I am a former Northerner. For you inveterate South Texans: that means that I come from place where the ground is the temperature of your standard ice cube for at least four months out of the year, but much more difficult to make a margarita with. Cold is bad in many ways, it makes your bones ache and turns your nose into a snot spigot. Sledding and hot chocolate seem great until you actually have to spend a day trudging miles through snow drifts, only to be confronted with the fact that your younger brother got WAY MORE marshmallows than you did. Several years ago, my parents and I decided Norman Rockwellesque, ruby cheeked winters (which involved less happy children and more power outages, black ice, and yucky slush) could metaphorically suck it in favor of warm weather, plentiful tequilas and (in my parents’ case) adorable grandchildren. We soon found, however, that winter even with all of its disadvantages is a clear winner over warmer climes in one way: freezing temperatures make our insect friends go bye bye. In the South there are cockroaches the size of wiener dogs – unheard of in our Northern home. Sure, GROSS people would get German cockroach infestations at times, and those buggers were disgusting and difficult to get rid of, but Southern cockroaches are gigantic armored battleships compared to the delicate flowers of the North.
This week marks my discovery of just how bad the bug problem could get. I knew that one must have an exterminator in South Texas, and directly after I moved into my house, I employed a nationally recognized pest control company who I do not recommend: (Hint, their name rhymes with Sperminex). I had to divest myself of their services after they violated our contract several times, appearing in my backyard sans appointment. This would be okay, probably, if you weren’t the kind of person who often explores the perimeters of your property in your underpants, dancing to unfortunate pop music. I am, occasionally abashedly, just that type. In any case, after an especially heated argument about pervs and appointments with a very adamant woman at “Sperminex” named Laquisha, my contract for service was officially voided.
I am, sometimes also abashedly, a creative type. I dance to the beat of my own drummer, but when it comes to things like oil changes, tire rotations, appliance maintenance, insurance and other boring things (including fiduciary responsibility) I tend to dance right off the edge of the world and resurface only after someone who I label more competent to deal with it (often my very stupid dog, Stadler) makes the problem disappear. This is not a terrific, or even adequate way to live one’s life, but please remember, you’re reading the writing of a woman who manages to hit herself in the face with a vacuum cleaner on at least a weekly basis. My parents (known as the Rev ((Reverend Mother/Mom)) and the Great Provider (G.P./Dad) are the constant mopper-uppers in my little dancing universe, and are less than thrilled with the position. I keep telling them that they really should’ve considered condoms, and that these whole designated-for-life deals are the equivalent of buying a time share in sunny Abu Grabe. “We are not amused,” says the Rev, “and at your age…” she generally continues. Suffice it to say, I am uniquely unmotivated and underqualified in terms of dealing with your standard disaster.
Cut to two days after my Battle Royale with Laquisha from Sperminex. Both of my parents were out of town – the Rev at a spiritual retreat at a ranch somewhere and the G.P. at a folk music festival/probable wine tasting. Neither of them had cell reception, and had to drive to retreat/festival adjacent hills to call to check in. Neither of them wanted to check in. I was in charge of their house and the finicky cat who would mourn the death of my father any time he left the house for more than 20 minutes with the passionate yowls of 200 emo kids at a Good Charlotte concert. For some reason my parents have a great deal of optimism regarding my ability to deal with things when they’re away. I really think they’re just secretly hoping that I’ll accidentally burn everything down so that they can move to Hawaii. Me housesitting is like the real life equivalent of handing Chunk (from Goonies) the picture.
It was looking like a quiet weekend for Stadler and me. We pretty much had the run of our entire universe. Until the invasion…
We were returning from a run, sweaty and happy, and as my pup moved to get a drink of water, I saw them: strange, white, maggoty looking, alien worm things CRAWLING OUT OF MY WALL! There were approximately a millionty-billion of the horrible bastards, sliming their gross trails across the ivory tiles of my kitchen floor, almost indistinguishable from the background except that they were MOVING AND GROSS. I immediately started sweeping them up into a dustpan, sealing them in freezer bags, and squishing them with my cast iron skillet – running each bag outside to the dumpster when it seemed that nothing could possibly be moving. I called the Rev. No answer except a cheery message that said that the subscriber refused to set up their voicemail. I called the G.P. It didn’t even ring. I sent the Rev multiple text messages while crying and murdering horrible droves of worm things with the skillet. Nothing. Finally, I called my friend Lena-Yes-You-Probably-Know-Her crying. She insisted that I send photos so that she could identify the insects to better advise me on how to murder them. Please know that I was then so desperate that I gratefully requested advice from a woman who once (due to alcohol and too much WebMD) diagnosed herself with the Hanta Virus and spent two hours crouched in a bathroom convinced that she was going to die a horrible diarrhea death. She subsequently recognized the critters as: “either some kind of South American meal worm, weird maggot thingys, or those things they put in the guys’ ears at the beginning of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” None of these were helpful classifications, but during her search, I managed to lay down salt traps to make the creepy crawlies very uncomfortable, and concocted a bug murdering spray out of common household products, like salt, baking soda, vinegar, bleach, ammonia, drain-o and honey for stickiness. It was really, really smelly and evidently pretty toxic, as it shriveled the worms upon contact. Stadler vacated the house and hid under the hammock in the back yard. There were, however, vast and seemingly insurmountable armies of insects. I was at it all night: spray, crunch, spray, crunch – bag to trash, crying the whole time and choking on what I later learned was pretty much entirely mustard gas. I also sent the Rev increasingly worrying texts that advanced several conspiracy theories involving Laquisha and Sperminex, threats that I was going to report this whole problem to NASA or Homeland Security (really whoever had a local office), and just the tearful snifflings about how no one loved Stadler or ME and general ramblings about setting crows loose in the house to “take care of this problem once and for all.” Around 3 a.m., I finally caught, murdered and disposed of the last little bastard, but I couldn’t go to bed because I was convinced that if I fell asleep, the last survivor would Wrath of Khan out of sheer revenge for my genocidal behavior. Instead, I sat on the floor, waiting…ready for whatever came out of the wall next.
At 6 a.m. the phone rang. It was a fairly concerned Rev who gave me the cell phone number of Jeff the Bug Guy and told me to call him immediately. Jeff was not entirely thrilled to get a call at 6:07 a.m., but agreed to come to my house in a few hours and take care of the problem. I paced the floors, a caged tigeress, until 9:38 a.m. when he arrived. Jeff was a comforting sight, with a large can of some professional grade bug eradicator strapped on his hip. I retired to the sofa, peering over the arm as he searched my kitchen for the horrible mindless beasts I had awoken him to rescue me from. There weren’t any. After lying down on the floor and peering at my baseboard, Jeff asked me to come over and show him these “bugs.” There were NONE. Not one little bug corpse remained. Jeff became skeptical, and said something like, “Sometimes we all have a rough night, honey, but there aren’t any bugs, see?” That’s when I went out and crawled into the dumpster to retrieve a zip loc baggy full of bug squish to show him. He believed me, then, but couldn’t tell me what they were because of the fact that the resembled smears at that point more that bugs. “This could be a case of overkill,” said the man with a tank of Malathion on his hip. But then he was nice to me, sprayed the whole house, showed me his little pistol (it was a gun he kept for self defense), and gave me a very interesting lecture on ballistics. After that, I went to sleep, draperies drifting in the breeze of the entirely open windows. The smell lingers, and sometimes when it rains, you can still detect the hesitant odor of recalcitrant mustard gas.
Yesterday, my parents and I were enjoying a beer at our local watering hole, and the Rev noted that she would again be going on her annual spiritual retreat. I said, “OH NO! THAT MEANS IT’S BEEN A YEAR SINCE THE INVASION OF THE HORRIBLE BUG THINGS!” “Abigail,” she replied, “you killed them so thoroughly that they couldn’t have matured enough to reproduce. They can’t possibly come back.” “NOT IF THEY’RE ZOMBIE BUGS FROM SPACE, MOTHER,” I screeched (becomingly), “YOU KNOW NOTHING OF THEIR HELLISH REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEMS.” Some people are just so unscientific. She’s leaving Friday.