower?

The medicine cabinet?

The nice, dark canyon between the bed and the wall?

Sleep tight.

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