The Uninvited Houseguest

I lived in New York for almost 10 years and was lucky enough never to see a cockroach in my apartment. I saw plenty of other unpleasant things: mice, a junkie throwing up in my kitchen sink, an air conditioning unit in the process of falling from its perch in the window (I shrieked and pulled it in by the extension cord), my hair after a hard rain, but never a cockroach.

Now I live in Los Angeles, where I've traded in gritty realness for a better, cheaper apartment with wall-to-wall carpeting, modern amenities and a parking space. All the downsides of urban living are supposed to be behind me, so I was somewhat alarmed to peer over at the bathroom counter (oh, and I have counters. Bite my ass, pedestal sinks!) to find a cockroach the size of a small egg roll hanging out near my soap dish.

Instead of the kind of insect I usually find -- some kind of wispy-winged creature that's long and thready and disintegrates into nearly nothing when you smush it -- a roach has substance. It's crunchy and jarring.

In a flash, I wondered how long he'd been there and whether he'd taken any detours through my makeup brushes and face soap, which were sitting out, uncovered. And why was he so close to my retainer case? Granted I haven't worn them in years, but that could change any day but not if it means risking roach detritus.

He seemed kind of still so I grabbed an empty false eyelashes container, which is a flimsy plastic box, and attempted to trap my uninvited guest. Unfortunately, he resisted re-homing and scurried into the sink.

I shrieked. It was time to call in reinforcements.

"Large bug, large bug!" I yelled to my fiance.

He got a look, gasped and then did something I wasn't expecting: he threw his shoe in the sink.

"Did I get it?" he yelled from across the room.

"No!" I responded, standing on the toilet.

He removed his other shoe and made another hole in one, which again, didn't graze the bug.

I questioned this strategy. What if he angered the roach?

Then, acting on pure impulse, he fished a shoe from the sink and whacked the bug. The fact he's still wearing these shoes is freaking me out.

And then for the rest of the day I couldn't shake the feeling that things were amiss, a feeling that was perhaps exacerbated by helpful friends promising that if you have one roach you probably have thousands.

As when we had mice in our apartment in New York, I find myself wondering why I'm so disturbed.

What is the genesis of the fear? In truth, I'm a lot bigger than these things. And mice -- in a Disney film or even at a pet store -- can be cute. So why the panic?

People will say it's because these critters carry diseases and we've evolved to fear them, but I don't think it's that. I think it's the fear of little things crawling around or on your body. Crawling up your leg and into your mouth.

At one point in New York, when I was most desperate and irrational but not yet ready to call in an exterminator, clearly what I should have done from the beginning, I tried to give names to the mice. Perhaps if I viewed them as friendly creatures who happen to share my living space, I thought, I would be less upset by their presence.

It didn't work.

Plus, they never came when called.

Not willing to cede my domicile just yet, I turned to my dad for a solution. He's old, he doesn't like bugs, maybe he would have some advice. Instead he did that super annoying thing that old people do -- grew philosophical.

"Roaches and humans have been coexisting for millions and millions of years," he said "They were probably living in caves with early man."

"Great," I said. "I don't want them in my bathroom."

Then the Confucius of entomology offered this comforting pearl of wisdom: "They're all over. They're everywhere."

I resisted the urge to throw my shoe at him.

I told my landlord, who brought the exterminator around. Have you ever noticed how exterminators are always sweaty? It's high-intensity work, this bug killing. Anyway, he asked me the size of the roach I saw. I told him. He determined this to mean it had come in from the outside. I shudder to think whether that means bigger or smaller ones are living inside.

He said he sprayed outside and so we really shouldn't have any more but if we find another one, he'll come back and spray the lower cabinets.

I feel good that we have a plan, but I think we should move in the meantime.

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