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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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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

« 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 don't think we have very many water bugs over here in southern california. but have you ever seen a potato bug? they don't fly... but picture an ant if it were 4 inches long and sitting on your bed, mere millimeters away FROM YOUR LEG. and then picture trying to scream and vomit at the same time. good times.
June 13, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterkatie
hehehe! I've done the Paper Mitt of Protection thingie for a huge cockroach in NC. That one I gassed with bug death, and it *still* was alive. So I caught it in a jar (not touching it, not me, even with PMoP) and dropped it in the toilet, and it swam AGAINST THE CURRENT, climbed up the slick porcelain sides, escaped and came at me again! So I caught it in the jar, sprayed a paper towel with bug death and put the towel in the jar with the bug, then threw the whole thing away! Did the Bug dance, squicked a lot, and was so glad to move away from the south!

June 14, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterlaurie
Holy cow!!!! I knew about the bug incident before I read this and yet, I am dying here. You are so fucking funny. If I awaken my jet-lagged Eliska with my laughter and screeches, I am holding you responsible. You will then come over here and lull her back to sleep. I think the PMoP was your downfall. I suggest wacking them with a big shoe.

June 15, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterstacey
In Texas we have those hideous flying roaches, too - so I keep an empty cardboard roll handy (one from foil or waxed paper)to sort of scoop one up - then fling it out the door. I stepped on one out on the deck and it made a loud popping sound. But I never had one walk on my toes! The following came in some email from a friend today, claiming to be from a male perspective:

"I know I'm not going to understand women. I'll never understand how you can take boiling hot wax, pour it onto your upper thigh, rip the hair out by the root, and still be afraid of a spider."

June 17, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie
I can't resist. I have to tell another Roach of Extraordinary Size story. Just a week or so ago, I was visiting my grandmother. She has had several water leaks (that should have been the first clue) and wanted to show me the damage to the basement. As every horror-movie buff knows YOU NEVER GO IN THE BASEMENT. Well, like the dumb broads in the movies I followed Nana down the basement stairs. I at least had the good sense to be apprehensive about this, given her history with roaches. As we got down to about the 7th stair, I looked up where the floor was overhanging and there were no less than 12. T-W-E-L-V-E of the wide-bodied-plane-kind. I immediately ran back up the stairs (backwards of course - to keep an eye on them)and Nana says, as she always says "Windy, It's just a few little waterbugs............." I am frantic - heart racing and she, at 80, calmly climbs the stairs to go get the flyswatter.
June 17, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterWindyLou
Had my own encounter with one of these horrific beasts last night, circa 1AM....when the cat gently lay it at my a gift or little midnight snack, I don't know. Cat has been banished from bedroom. I'm seriously considering marriage, just to have a professional male bug killer on staff.
June 18, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterCAL
Oh my god. Now I'm going to go put on socks. And shows. As god as my witness, I will never go barefoot again!

I don't know if we have those in the outer boroughs. Thankfully, I've never seen one. What I *have* seen, because we have way too many of them, is centipedes. Big, big, BIG, hairy centipedes. I switched from a desktop to a laptop so that I could take my computer out of the office and work in the livingroom next time one camps out on the wall over my desk. Really. No. Really.

This is my first visit here I think, by the way, so thanks for the giggles and horror. :)
August 27, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterKim
Waterbugs don't just live in apartment buildings in NYC, they also live in 90-year-old ladys' houses in Iowa City. I once rented an upstairs apartment in one of these old lady houses. Even though I'd lived in Chicago and seen many a roach, nothing prepared me for the absolute horror that is a water bug. When I decribed the first water bug encounter to my concerned landlady (I guess my terrified shrieking penetrated her near-total deafness), she was blase about it. "Oh yes, those bugs live in the chimney, but it would cost me at least $100 to get the exterminators out here to fix it." I was willing to front the money, but she wouldn't agree to it. Later that summer I had to haul her ass to the basement during a bad tornado, and another time call 911 after she had a bad fall in the bathroom. On both occasions I seriously considered not rescuing her until she promised to call the exterminators. Those damn water bugs not only made me lose my shit, they made me lose my conscience, too.

My husband (who was on the phone with me during the first terrible water bug encounter) thought I was exaggerating the horror, until he encountered one of the monsters the other day in our kitchen. He came out with his face white as a sheet, brandishing the checkbook and babbling about the Orkin Man.
September 1, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterJB
sooooooooo glad we don't have those here in lil' 'ol guelph.
September 6, 2004 | Unregistered Commentermainja
my sister and I took our widowed 80 year old mom to Hawaii last year. Mom went on a rampage against the "bugs" (along with about everything else Maui had to offer..but that is another long story.. sigh). She especially had it in for the CaCaRoaches (her pronunciation of the buggers). We have photos of her and victim when she finally bagged some BIG GAME. p.s. we named the victim RoboRoach, cause he just would NOT die in a normal manner. Was running around with guts hanging out and head half off. disgusting!! shall i send the pictures?
January 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterdenise
I was just referred to this blog by a friend who said not to read it on a full bladder. She wasn't kidding. I think I peed in my chair.

Once I stop shaking I might share the story about the June bug that flew into my mouth at the drive in movie. Ack!
February 3, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterTaMara
Moving to Hawaii in a few months - found your story after googling "hawaii +roaches". Holy Crow!!!! I think I'll take the plane to bugless Antarctica instead!!!!
February 17, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterajtsgirl
Came here from your latest post, mystified by the reference because to me, waterbugs are graceful little things that skate around on the surface of ponds & never come near humans to bother us.

Now I understand - but why are they called water bugs? What do they have to do with water?

I was thinking this was all a bit extreme till Anna's post reminded me of a time when I was driving a car and thought an insect - some stinging thing, maybe a bee?? - had got inside my shirt. So while driving in traffic I ripped my shirt off and flailed about in my bra.
June 1, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJane
where I live in Southern California, you only see roaches in icky, dirty places (sewers, bad neighborhoods, etc.) so I have a very bad association with roaches. When I went to FL on vacation, I just about fainted with the way that 1) they were EVERYWHERE 2) everyone was so CASUAL about it. Like "oh, there goes another water bug. La-dee-da". WTF? I was squirmy and freaked out (I am sweating NOW) and wanted to vomit every time I saw one. And the people kept telling me "at least it's not Nawlins, where they fly at you and are as big as your shoe". Fuck that. Swamp states can go to hell! :)
June 1, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermia
OMG - I have talked to many people who "get" my waterbug issue, but I have never seen it articulated so well as this! I lived in NYC for seven years, and am emotionally scarred from my experiences in a certain apartment building on 86th street. Your writing has inspired me to share my own (many) experiences on my blog (lorimac.blogspot). It was actually therapeutic, in a sick, masochistic sort of way. Because of course I had to read everyone's stories and now, even though I live in LA, I am afraid to go to sleep tonight. Good luck!
June 9, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLori
i had one on my NECK!! i felt somethin crwaling on my back, i smooshed it away and it fell on the floor with a loud THUMP and i ran like crazy! those things are SICKENING!!
June 16, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterblue
I got online to find some information on waterbugs after my own horrific experience tonight. Instead of finding information, I'm sitting here reading MORE HORRIBLE tales. I'm never going to be able to sleep tonight, especially since the monster played dead and later escaped while I was headed for a roll of paper towels.
July 14, 2005 | Unregistered Commentercotton
i live in new york,in one of the glen oaks apartments and i am completely upset because of the waterbugs i have been seeing. 2 times i saw one around our light, 2 other times i saw them dead on the bathroom floor, and just last week i saw one crawling . the stories i have read are really scary. I seriously do not know what i would do if one touched me, i think i would feel dirty for i don't know how long, i know i would need some kind of therapy, i used to see and fear centipedes that were in my parent's house, but now they seem like heaven compared to this.
September 30, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterreena
I had a waterbug in my apartment once (please oh god let it only be that once). I had to empty half a can of Raid onto it before it keeled over and died. The scariest part was when, after I started spraying it, it started running TOWARD me.
October 17, 2005 | Unregistered Commentereggplantgirl
I had a waterbug in my apartment once (please oh god let it only be that once). I had to empty half a can of Raid onto it before it keeled over and died. The scariest part was when, after I started spraying it, it started running TOWARD me.
October 17, 2005 | Unregistered Commentereggplantgirl
i found your entry while looking for a picture of the bug *i* fear (to share with someone, not to enjoy!)i'm not really scared of cockroaches or waterbugs - or any bug, really, save for one: THE CAVE CRICKET. more commonly known as the camel cricket, this cricket is the Creator's hideously sick idea of a joke. they live in damp, moist places - under my house, for example. and they find their way INTO my house. i have never been more afraid of anything in my life, i kid you not. i stepped on one by accident when i went into the kitchen at 2 AM and i swear, if i hadn't been wearing clogs, i would've dropped dead the second i felt/heard that sickening crunch of spindly legs and fat cricket body squishing into the linolium. i'm 20, i live at home with my parents, and i bravely put a paper towel over the squashed monstrosity and taped a note to the mirror in my parents' bathroom, clearly stating that if they didn't get rid of it, there it would stay, because i certainly wasn't going to touch it!i just wanted you to know you're not alone in your horrific moments! experience. there's strength in numbers, my friend! :)
December 21, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermoony
I too came on here to look for info about waterbugs, due to my house being overrun with them lately. Here in Oklahoma we have been getting a lot of rain lately, and these critters are moving in. Seeing the first couple didnt really freak me out too much. But, then IT happened. I was in bed asleep with my fiance. It was around 4am when I was awaken by something crawling up my arm, toward my shoulder. Casually, I flung it off me (possibily towards my fiance) before realizing "OMG, WHAT DID I JUST FLING OFF ME". My heart began beating faster and I sat up, turned on the light and began searching for "IT". Well, my fiance woke up and didnt seem too "bugged" about the situation and went back to sleep. I went into the bathroom to wash my arms off, and saw one of "THEM" quickly scurry under the bathroom sink. Obviously, I didnt sleep the rest of the day. Then, oh yeah, theres more. Then, last night, my fiance wakes me up when he jerks awake, flings something off him, and begins the search. He tells me to turn on the light. Oh yeah, he found "IT" crawling back towards the bed. He picks it up, WITH HIS FINGERS!!!!! Im mortified as he goes to the kitchen to get a better look at it, then throws it outside. He comes back in and states "baby, we need to call the Orkin Man", then goes back to bed and falls peacefully asleep. So, lets say Im having a lot of trouble sleeping these days and really need to find a way to get rid of "THEM"... Thanks for the other tales, helps to know Im not alone here...
May 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMandi
Ok its 439 am here in SC and I just had my encounter with these damm things . I came here and read this and now I know ..I am one of the blessed few who have had this wonderful experiance . I have lived here my whole life so im familiar with these damm "just a water bug" things ...BUT NEVER has one got on me . I noticed I have been seeing more and more lately and just kept killen one here or there . I have no problem stompin the living sh&* out of them with a shoe . So I am asleep ...went to bed very early to get a good nights sleep ...I am snuggled up with my 8 yr old . I feel something VERY big crawling in my hair . I reached up grabbed and flung and with one clearing sweep I was out the bed and at the light switch ...THERE IT WAS ....WATERBUG ...COCKROACH FROMO HE&& WHATEVER U WANNA CALL EM ..THATS WHAT WAS IN MY HAIR . I was still half asleep and not wanting to lose site of the thing I grabbed a magazine and wacked him like I was mark mcguire . One problem . I should have remembered that a microwave wont kill these things . Its now gone . No clue where . I have searched and searched . Its just gone . So now at almost 5 am ...I sit . To scared to go back to bed . My kid now on the couch and I cant tell her why I swooped her up and told her to get out the bed . Orkin man will be called tommorow and I dont care if I have to take out a loan to pay the man ...I WANT THEM DEAD LIKE YESTERDAY !!!!! So much for sleep
August 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGeneandShan
i moved into my apt about 2 months ago and have seen at least 15 of them!! most have been dead, but this morning 2, i said 2!!!! were alive and crawling all around. scared me half to death. i sprayed them and they died, but im still traumatized. i need to move out...
October 3, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterks

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