Summer is coming. The nights are getting longer, the air is getting warmer, and soon the streets and fire escapes will be filled with manic energy and the skittering of cockroaches.
Everyone's got a good New York City cockroach story. And as we swapped some across a bar table a few weeks ago, we remembered how much fun it is to hear them.
Please send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll run the best of the batch in a few weeks. Here's two to get the party started.
We had spent five years in this three-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side, but we were reaching our breaking point. The friendly super was replaced by a faceless management company that refused to make any repairs, and the older tenants began being pushed out by NYU seniors. David fucking Robinson, the former basketball player-turned-real-estate-baron, bought a chunk of the block as an investment.
Eventually, the whole building turned into an Airbnb. One day, I would greet sheepish French families on the stoop, fumbling with our lock. The next day, I'd be banging on the door of the apartment above me, explaining to the bachelor party that whoever was taking a bath was letting the water overflow onto the floor and directly into my bedroom.
We had the occasional mouse in the years before, but it was around this time when the cockroaches started. The tiny, brown German cockroaches, the ones that efficiently lap up the water from your kitchen sink. First they're surprising you when you reach for your refrigerator door handle, then you can see the outlines of your entire kitchen pulsate with the barely-perceptible yet heart-stopping roach rush hour. Everything is moving. You are not safe. You know how this story goes.
Because the management company would do nothing, we had to take matters into our own hands. My roommate and I decided to handle it after work one evening. (We had a third roommate, but he had just taken a new job and was absent for this episode—out of the country I think, because nothing else would spare him from this.) We bought three cans of the Blue Death Raid—the kind with the yellow nozzle to get in the cracks and "KEEPS KILLING FOR SIX MONTHS" on the label.
And so we began. One of us would spray, and the other would stand watch with a magazine and whack the fleeing survivors. We swigged tall boys and gave each other pep talks. Yes, this would work, we thought.
Two hours later, and the roaches still came in waves. The initial, skin-crawling satisfaction of physically eradicating the thing that prevent you from cooking and sleeping and thinking and generally enjoying your exorbitantly expensive apartment, gave way to a kind of frenzied astonishment. They weren't ever gonna stop!
The three cans nearly exhausted, our windows open, shirts up over our noses, we noticed that there was something sitting atop the kitchen cabinets that we hadn't removed before the purge. It was a vintage Monopoly set, purchased for $5 from some thrift store.
My roommate and I looked at each other. I stood on a chair, gently picked up the game, and brought it down to ground level. He stood ready to spray. When I lifted the lid and we were able to peer inside the box, I can confidently say that it contained 80 percent roach, and maybe 20 percent board game. It was WRITHING. I shouted and put the lid back on, and dropped the game to the floor. We chucked it into a trash bag and I sprinted outside with it, groaning the whole way down out onto the street.
We went to bed humbled. I awoke a little before 7 a.m. Something was in my hair. I bolted up and smacked my head. A roach hit my bedsheets.
In my early twenties, I waited tables at a medium-sized French bistro. It was pleasantly unfussy, the kind of place where the waiters all wore black t-shirts, the bouillabaisse was delicious and under $30, and we made our own bread. A fantastic neighborhood joint.
But in the summer, the roaches would start to creep in. You can't call them "cockroaches" in front of diners, so we'd call them "superfriends."
"Hey, superfriend under table 15," I'd tell my colleague as I headed to the back with a stack of dishes. They would then discreetly dispose of our pal in a cloth napkin, and we'd be back in business.
One summer, we began getting some supersized "superfriends," what some delusional southerners call "Palmetto bugs." Some of them were the size of a Matchbox car, and just as fast.
After one Sunday brunch, our chef/owner informed us we wouldn't be opening for dinner that night.
"I need two volunteers," he announced. "We are going to take care of the superfriends." The pay was $100 in cash, and beer.
My friend and I raised our hands, and were promptly poured glasses of La Chouffe.
As the rest of our colleagues left the building, laughing at us, the boss rolled out the ancient vacuum cleaner with the cloth bag that we used on the thinly carpeted floor. My job was to vacuum, my colleague's was to stomp on any that escaped.
"Where do we start?" I asked him. "Where are they coming from?"
He pointed down at the 15-foot raised wooden platform in front of the kitchen window that looked out on to the floor, where the servers would pick up the finished orders.
Then he grabbed a crowbar.
As the chef/owner pried up the floor, my jaw dropped. Hundreds of large cockroaches began running in circles, deeply confused as to why the lights were suddenly turned on. I stood in awe. My friend ran to the bathroom and puked. One of the cockroaches was white, almost translucent.
"What are you waiting for? Vacuum goddammit!" the owner yelled as he continued to pry the final section of the floor up.
Soon, the powerful drone of the vacuum filled my head and calmed my nerves. I robotically did what had to be done.
That summer the cockroaches stopped. They were back the next year.
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