There comes a time in every gal’s life when she finds herself face-to-face with a giant cockroach. In that moment, how she behaves is strictly instinctual, complicated only by her desire to maintain control and some remnant of composure. Usually, there is only one option: KILL. But for many of us, this is not as easy as it sounds.
It happened only once. I had somehow skirted ever seeing a single cockroach in my apartment and I knew it was just a matter of time. It was summer in the city, after all, and one can only dodge so many bullets before he/she gets hit.
I was in my room, sitting at my desk, texting my then-boyfriend who lived in Chicago when I heard a weird clicking sound. In my gut, I knew exactly what it was, but in that millisecond when my head popped up and began to twist in the direction of the noise to identify the specifics of the sound, I prayed it would not be what I thought it was – the unmistakeable clicking of an exoskeletal creature wandering around the room. And in that same millisecond, from the corner of my eye, I saw the dark body of my dreaded enemy moving ever-so-slowly across the edge of my bedroom floor.
I screamed. I’m telling you right now, I’m not a girl who screams, and I fuckin’ SCREAMED. Then, I jumped OUT of my chair, watched it freeze against the wall, and I ran the hell out of my room. My med-school roommate, J, popped out of her room down the hall and said “What’s wrong?! Are you OK?!” I told her I just saw the biggest cockroach I have ever seen in my life. We both went into an immediate, girly panic. I’m embarrassed to say that this is my only way of responding to such an event.
Look, I know it’s easy to exaggerate what the biggest roach you’ve ever seen looks like when it is creeping its way across your bedroom floor, but in this case, I am not lying: it was GIGANTIC. It was straight out of Jurassic Park or some horrible museum exhibit that I hope never to attend. This thing was a monster, and it was a monster in my bedroom. Something had to be done.
My heart started racing. J started freaking out with me. GAH! SHIT, WHAT DO WE DO!?! We both started screaming and laughing and squirming and being totally pathetic and helpless as the giant cockroach kept exploring the crevices of my wooden floor like it had just been dropped off on an exotic island by a cruise ship.
This was a HORRIBLE situation. “WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING! WHAT DO WE DO?!” I blurted out. I was almost shaking with repulsion. J responded, “I don’t know, I don’t know!! We’ve gotta kill it Tavel! YOU CAN DO IT!!” I said “ME? J, I can’t kill it!! AH! I don’t know what to do!” We searched for roach spray, only to find we had none. J, being a great med school student, even though we were both totally disgusted and continuing to freak out just a little bit, collected herself and came up with an idea.
“OK. How about this? YOU stay HERE, I will go knock on all our neighbors’ doors. There has to be someone who has roach spray on our floor!”
I squirmed at the thought of staying put, alone in an apartment with the giant cockroach, who continued to explore my bedroom.
“OK! But HURRY!!!” I yelled.
“You’ve got this Tavel! WE’VE GOT THIS! I’ll get help!” J ran out our front door. I heard her knocking on doors. I overheard the two gay guys who lived across from us tell her they didn’t have any spray, one said “ew!” and we then realized they were just as squeamish about roaches as we were. None of the other neighbors were home, except for the two Columbia students — both girls — at the other end of the hallway. They apologized and didn’t have spray either. J came back into the room empty-handed. We were on our own. A few minutes had passed. My heart kept beating as chills made their way up and down my body every few seconds. It was time to come up with another plan — and FAST!
J: “OK, Tavel, don’t panic but nobody on our floor has roach spray!”
Me: “SHIT! SHIT SHIT SHIT!”
Then J had a genius moment.
J: “Wait! What about that guy downstairs! The one with the pitbull?! He always liked us! He’d be a good neighbor and help two nice girls out, right?!”
She had a point. Honestly, I could care less who helped, I just knew I couldn’t stare at this bug much longer. I screamed: “YES, YES!!! GET HIM!!”
As soon as I said this, I realized how bizarrely we were behaving. Who behaved like this? What grown young lady spends this much time trying to figure out how to deal with a freakishly large, lone cockroach? We were not behaving normally, but that was beside the point.
J had thought of the guy on the first floor, Paul, who always flirted with us just a little and owned a large pitbull. He was a macho Puerto Rican guy who usually wore some sort of bandana over his bald white head, wore almost exclusively white worn-in wife beaters, a silver chain, and cargo shorts, and blasted reggaeton out of his windows every weekend. As much as he was a tough guy, he was always a gentleman towards us. This was our guy.
The plan was set: J would run down to the first floor (from our fourth floor apartment) while I stayed in the apartment and kept an eye on the cockroach. She would find Paul and ask him to come up with his pitbull to take care of our… err… problem. We were going to be FINE.
In the meantime, I was not to lose site of the roach. I had one of my gore-tex sneakers in my hand as I stood with my feet far apart in a sort of awkward half-squat, waiting for the roach to make a move. By now, it had crawled halfway up my dresser, and as long as I stared at it, it stayed still.
This was the absolute worst idea ever, because I can barely stand the site of a cockroach, and there I was barely blinking, staring into its eyes in a Tavel-Cockroach showdown. My body tingled with fear and horror, but I stayed in my spot, in ready-to-smush position, dreading the idea of wiping roach guts off of my beautiful dresser more than anyone can imagine. The LAST thing I wanted to do was smash that mo-fo on my own furniture, because I knew exactly who would have clean it up, and eventually sleep in the same room as its ghost. This situation quickly became lose-lose, and I began praying to the exterminator gods that this Puerto Rican guy downstairs would be home.
The minutes kept piling up, and the tension mounted between me and the roach. Whenever it moved just a little bit, I raised my arm to fire and it would freeze again. Crushing it with my shoe was an absolute last-resort (the clean-up from these incidents is possibly the worst part). The clock was ticking and I was stuck in the hellish position of staring at the most repulsive creature on Earth as I waited and waited for J to come back with our man.
Of course, all I could do was text my then-boyfriend, who lived in Chicago, things like “AHHHHHH!!!! OH MY GOD. I AM STARING AT THE BIGGEST ROACH EVER!!!! THIS IS HORRIBLE!!” His response, of course, was laughing at me, telling me to just smash it and get it overwith, and asking me to take a picture of it first so he could see how big it was.
As I waited, I nervously raised my shaking Blackberry up to take the photo. My hands were getting clammy, but I did something I still regret to this day: I zoomed in. What I saw in that photo was awful. I still remember it. I can see it when I close my eyes. I got the shot, I hit send and I promptly deleted the image. For what it’s worth, my boyfriend was very impressed (not with me, obviously — with the cockroach). Where was help though?! I needed HELP.
Then, I heard J yelling “Tavel! Hang in there! I GOT HELP!”
Best. Sound. Ever.
The roach was still in its spot, hiding underneath the handle of my dresser drawer when in walked Paul, exactly how I remembered him, laughing at us in his wife-beater saying, “Don’t worry girls, I got this, I got this…”
After he entered the apartment, I screamed (again) and ran out of my bedroom saying “THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! YOU ARE MY HERO!!!”
Paul laughed and said “No worries. I brought my smashing shoe!”
Indeed, he was prepared. In one hand, he had a ratty old sneaker. In the other hand, he had a plastic bag and paper towel. His pitbull was nowhere to be found, but he seemed confident and manly, and I was grateful.
Paul came into my bedroom, asked me where the roach was, and I pointed with disgust to where it had perched itself. It was like a Great Dane that thought it was a mini-poodle, hiding itself behind a pillow a tenth its size.
“Holy shit, that’s a big one!” Paul said, as he approached the danger zone. Something inside me felt validated by this.
As J and I squirmed, giggled, screamed, jumped around, covered our eyes and mouths, trembling in the other room, we heard the sounds of victory: Whack! WHACK WHACK WHACK!!!!!
I screamed one more time, laughing with J at the ridiculousness of our situation. Then I asked, nervously: “DID YOU GET IT?”
To my relief, Paul yelled back from the other room, “OH yeah, I got it! DAMN that thing was big.” Before he walked out, he said “Do NOT go in there yet…”
He walked into the kitchen, where we were hiding, with his smashing-shoe in hand and said, “Uh, do you have any paper towels and some cleaning spray?” I jumped out with the paper towels and some Fantastic (the bottle spoke for me) and began to thank Paul profusely. My biggest concern now was what might be left behind of the cucaracha. Luckily, Paul — in all his exterior hardness, or exoskeleton of toughness, shall we say? — had the sense to clean it all up afterwards. He was quite the gentleman, afterall.
We couldn’t stop laughing and tried to thank Paul the Puerto Rican Roach-Killer as much as we could. To this day, I’m not sure if he knows how much he saved us. Not only did he kill the roach, but he then proceeded to clean it up until my dresser was absolutely spotless leaving behind no remnant of the crime scene. To add to his awesomeness, Paul threw out all the dirty paper towels, put them in our garbage can, and insisted on taking the garbage down for us so that we didn’t have to deal with the aftermath of any part of this slaughter.
Paul, wherever you are, you are a SAINT. THANK YOU.
In retrospect, our response to the giant roach encounter, and the options to which we resorted, was all completely over-the-top. But between J’s quick-thinking and resourcefulness, my ability to stare my fear in the eyes, and the serendipity of having a guy who owns what he calls a “smashing shoe” right downstairs, we were saved and spared the indignity of killing and cleaning up this roach’s remains ourselves. Sure, Paul got a kick out of the whole thing, and maybe we got to make him feel like a man, but he really was our hero. I like to think that I could man-up in this sort of situation (and I know I can), but sometimes, it’s just nice to have someone else man-up for you. I can deal with almost everything EXCEPT roaches — let me just make that clear.
Later that week, I baked Paul cookies to thank him for his good-neighborlyness. Luckily, we never had another roach encounter. I didn’t see much of Paul after that, but I did hear the music blasting downstairs in his apartment. Every time I came home, just knowing he was right downstairs with his smashing-shoe was enough.
All I can do now is wait for the next horrifying roach-encounter. But next time, I’ll be prepared; not only will I make sure to keep roach spray on-hand, but I will also scope out the neighbors in every apartment I live in, just to make sure I know whose door I can knock on in the case of another roach emergency.