They’ve lived almost since the beginning of time; since life began on our planet, fish first walked out of the oceans onto land and grew limbs; through the Permian period, surviving the largest mass extinction the Earth has seen; the Jurassic period, living among the great prehistoric giants, and numerous ice ages, earthquakes, floods, and two world wars: cockroaches. Unquestionably the most disgusting, revolting and horrific of God’s creatures (although people delectably devour lobster, often referred to as “the cockroach of the sea” because of their bottom-dwelling nature; what’s the difference?).
What makes them so hard to kill? Perhaps it’s their crustacean-like exoskeleton that you can whack ten times with your shoe, causing nothing but minor scratches, merely teasing it, its flailing antennae mocking you at your pathetic attempt (they survived dinosaurs stomping on them for Christ’s sake!). Or maybe it’s their unwitting persistence, regardless of its environment, unnerved by human threat or shoes being hurled at them. Or it could just be their sheer number – 4600 species of roach in all – that ensures their survival. They can also, it seemed, survive any climate, hot or cold, dirty or clean, hostile or tame. Whatever the reason, I keep a healthy fear of roaches no matter how many unwelcome run-ins I’ve had with them. I still scream like a little girl when I see them. And I’ve seen cockroaches. A lot of fucking cockroaches.
Waiter There’s a Cockroach In My Soup
For years I worked at my father’s restaurant – a hub for cockroaches no matter how clean we kept it – and my father was a stickler when it came to sanitation and cleanliness. If there was even a crumb lying on the floor he would yell at the poor busboy that he wasn’t capable of doing his job properly. Yet everyday, for some reason, there would be multiple cockroach sightings. They usually ended up on the glue traps, meeting their sticky end. But sometimes they ended up in peoples’ soups. Even as the shocked and apologetic “this has never happened before” waiter, you can’t win that argument with the customer, and you just get’em a new one and hope they forget and don’t tell their friends. Word of mouth is 90% of your advertising; cockroaches in soups is usually not seen as a positive review. We scoured the kitchen clean till you could eat off every surface. My dad couldn’t figure out why or how they were getting into the restaurant, or the customers’ mouths. So one day, we took hammers to the walls and went to town. What we found was horrific…
They’re In The Walls
What looked more like termites in a rotted log, there were hundreds, probably thousands of cockroaches 1-2mm long swarming, a school of roaches, just behind the old wooden planks that hung on as a wall for 40 years. It was absolutely disgusting, far more horrific than anything I’d ever seen… So we did what anyone would’ve done in that situation: unloaded an armoury of Raid canisters into the walls like mustard gas in WW1. Clumps of cockroach carcasses fell to the floor, never to end up in a customer’s soup again. Thinking the problem done with, we patched up the walls and moved on with our lives. There was only one problem: the cockroaches kept coming. We couldn’t figure out where in bloody hell they were coming from! We finally came to a conclusion: they must be coming from the residents’ apartments upstairs. It was an old building with cheap apartments and it tended to attract shady tenants. But there was one in particular: Patricia, an old bag lady that was living on the dole, who we suspected was causing our cockroach problem. Part of her daily routine was to walk down to the local McDonald’s and collect discarded bags and drinking cups like they were Happy Meal toys. I remember feeling sorry for her. Anytime I “accidentally” ran into her in the parking lot, she’d go on about how she was waiting for her husband, who apparently played a mean trumpet, to return home…I only found out later that she’d been waiting for twenty years. Another peculiarity: she wrapped her legs in toilet paper to keep warm, even in the summer.
McDonald’s Bag Lady
We determined the reason for the cockroaches was not us, but in fact the filthy bag lady living just above our restaurant. There was an issue though: if we told her to clean up her flat she wouldn’t oblige, and would either act in or feign craziness (each indecipherable from the other I suppose). We were able to get the “sheriff” to lock her out of her own apartment, and obtained the legal right to enter her apartment. One day we broke the lock on her door, pushed it in, and what we found exceeds even the darkest recesses of imagination…
You couldn’t see the walls for the cockroaches…
A NIGHTMARE: a million cockroaches covering literally every square inch of walls and ceiling… It appeared as though the walls were moving, like a mushroom trip gone wrong. I had to look away, squeeze my eyes shut and open them again to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. Just as horrific: she had literally built a “garbage city” in her apartment. To get to the kitchen you had to walk through labyrinthine walls of garbage piled right to the ceiling, traces of McDonald’s bags used as part of the foundation. It was a scene from a movie; the next scene would inevitably be us getting attacked by an army of angry roaches, crippling under their sheer number, roaches getting in our ears, nostrils and mouths, suffocating, dying the worst imagined death. We all stared in awe (and sheer terror) for a long time. Then we went back downstairs, back to reality.
Fare Thee Well, My Cockroach
The next day Patricia came home (had she slept in McDonald’s?) to find herself locked out of her apartment. She started shouting and banging the door to get back in – I don’t know what she would’ve missed. The ambulance came and picked her up to take her to a “mental health facility.”I’ve never seen nor heard of Patricia since. I think of her from time to time, and hope she got proper help. The following day the landlord came and demolished the inside of her apartment. It took them a couple days just to get rid of the junk inside. By the end of he week it looked brand new: walls freshly drywalled, air acrid with the smell fresh paint, all ready for the new tenants to move in, never to have known the truth: their apartment once housed a million cockroaches.
Cameron is a writer based in Toronto and hater of all things creepy and crawly, big and small cbrtnik.com