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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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« Why I haven't posted in a while. | Main | I would soil myself with genuine poo—just to get a big ol’ laugh out of you. »

Why I could never be a Buddhist.

Yesterday, while Henry was napping, I was leaving my bedroom (where I work) to get a glass of water from the kitchen (where I obtain glasses of water), and there, on the floor in our hallway, was a waterbug.

For those of you lucky to never have experienced the unique horrors of the waterbug, let me tell you a little story. Once there was a cockroach who grew to monstrous proportions—say, 3-4 inches in length, 1-2 inches in width--with long spiny scrabbly legs and fucking WINGS that enabled it to FLUTTER ABOUT sickeningly and make Alice SCREAM HER HEAD OFF.

Basically, yeah, they’re gigantic, meaty cockroaches, that live in the basements and walls of NYC apartment buildings, and emerge periodically from the slimmest of cracks in the walls or around fixtures to die. It is their dying wish that before they expire, they watch humans scream and flail their limbs. Smelling our fear, they can finally die in peace. Fuckers.

So this waterbug was, thank God, on its back, which meant it had breathed its last putrid, breath, and had joined its ancestors on the shorelines of the River Styx. I ran to the kitchen to unroll the entire paper towel roll. You see, when picking up a dead waterbug—which I have done exactly one other time, and that was only because my cat had dissected it and I didn’t realize that the giant bug I thought I was picking up was actually the TORSO of a waterbug, but where was its head, OH GOD WHERE WAS ITS HEAD—sorry. Where was I? Yes. When picking up a dead waterbug, it is essential that you avoid being able to feel any of its contours or textures, be it the chitinous exoskeleton or its meaty underbelly with the legs GET IT OFF ME! GET IT OFF—

Okay. So you don’t want to feel it, because then you risk dropping it in horror, and then you risk it landing somewhere on your person, and that as we all know leads to death, because there’s no reason to live once that happens. So you get a whole roll of paper towels, wrap them around your hand so that you have created a Paper Mitt of Protection, and you lean over carefully, and quickly scoop it up, hoping that it wasn’t only pretending to be dead.

Which this one was. Pretending, that is. To be dead.

When I touched the thing with my PMoP, it flipped over and ran right at me, over my toes, and past me.

Let me repeat: Over my toes. My toes. Right over them.

It blindly skittered around my hallway, attempting to climb the walls, falling back, fluttering in the air for a sickening moment or two, and then climbing again. Meanwhile, I was in the kitchen, doing my best imitation of Lucy Ricardo when she had just had a waterbug's legs ambling across her toenails. What, you never saw that episode? It's a hoot, my friend. As you probably guessed, Ricky saves the day.

Now, I have never actually killed one of these things. When I lived alone, I simply ran from my home, screaming, and hoped that when I returned, it would either be 1) dead or 2) gone. As long as I have lived with my husband, he has usually been home when a waterbug has emerged for its Make a Wish Foundation moment, because I made sure I always had a JOB, so I would be out of the house as much as possible, thus limiting my chances of exposure.

That’s how much I hate these things. I would rather spend my days in a cubicle—a nice, vermin-free cubicle—then risk encountering a waterbug. This is how sick I am. Now you know.

So! What with this gargantuan insect rushing about inside my house, I got busy! Making calls! First I called my friend Sarah, who wasn’t home. My hysterical message provided hours of entertainment at her house, I'm sure. Then I called some neighbors! Maybe they were sitting on their couches, hands folded in their laps, waiting for me to call and invite them over for some cockroach-smushing! Nope, they weren’t! Then I called my husband, who was no help at all. "Kill it!" he said, somewhat obviously.

I got out some roach spray that has been under our sink from before we moved in. Using every ounce of guts I had left, I got close enough to the thing, who was now running! Everywhere! Trying! To find! An exit! and I pressed down the nozzle—only to see that the can had no pressure left at all. Still I kept pressing, and the roach spray drip-driip-dripped down on the waterbug, who began to slow down, and then flipped over on its back to wave every single one of its horrible legs at me, and then died.

And then I ran away again. Then I went back. Then I ran away.

Finally, I managed to get it. I got it. It’s gone. But there will be another one. There’s always another one.


Reader Comments (74)

i'm guessing you're not a big fan of "fear factor."
June 6, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterthe mighty jimbo
Ok, here's what you do - take one of those magazine card inserts that fall out all over your house. Slide it gently unter the cockr..I mean waterbug. Lay a papertowel over the little bastard. Several layers if it makes you feel better, but you don't want to take too much time. Then take a shoe/boot/etc and slam it down on the primevel horror. You will end up with a digusting but tidy package, easy to dispose of in a (realtiely) sanitary fashion. Then disinfect the floor, shoe, yourself, the house, etc.

When they're coming out to die they can still move, but they are a little sluggish, enough so you can usually get the paper under them before they figure out what's going on.

June 7, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterCassandra
eeewww.....there was much shuddering and twitching going on while i was reading that. we don't have any waterbugs where i live THANK GOD. we have instead - cave crickets. cave crickets CANNOT BE KILLED BY CONVENTIONAL MEANS. seriously, those bastards just keep right on hopping around and being creepy no matter how much raid you pour on them. my mother insists that if you "snap them with a towel" it results in instant cave cricket death, but my towel-snapping skills are not up to par and i can't bring myself to come close enough to try. that's why i have a boyfriend who's at least slightly less horrified by the icky bugs than me.
June 7, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterneko
Oh God, you poor thing.

I used to live in NYC, and for a while I had an apt on west 8th street. Courtyard level. No screens on the windows. That courtyard was waterbug breeding grounds- I managed to block all that from my memory, thank you for bringing it back!

June 7, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterholly
Towel snapping?Okay. I cannot reconcile myself to the thought of insect assasination bearing a superficial resemblance to locker-room hijinks.

Of course, now I am imagining the horrific moribund leg-waving lifeform being teased because it looks queer in its tiny brown-and-ochre gym suit. Maybe we can humiliate them to death? I saw something pretty close to that happen in junior high. Oh, wait--that was a human being. They are so much more vulnerable.
June 7, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterjilbur
Our electricity went out last week. Two of the critters emerged within minutes of each other. And my husband killed them both WITH MY SHOE! The shoe has been shipped to Goodwill.

You know, as kids, my sister and I would put glasses over the bugs until our father got home, so he could pick them up. Needless to say, my mom gave away A LOT of glasses.
June 7, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterTerri
PMoP -- bwah!

I am usually of the put-a-glass-over-it-and-put-it-outside camp, but reading this post nearly triggered the GETITOFFAME! bug dance. Large bugs Do. Not. Belong. Inside. Eeee.

Worse though, is when there are LOTS of said bugs. I'd relate the stories of The Neverending Earwigs and The Great Cockroach Purge, but they would simply be disgusting, not funny.

June 7, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterRana
Oh, and I think I would rather have poop on my nose than a bug in my clothes. Or a waterbug on my toes!
June 7, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterRana
Belive me, there will be another one...:-S
June 7, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterFantasy Football
First of all, I once towel-snapped a very nimble fly to death. So take that, Karate Kid.

Second, Alice, honey, I meant to comment sooner but I had to burn my computer after reading your post. So you have door-to-door Christians AND flying roaches? Do I need to put the joke together for you, people, or can you take it from here?

Kisses... actually, maybe just a fond, distant wave tonight.
June 7, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterJulia S
I read this while holding my sleeping six day old daughter, and nearly bobbled her little head off because I was laughing so hard.

THANK GOD there are no water bugs in Vancouver. Our cockroaches are the common or garden variety. Still very evil. Alsoplus disgusting are silverfish. EEEEEEWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!! When I see one on the bathroom floor I make my husband come in and dispose of it before I even finish peeing.
June 7, 2004 | Unregistered Commentersarah
Never ever EVER trust a "dead" "waterbug". It's really a big-ass cockroach lying in wait.
June 8, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterLaura
I was told to come here and read this. Your bravery is amazing. I would have grabbed the child and left. I don't do bugs, I cannot speak of the terror of having one run across my foot.
June 8, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterOliquig
OMG. OMG. OMG. I am standing on my chair writhing as I read this, and I'm on the other side of the country. Are you SURE you killed it? Are you SURE it's not coming back? Are you SURE it didn't fly over here to the West Coast? OMG.

I once had a flying cockroach in Hawaii do a kamikaze flight right at my face. I'm still healing from injuries sustained in the jump off the 2nd floor balcony.
June 8, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterLunasea
Creepy! Growing up in the interior of Alaska, I was only familiar with a limited number of types of bugs until adulthood, so living in other places has been educational and scary.

Gross Other Bug Experience #1: Age: 18. Living in Arizona for several months when pregnant with first child. Cockroaches in the apartment complex. No job. Each day filled by perching on couch with can of Raid in each hand, sleeping with Raid in hand.

GOBE #2: Age: 22. Three year old son plays outside during visit in Missouri. Removes shirt. I shriek, "OH MY GOD THERE ARE SPIDERS EATING HIS BACK! THEY ARE BURROWING INTO HIS BACK!!! SPIDERS!" They were ticks.

GOBE #3: Age: 23. Pregnant with second child, living in Oklahoma with newish husband (age: 23). Upgraded to the glass-with-book method to trap two sorts of scary looking black things (later revealed to be crickets and roly polies, via laughing husband).

GOBE #4: Age: 23. Second child a few weeks old, husband away for work. Having heard flesh-eating tales, am paranoid of brown recluse spiders. Cleaning up at night, smoosh something down into trash can, brown recluse runs over hand. Faint, bring self back to consciousness with foggy thought: it's probably crawling over you! GET UP GET UP GET UP DAMMIT! Spider never found, environment depleted, Raid stock price bolstered.

June 8, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterTishie
I would have named him, taken pictures of him, taken him for a walk.But I'm sick like that.

Maybe I need kids.

June 9, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterdayment
Oh man, you weren't kidding! These comments rock nearly as much as you do. ;)
June 10, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterlizardek
One of my coworkers used to be able to kill flies with a rubber band (since we're talking about unorthodox ways of killing insects). The first time he did it I thought it was a fluke, but I saw him do it many times after that. The flying rubber band of death!
June 10, 2004 | Unregistered Commentercarla
Once when I was about 16 years old, I was showering and saw one ON THE SHOWER HEAD! My mom was around the block (taking a walk) and came running because she heard my scream. I ripped the shower curtain & the shower curtain rod out of the wall and ran out of the bathroom with the curtain. I left the rod in the tub, I guess.

June 10, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterReenie
I am environmentalist, in the sense that I believe people should be able to get used to wildlife living side-by-side with them-- stopping for moose in the street, being bear-aware, accepting coyotes and wolves as part of the suburban landscape, like deer are...

But, you know... there are just some times when I think, No, this species should be COMPLETELY OBLITERATED from all places where humankind dwells. They can have the countryside, dammit. They should NOT be allowed the cities. Malarial mosquitoes are in this category. God knows cockroaches are, too.

And earwigs. Definitely earwigs. Nyahh. *shudders*
June 10, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterMorphienne
Went to visit a friend in Florida during college. She had vaguely said something about "palmetto bugs" in a phone conversation while we were making plans for a visit but it didn't saound dramatic, so it gave me no pause. Until I was napping peacefully in the hammock during the vening after spending time in the sun and the damn thing TROMPED ACROSS MY FACE! Let me tell you, getting out of a hammock gracefully is not an easy thing when you are fully possessed of all your faculties, but when you've just been vioalted by a BIG EFFING ROACH (let's face it, "palmetto bug" is a euphemism like "fixer-upper" is real-estate talk for "money-pit") you just CANNOT get your feet back on the ground fast enought. Needless to say I flew one way, that damn bug flew the other, and I ran screeching for the pool. <> Still gives me the heeby jeebys.
June 10, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterSusan
I lived way out in the sticks as a kid, and had to get up so early to catch the bus that it was usually still dark. In the early-morning dusk, our bright porch light attracted these--I don't know what they were; I think my mom called them bark beetles--but they were hideous, large, flying bugs. Their wings made a raspy noise, and they buzzed horribly as they bumped repeatedly into the porchlight cover. I was afraid of them, but -horrors!- I had to run right under their rattling, jerky swarm to get outside to the bus stop. They seemed so huge, to a poor tiny six-year-old! I used to beg my mom to turn off the porch light in hopes that they would disperse before my terrified sprint out to the bus stop.

June 10, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterThel
Live in Japan.Every cockroach is a waterbug. They all fly. And one- to two-inches is the norm, not the exception.And invariably they jump at you whenever they get the chance.
June 10, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Although I went to school in Connecticut, my university had an intricate system of steam tunnels underground that provided the perfect environment for big-ass winged cockroaches.

At the beginning of sophomore year, I, all grimy from a day of moving into my new dorm room, decided to take a much-needed shower. Now, my eyesight is terrible and the time, I was in the habit of taking out my contacts before I showered. In my blindness, I made a horrific error:

Without realizing it, I got into the shower with a 2-3" flying cockroach.

About 5 minutes into the shower, I knocked over the shampoo and the roach made its presence known by FLYING UP ONTO THE DOOR OF THE SHOWER. I mean, this badboy was right at eye-level with me.

Freaked the fuck out, but not wanting to be denied my shower, I not only completely rinsed out my shampoo but I also took the time to apply conditioner. In retrospect, I can't believe I did that and I have no idea how I got out of that shower alive.
June 11, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke
One of the main reasons I divorced my husband:

We were living in a 300 sq ft condo in Hawaii,(that isn't a typo - it was 300 sq ft.) home of the largest WaterBugs I have ever met. (having grown up in Memphis I have seen my share - they all lived at my grandmother's, but I digress) I am taking a monumental shit and therefore physically incapable of moving from my seat, lest there be more mess than waterbug guts. I began frantically screaming for help but my lazy-ass husband obviously had no prior dealings with water bugs, having grown up in Michigan. He refused to leave ESPN to save me from a fate worse than death, and left me there glued to my seat, feet in the air, toilet plunger in hand, to watch as that waterbug made its way around the entire bathroom and flew out the open window.
June 11, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterWindyLou

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