New Breed Of Cockroach Wings Its Way North

Posted: April 18, 1987

A new breed of flying cockroach has settled in Florida and may be moving north. I can't say I'll be happy to see them, although I suppose they'll amuse the cat.

When the flying cockroaches arrive, and I have a feeling they'll be landing any day now, I'll just have to learn to live with them, as I have learned to live with their non-airborne relatives. Cockroaches are one of the tests of urban life. Can you face up to them? Are you tough enough to deal with them? Will it be you, or them? In the long run it always will be them, of course, but you want to go down fighting.

I came to cockroaches at a fairly advanced age. The place we lived in when I was growing up was far from splendid, but, as my mother used to note, at least we didn't have cockroaches. For my mother, cockroaches were what separated the humble from the squalid. In my mother's eyes, as long as you didn't have cockroaches you had your dignity, if nothing else. One cockroach and you might as well give up and resign yourself to a life of unredeemed degradation.

So I rejoiced in our lack of cockroaches, or I would have rejoiced had I known what I was missing. Years later I found out. By that time I was living in a so-called luxury high-rise. One of the luxuries was an abundance of cockroaches, which bewildered me at first because my mother brought me up to believe they were a mark of abject poverty. She was wrong about this. Cockroaches are classless. In fact, I tend to think the more expensive a place is, the more likely it is to have roaches. They like the good life as much as anybody.

Perhaps I shouldn't admit to having cockroaches. But why not? My cockroaches aren't ashamed of me. Why should I be ashamed of them? Occasionally I see my neighbors buying roach traps or sprays and looking almost furtive, as though they think they're the only people in the building who have them. This is exactly what cockroaches hope we will do. Divide and conquer is the cockroach motto.

I prefer to bring the subject of cockroaches, if not the actual cockroaches, out into the open. In talking about them you sometimes learn about new ways to deal with them. And the subject is a kind of personality indicator. If you introduce the subject of cockroaches into a conversation with another urban dweller and he claims ignorance, or seems shocked or stricken, you can be reasonably sure he's either a liar or totally out of touch with reality.

Cockroaches have been around for 300 million years. They are said to be infinitely adaptable. One informed school of thought believes it is not the meek who will inherit the earth, but the cockroaches. In some parts of India they are worshipped. In some parts of Africa they are eaten. In some parts of America there are contests, with prizes awarded to people who enter the largest cockroaches. Who can say which behavior is the most bizarre?

This new breed of flying cockroach is, from all reports, a very aggressive creature. It has been terrorizing residents of the Tampa area. I would have thought Floridians would be able to deal with any kind of cockroach. They always have been remarkably tolerant of what they insist on calling palmetto

bugs, although any fool can see they're giant cockroaches. "Oh, that's just a little ol' palmetto bug," the Floridian will say calmly as the northern visitor flees shrieking from the room.

I don't need flying cockroaches. I've had enough cockroach experience to last me forever. In New York I lived in a building so full of them that I once saw an albino. An albino cockroach, someone told me, occurs very rarely, and when you see one you know you've got a real problem. I didn't need to see the albino to deduce that.

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