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June 18, 2002

Other New York stories
Posted by Teresa at 11:09 PM *

Oh god. I can’t go down into the basement. That thing is at least three inches long, and it’s lurking on the stairs, popping up now on this step, now on that one, as though it were on patrol.

I’m sure the landlord won’t let me brick up the door into the basement. He wouldn’t like flamethrowers, either. I can’t think either is an unwarranted response.

I hate cockroaches.

Comments on Other New York stories:
#1 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2002, 11:45 PM:

No flamethrowers. You have comic books down there. Some of them are mine.

#2 ::: Trent ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2002, 11:55 PM:

Are you sure it's not an advanced scout Sandking?

Just askin'...

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 12:10 AM:

You can have all of them, if you'll kill that thing plus any relatives it brought along.

Okay, all of them except the Neil Gaimans and Alan Moores and the Grant Morrison Doom Patrols, plus the Justice Leagues and Hecklers and Ambush Bugs and you can fill in the rest of that list without my help.

What do you think? Deal?

Okay, you can have some of the Alan Moores. Just kill that abomination. I've stuffed foam weatherstripping into the crack under the front door so it can't get in, and I went out and got some glue traps for Patrick to set out on the stairs, only he got a look at the cockroach and now he says he's not going down there until daylight tomorrow.

I don't even know what to call the other kind of giant insect we get, but it's the #2 reason I closed off all the basement-to-bathroom openings around the pipes and moldings last summer with some of that expanding polyurethane-in-a-can stuff. The beastie is some kind of centipede or millipede, basic color black. Its legs have grayscale stripes that run parallel to its body, and its front end is bilaterally asymmetrical, shaped sort of like a tanto-style blade.

It gets most unreasonably large, but is fairly easy to kill -- unlike giant cockroaches, which are downright muscular. It's disturbing, when you've managed to pop a glass jar down on top of a cockroach, to watch the jar rock slightly as the thing tries to escape.

#4 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 08:19 AM:

I understand that if you fill a bowl (a big one in this case) with Coca-cola (not diet) and leave it on the floor overnight, there will be dead roaches in it in the morning.

If this even works (and I haven't tried it even with normal-sized roaches, but friends in Texas (where the roaches, horribly, actually FLY - another reason not to go there) swear by it), I have no idea why. My friend who told me about it speculated that it dissolves their legs off--a delightful image if you are really roachaphobic, a condition I share with you--and then they drown in toxic syrup.

#5 ::: Vijay Bowen ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 08:39 AM:

I love you dearly, but you're on your own on this one, unless you think it will die when I puke at the sight of it. Giant roaches squick me past reason, and past certain levels of control.

#6 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 09:15 AM:

Squick? I LOVE it!! Never heard that word.

Ah, I am reminded of the time Teresa was fishing for the plug in the previous night's dishwater. She felt some sort of blob: "Oh, I said to myself, there's a clog. I'll just fish it out. And it was a DEAD MOUSE."

I broke in: "And you squeamed at the top of your lungs," I said, in one of the truly inspired back-formations (and puns) of my life.

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 09:45 AM:

Christopher, I've used that pun, and credited it to you, every time I've had occasion to retell that story.

I perceive that "squick" is one of those words like "egoboo" that's instantly comprehensible. Probably a linguistic holdover from Atlantis or something.

The bowl of coca-cola sounds like a variant on the trick of putting out a bowl of beer to catch garden slugs, rotten little lushes that they are. I'm just wondering whether all the cockroaches that drink out of it wind up floating in it. Maybe the floaters are just flying roaches that blundered in and couldn't get out, and in the meantime scores of pedestrian roaches had a good time with the coke and went home unhurt afterwards.

I wonder what the chances are that coke is acid enough to get the same effect as boric acid. You know how that works? Cockroaches have an alkaline body chemistry, and they can't burp or fart. When they eat boric acid mixed with sugar, bad things happen to their innards.

Velma, thank you -- and believe me, I understand completely. I have exactly the same reaction. You'd think we'd get used to them, but we never do. The reaction just gets worse.

Flying cockroaches. What a horrible thought. If I were given the opportunity to push a button that would instantaneously cause every species of cockroach worldwide to become extinct, I'd push it and feel no guilt.

#8 ::: Adina Adler ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 10:16 AM:

I grew up in South Florida, where palmetto bugs are everywhere. Palmetto bugs are similar to giant cockroaches, *and* they can fly. yeesh.

Anyway, one summer, when I was 17, my parents went to Israel for a month and left me alone in the house. I had to deal with at least one of those things every day. My solution: I would douse it with bug spray, and go somewhere else for an hour while it died, and then I'd come back with the vacuum cleaner, from which I'd removed the brush attachment, and suck the hideous object into the bag. (This always took a while, because I was so totally squicked by the idea of touching something that was also touching a roach.) I let my parents deal with the contents of the vacuum cleaner when they returned from their vacation.

The worst experience, though, was the day when I woke up, and turned over my pillow to get to the cool part, and THERE WAS A PALMETTO BUG ON THE PILLOW! I have no clear memory of getting out of bed that day--maybe I levitated. And then I called my cousin Shlomo and begged him to please dispose of that horrible thing, and he did.

#9 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 10:22 AM:

You must be strong. You need two things.

1) Bravery


2) Borax

Details from Uncle Cecil.

(and, as he mentions, Arson works too -- but then you either have to move or lose all your books)

#10 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 10:32 AM:

I get one of those things every year or two. They can be bludgeoned to death, but it takes work.

#11 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 10:34 AM:

"Squick" has a very specific and horrible meaning to some people (as I learned to my chagrin when a group of friends were discussing trepanation). Google around for it if you want to be gifted with an image that you will not like. It's... squicky.

#12 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 01:44 PM:

Sympathies, Teresa--I had a brief and exciting moment yesterday when I felt a bug crawling on my neck. It was only an ant, and I don't even think the little red ones actually bite, but it was crawling! on my neck! (I was driving at the time, which is why it was exciting, for certain values thereof.) I've hardly ever had to deal with cockroaches, for which I am profoundly grateful, as even silverfish tend to make my skin crawl.

ObSF: the last of the Ivory books.

Oh, and yes, "squick" may have started out with a very specialized meaning, but I think it's grown well past that now. It's far too useful a word to give up, anyway. =>

#13 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 03:02 PM:

Teresa, cool! Thanks!

Adina, one time picked up my washcloth and wet it, and had it maybe 6 inches from my face when...yahhhh! Ewwww! I'm sure I made many other funny noises.

Squick & Squeam. [shudder]

#14 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 03:49 PM:

Bleeyecch. One 5 am summer morning I turned over in my bed to see what was brushing my face, and it was one of Those Things. Probably it crawled up my bedspread which dragged on the floor. I hightailed it out of my bedroom into the living room and waited for Ma to wake up. I didn't think it was important enough to wake her up for, but I wasn't going back to my room till she killed it dead dead dead. It was outside my room by the time she got up and killed it, but still. To this day I make sure my bedclothes are safely off the ground before going to sleep. The prospect of dealing with waterbugs on my own in itself almost outweighs the advantages of having my own apartment. Almost. But it's a close thing.

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 04:32 PM:

Those of you who've managed to avoid The Waterbug Experience should note the indelible impression left on one's psyche by a close encounter, and the lifelong sense of horror it produces.

I'm not particularly phobic about coldblooded exoskeletal critters, except when it comes to cockroaches so big their hindquarters could be hung up and smoked like hams. As far as I know, none of the rest of yez are phobic either. But notice that nobody's offering to come step on that thing, even in exchange for the Alan Moores.

Never make fun of those specialty vacuum cleaners designed to suck up bugs. They're invaluable to phobics, desert-dwellers, people with allergies, and anyone who ever has to deal with waterbugs.

(ChrisH: Did the waterbug and washcloth achieve escape velocity, or was their momentum dissipated by leaving a Warner-physics hole shaped like a washcloth and waterbug in every intervening wall for a mile in that direction?)

#16 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 05:10 PM:

Try "Raid" in the purple can. It'll kill any cockroach ever born. Even the huge massive hideous ones the size of Volkswagons, which are so prevalent in North Carolina. (You can _hear_ them scuttling around. Clatter-clack-click. Eeeeeeew.)

#17 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 05:14 PM:

I can't remember. I THINK I actually washed it down the drain with the hottest water that bathroom could produce, but I'm not sure.

I may have opened a little tiny wormhole into my bedroom.

#18 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 05:29 PM:

Back from the store. Waterbug-size Combat modules are now divided into two sorts: kills fast, and kills at the source, $7.99 each. Small-cockroach Combat modules now last twelve months and come 18 to the box, but the box costs $13.99. Combat Gel is, as usual, $7.99 the tube.

What can I do but be grateful that this fine, fine technology exists, and is available in grocery stores everywhere?

I took four of the eight quick-kill waterbug combats and walked to the head of the basement stairs. I banged on the closed door several times, then opened the door a crack, reached in, and turned on the light. It was hiding. Good. I threw the combats down the stairs one at a time. Score: two on the stairs, two on the floor at the bottom. Just about right. Then I shut the door again.

The package says they start killing within hours. That's very good. And a roach that's been exposed to Combat but isn't dead yet is nevertheless going to be slower and more confused than normal.

Die. They will all die.

#19 ::: Kip T. Williams ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 06:50 PM:

For years, I kept a spray bottle of water with very dilute dish soap in it. It had uses for cleaning dishes or hands, but its main purpose was to spray on roaches. Waterlog them with the stuff, and the soap penetrates their chitinous shells, and they either dry out fatally or drown in their icky bodies. Either way, it's fine with me.

The first time I used soap on a roach was very rewarding. It was paddling in a bowl of water, hiding behind a glass. I squirted in some soap, and it died in fast motion, little limbs flailing.

I have lots of reason to hate roaches. When we lived in Georgia, I found one in my underwear at the end of the day. Another time I tried to take a drink, and... well, never mind what. I hate them.

We don't have a real problem with them here. I haven't seen a half dozen in a half dozen years here. The spray bottle eventually lost its ability to spray, probably due to soap in the works, but it was good for years. If we still had a problem, I'd buy another. It's very satisfying, and the soap doesn't poison your counters the same way as multi-syllable insecticides do.

#20 ::: Mary Kay Kare ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 08:43 PM:

Well, gosh, I'll come step on it for you, but you have to pay the plane fare. I spent the summer living in Corpus Christi once where they also have Palmetto bugs.

Want to hear about the time the the black ants decided to nest in my closet, using my bed, with me in it, as part of their path to the closet?

Of course, I'm phobic about snakes. We had one in the house in San Ramon once. Thank god Jordin was home because the cats just stood and stared.


#21 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 10:24 PM:

Well, I do live to far away, and gods know what happens to people who try to cross the border these days with hammers.

Boric acid -- lots and lots of powdered boric acid, scattered artistically along the edges of things -- will solve the problem; the powder abrades their leg joints into uselessness.

#22 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 10:31 PM:

Jeez, Teresa, I'll do it, even though you probably don't have any Alan Moore comics that I don't already own. I've personally slain four or five of the things over the past decade. They make a very satisfying crunch.

#23 ::: Ter Matthies ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 10:40 PM:

Last night, I began a comment with the anecdote of my discovery that, yes, roaches in Texas have wings.

Then I feared to add to the image factory. So I deleted. But I'm back....since Teresa's post made me patrol even more vigilantly.

Yes, the local roaches fly. They roost in hollow trees. They are the size of Tinker Bell, but not as attractive. No one should clap hands to save them, as I got an immense hunter's rush from capturing and drowning the beast.

Wings. And the size of a mouse.

Then there was the one that invaded my printer.....

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2002, 11:23 PM:

Cockroaches in North Carolina so big you can hear them scuttling in the dark. Cockroaches in Texas the size of mice, and they fly. Oh, bad. I want Graydon's hammer, and Fran's purple spraycan.

Avram? If you don't want the Alan Moores, would you take a jar of preserves instead?

#25 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2002, 12:04 AM:

Gee, if I'd known you were in such dire straits I'd have driven the 300 miles to squish it for you.

I had extensive experience with cucarachas tan grandes como los Volvos en la Repfablica de Paname1. One time, I remember, a bunch of us went to the movies down on Via Espaf1a, and a cucaracha ran up [name withheld]'s leg inside her jeans. I'd never seen a Naval Lieutenant whip off her pants in public before.

Anyway, you seem to have the problem well in hand. If it isn't fixed by the end of August or so, I'll likely be passing by, and I'll be happy to deal with it then.

#26 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2002, 12:21 AM:

Hey, some of those comics you're giving away are some of mine you haven't returned yet.

If they ain't gone by Saturday, let me know and I shall come and remove. Or turn into decorative art on the wall.

#27 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2002, 12:38 AM:

Gracias, Padrino. Era la cucaracha gigante, =Blaberus giganteus=? And would you believe there are people selling those things as pets? ( Yuggoth!

I've found out a disturbing thing about them. When they're molting, they have strange ethereal human-looking faces on the backs of their heads:

#28 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2002, 12:48 AM:

Kip's comment about "Soap on a Roach" made me think of an improved version of the old-fashioned "on a Rope" soap. You don't need to hang it up in the shower because if you drop it, it just crawls back up the wall to you!

Sorry, Teresa. You can have your pick of my old and crumbly Doom Patrol issues in recompense. Brains in jars of the world, unite!

#29 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2002, 08:24 AM:

I lived in Texas for a while. We got Great Big cockroaches in the house regularly. Plokta readers will know that my current (London) house has regular incursions of mice. The Texan cockroaches are just about as big as the mice. But, you know, less furry. And they can't squeeze through such tiny holes. Mice have a much better PR agent than roaches; despite the fact that they chew through everything, leave droppings all over the house, and act like they own the place, I'm still secretly quite fond of the mice and feel guilty every time we kill one.

I was woken up by a roach crawling across my face once. This experience had a lasting effect on me. Steven once decided that it would be a nice idea to wake me up by tickling my nose. It's just a bloody good thing I didn't have a loaded gun in my bedside cabinet, that's all I can say.

#30 ::: Steven ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2002, 10:41 AM:

May the state bird land on the heads of your *blattaria*.
Blatt! Blatt-blatt-blatt!

#31 ::: Stephanie C. Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2002, 11:41 AM:

I'll take those North Carolina roaches over the Texas ones any day. Not only can we hear them scuttling around in the cabinets, but yes, they fly, and *they try to do it after you've stepped on them barefoot in the dark.*

I, too, have achieved levitation.

#32 ::: Kip T. Williams ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2002, 01:16 PM:

When we moved from Georgia to Texas, we left the worst roaches behind, and also knew we had avoided worse ones than we had to live with. I'd seen those waterbugs from time to time; like larger roaches, with stony shells and little pincer arms with tattoos of tiny anchors. Those were mostly things I saw outside of our home.

We got a cat, partly so she'd eat some of the roaches, when we lived in Georgia. She ate (and un-ate) them for a while, then took to ignoring them, which was probably all for the better.

Wings. I can't forget the first time I swatted at a roach on the ceiling and it flew down at me. And I still count my blessings that the ones in GA only flew down. I think the ones in FL can fly up to the ceiling, and they have a million invisible little pals, too. That sting.

I thought once of writing a story about scientists who finally figure out a way to wipe out every cockroach in existence. They maybe keep a couple on ice just in case. When all roaches are gone, a sort of beetle-colored cloud starts to form, because there was something tiny and awful that the roaches had been keeping in check all along.

#33 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2002, 02:47 PM:

Stephanie: On the other hand, you've answered the question of what the smallest overall wing area is that will get a human off the ground.

#34 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2002, 09:05 PM:

I have now been down into the basement. The monster was not in evidence. Hurray for Combat!

#35 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 01:11 AM:

"Simply reading about these roaches or seeing them for a minute or two in an insect zoo cannot compare with actually watching them over an extended period of time in your own home."


Ain't that the truth.

#36 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 07:15 AM:

Many years ago, I visited the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle as part of a group that included Eli Cohen. When we got to the giant Panamanian cockroaches, he suddenly looked drawn and pale. Paler than usual, I mean. All he said was, "I'm a New Yorker." Years later, I came to understand his reaction.

It's amazing how different an animal will look to you when it creeps out from underneath your basement stairs. Species you'd find perfectly interesting in a zoo are just plain upsetting at home.

#37 ::: Kip T. Williams ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 10:33 AM:

The first time I ever saw cockroaches was on a trip to the Brookfield Zoo, just outside Chicago. They were in a glass cage, and were still some of the largest roaches I've seen 'live.' The coloration was particularly interesting to me, as they were of a mottled white and brown that made them look, for all the world, as if they were made of irregularly stained rolling papers.

If I'd looked upon these roaches after having lived in their regions, I doubt I would have felt the same way about them, come to think.

#38 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 01:03 PM:

The lovely and talented Miss Teresa said:

"I've found out a disturbing thing about them. When they're molting, they have strange ethereal human-looking faces on the backs of their heads: "

Did you know that there was a whole movie sorta-based on that bit of roach physiology?

The movie Mimic, which otherwise had little to recommend it:

#39 ::: ers ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2002, 11:45 PM:

Eeeeeewwwwww. I made the colossal mistake of reading this before going to bed. Worse, before going to the *kitchen*. Thank you all very freakin' much. Your considerable verbal skills and vivid imagery have made a lasting impression.

I have a deal with my Sweetie. He hates the 8-legged things, so I deal with them. Anything that eats mosquitos is a friend o' mine. I can deal with ants, too. He gets to squish anything else (like a cabinetful of tiny beetle-like things that caused me to give up coffee for a few days since I couldn't open the cabinet to get at the coffee filters. EEeeeewwwwWWW.). I lived alone for years and had to squish the import-auto-sized bugs myself, so this is a very weird luxury.

#40 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2002, 11:44 PM:

A cabinetful of tiny beetle-like things? What? Tiny beetle-like things are usually beetles, but what kind were these?

When you said they made you give up coffee for a few days, I imagined small brown beetles the size, shape, and color of coffee beans, and for a few seconds thought you'd had the kind of really disgusting accident that makes you replace your grinder and your coffee machine.

I once had to replace my electric mixer, but you don't want to know the details.

#41 ::: ers ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2002, 05:09 PM:

I don't know what the bugs were -- and I was sufficiently grossed out by them that I didn't want to take one over to the computer and do a web search. No, not that kind of de-bugging. Nope, nope. Just for your (and now, my) peace of mind, those little bugs were much MUCH smaller than coffee beans.

I've killed 2 electric mixers with a rather dense chocolate pound cake recipe, but would vastly Prefer Not To Think About having to replace a food-related appliance that has acquired its own census-taker. Better the Death By Chocolate.

#42 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2002, 12:20 AM:

Coming in late:

Adina said:
>I grew up in South Florida, where palmetto bugs
>are everywhere. Palmetto bugs are similar to
>giant cockroaches, *and* they can fly.

I believe Dave Barry said something like "We call them palmetto bugs because if we called them 'six-inch-long flying cockroaches', we'd all have to move out of the state."

As to the "spraying them with soapy water" that Kip suggests: I've never tried that, but I suspect that it works by reducing the surface tension of the water so that it can flood their book-lungs. If this is the case, almost anything could be in the water, including rubbing alcohol, which is much less likely to gum up a spray bottle. If we had roaches, I'd be tempted to try it.

Finally, Alanis Morissette wrote a song about this:

"Will to Live"

I feel miserable
Unexpected wings make me ill
I feel miserable
Scuttlings tear at my foundations
I feel miserable
Alkaline metabolisms are dragging me down to the depths of misery
I want to die

Is it because of Cheney that I feel this way?
With the black rays of misery pounding on my brain?
Or am I lost in tale of Whitman, adrift far from home
I don't think so, I don't think so.

Cockroaches Broke My Will to Live
Cockroaches Broke My Will to Live
Cockroaches Broke My Will to Live
I was getting better but then
Cockroaches Broke My Will to Live

I feel miserable
Jointed legs rot the flesh from my bones
I feel miserable
Exoskeletons defeat my purpose
I feel miserable
Vague human face designs are doing their best to impale my soul
I want to die

Is it because of Cheney that I feel this way?
With the black rays of misery pounding on my brain?
Am I lost in tale of Whitman, adrift far from home
I don't think so, I don't think so.

Cockroaches Broke My Will to Live
Cockroaches Broke My Will to Live
Oh God, cockroaches Broke My Will to Live
I was getting better but then
Cockroaches Broke My Will to Live

(Courtesy of the Alanis Lyric Generator,

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