The cockroach and other amusements
A bit ago I tantalized you (well, tantalized one of you anyway) with the promise of a cockroach story. This was set off by a reading of Rochelle Krich’e2’80’99s blog on July 21, with later mentions, about the cockroaches that had taken up residence in her microwave, and although I do know all about the German cockroach, an inch and a half or so long and quite capable of thriving in dishwashers (such as a rental I had one time in Hawaii, the source of endless discussion with the kids on where the creatures go while the water is splashing) the first thing the came to mind was my first face to face encounter with a cockroach.
Now, I need to set the scene here for a minute. When we married, my husband was teaching at UC Santa Cruz (and no, I was not his student at the time, so shut up with the remarks) but he’e2’80’99d made a commitment to take nine months off to travel to the South Pacific. So my honeymoon included Papua New Guinea and Ayer’e2’80’99s Rock. Doesn’e2’80’99t everyone’e2’80’99s?
Papua New Guinea is the tropics. Maybe not the highlands, where it gets cold (For a description of highland PNG, see ‘e2’80’9cThe Salt Pond’e2’80’9d in the collection Dana Stabenow edited, WILD CRIMES) but Port Moresby, the capital and main city of the country, is tropical indeed.
Including the wildlife. We moved into UPNG housing on the university campus, a pleasant if nondescript building whose most interesting feature was the papaya tree growing outside the door.
And its wildlife.
Tropical cockroaches bear about as much resemblance to their cool-climate cousins as T. Rex bears to the chicken, who science is determined to tell us is its modern relative. The cockroaches greeting us in this tidy, airy, breeze-block living quarters were larger than any mouse I’e2’80’99d ever seen, closer in size to a packrat.
But fast. Really fast. And because they were so big (Did I mention they were big? Really, disturbingly big?) you could hear them move. You would open the door and be greeted by the whisper-click of tiny feet scuttling for cover. Years later, hardened by years of travel with my chosen mate (or perhaps simply numb with exhaustion), we stayed for a while in a hotel in Madras where the old claw-foot tub that had been bathing residents since the Raj had for that same time been home to a community of similarly enormous cockroaches. There, I simply banged noisily on the bathroom door before entering, waited a minute, and took care to rattle around vigorously, occasionally bursting into loud and tuneless song, while I was inside.
But we were talking about Papua New Guinea and its cockroaches. Which were big. And fast.
And, it turned out, nearly impossible to kill, even with the sorts of chemical warfare sold in a can in any supermarket in Moresby, the kinds of chemicals responsible for the near-extinction of the pelican off the California coast and half the diseases known to old-time tropics workers. Nothing like having the houseboy dampen you down with the DDT spritzer as you sat on the verandah with your evening G&T.
But they hadn’t met Laurie King and her flying toothbrush.
As neither have you, until later in the week.