The good, the bad and the bugly

A city transplant gets to know her uninvited houseguests

| 20 Jul 2021 | 02:01

I freely admit, when it comes to healthy living from the ground up, I am a newbie. One of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced is coming to terms with nature’s bounteous and seemingly endless variation of arthropoda... you know, critters with lots of legs and armor plated jackets, which invariably end up on my kitchen counter, or on my bathroom ceiling, or worst of all, in my bed, casually ambulating over my naked foot. The unwritten agreement here in the great wilderness of Upstate New York is, live and let live, a tenet I am struggling to apply to cohabitating with anything with a segmented body.

You see, in the city, no such agreement exists. In the city, if you are a bug and you are in the house, you die. This simple arrangement comes with no strings, no guilt, no wrestling with one’s moral compass, for the simple reason that, if you are a bug and you’re in the city, you are a cockroach. Cockroaches, those indomitable carriers of disease, are capable of surviving crushing, poisoning, beheading, and doses of radiation that would kill a grown man, and yet still they go on to produce thousands more disease spreading minions. So, unless you’ve had one meander across the cheese atop your slice of Famous Ray’s, or woken up with one parked on your lip, don’t judge. City folk are united in this: cockroaches need to die.

It was with this “take no prisoners” sensibility that we moved into our century old house in the country. That the house would necessarily come with some uninvited guests was a given, and I fervently hoped they would be nothing larger or scarier than, say, ladybugs. But there’s the old, drafty windows, with gaps so wide armies of stink bugs regularly invade to buzz us in our sleep. There’s the unfinished portion of our basement, with its exposed joists and its dark, recessed niches, and from whose shadowy depths come legions of cave crickets that intuitively time their visits to scare the crap out of me as I sleepily drink my morning coffee. We’ve grown accustomed to confused millipedes as they flounder about our living room in search of the cool comfort of the basement floor, and the errant wasps that find their way in through broken screens, only to slap angrily against the window in an effort to get back out. It’s no longer a surprise to find Conga lines of ants availing themselves of microscopic bits of dinners past under the dining room table, marching undaunted over our ankles.

None of this was, in the end, cause for alarm, and we strove to capture and release whenever possible. Much to my surprise, we were learning to live with the permanent guests of our old place, and I felt comfortable enough to throw away the can of Raid we had under the sink, and even to forego carrying a rolled up magazine with me everywhere I went. Nothing was so scary that we could not relocate it with a plastic cup or an oven mitt. And then it happened. The one creature I had been dreading finally manifested, and as luck would have it, it was my daughter Zoe who discovered it. It was on a routine trip downstairs to the washing machine, which, of course, happens to be in the creepy dark portion of our basement. Zoe came up the stairs visibly shaken, and I knew my newly adopted bug detente was about to be tested.

“Yeah, so there’s a really big spider in the basement,” she said, a quaver in her voice. When I had her show me its span, which was approximately the size of a croissant, I knew I’d crossed the rubicon.

“Oh, no, my friend,” I thought, “this will never do.This is where I draw the line.”

I wasted no time consulting with exterminators and getting estimates for everything from a gentle eviction notice to a full on agent orange assault. How many undesirables would you like to eliminate, they asked, how much of a perimeter should we establish? This was the language of war, and my house was the battleground.

That night, I wrestled with my conscience. I tossed and turned, even as stink bugs dive bombed my head. I went to the WC to splash some cold water on my face, stepping gingerly to avoid the occasional cave cricket that lurched and leaped for cover. By the next morning I had decided to call it a truce. There would be no chemical warfare in our home. I felt at peace with the bugs, and trusted they would grant me a little latitude. And so, we soldiered on, agents of peace, donning our oven mitts and arming ourselves with plastic cups for the inevitable relocations. As for our ginormous spider friend, he spends his days resting and feasting comfortably under our washing machine. And my husband Max does all the laundry.