Monday, October 27, 2008

How I learned to stop worrying and love the Bomb

Operation Castle, ROMEO Event - The 11-megaton ROMEO Event was part of Operation Castle. It was detonated from a barge near Bikini atoll on 26 March 1954. This photograph taken by a National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office is a work of a United States Department of Energy (or predecessor organization) employee, taken or made during the course of an employee's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.
Dear Gentle Reader,

Their forefathers on their family tree can be traced, through the rocks, back 354 million years.

They have been with mankind for all our short time on this planet.

They have co-existed with us and some claim they will outlive us.

Ancient Romans have at least this much in common with us... ...Ancient Romans would stamp them out in their kitchens, in their living rooms, and when they tried to climb their reclining couches.

(You have to really stamp hard to kill these beasties.)

Blatt. Blatt. BLATT!

The stomping would continue, and it is from that onomatopoeic word, "blatt", that your humble scribe, whose literary origins predate the Romans by a few thousand years, supposes that the name of these beasties flows.

They were called blatta in Latin from which that great organizing Swede Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) gave them the Order Blattodea, the Family Blattidae, and the Genus Blatta.

Blatt. Blatt. BLATT!

I call them a nuisance.


Others call them cockroaches.

Scientific image of Oriental Cockroach from an old drawing produced by Project Gutenberg eText and disseminated by Wikipedia commonsThese puppies can be 3 cm long, which is longer than an inch, and the males can fly up to 2 meters (6 feet); you should have seen how surprised our first cat, in Taiwan, was when the cockroach he was playing with flew away. Chips literally fell backwards onto his bum in astonishment.

In Taiwan, when I moved to what became my last apartment there, I was delighted to have no cockroaches in my dream apartment.

The apartment was the top two stories of the building plus the roof top, front and back, with an internal, spiral cast-iron staircase. The front patio looked onto the river.

On moving day I was at the apartment to sign the lease so that I could take possession and move my belongings into the apartment.

I called a Belgian friend of mine who was helping co-ordinate the moving trucks. As a throw-away aside, he asked me what I had done to kill the cockroaches and to bring the population under control before I moved in.

"There are no cockroaches!" I said "It's a perfect apartment!"

My friend laughed.

He laughed a full belly laugh.

Then he laughed the short, sharp laugh of he who knows better.

"You have cockroaches." he told me authoritatively, "Everyone does."

"Go into the guest bathroom on the main floor" he said "and turn the lights out. Sit still for two minutes and then call me back."

"Try it in the kitchen, too." he added as a helpful afterthought.

I didn't last 30 seconds. I could hear them everywhere. When I put the light on, I saw them scurrying into the cracks. Yeucch. It was worse in the kitchen. When I looked under the sink and looked up, I could see a swarming mass.

This was not good.

This was bad.

This was not the way it was supposed to be.

I phoned my friend up to confess his superiority and to ask for advice.

With the tone of one who knows best he told me to go round the corner and find a little general sell-all store and to get a can of Bayer cockroach killer spray. I think it was called Baygon. "Maybe get a couple" he told me "because you have a pretty big place".

I followed his advice. I found a store, they had six cans, and I bought them all because I had a really big place.

I started spraying under the sink and cockroaches started forming a ball in the air. It was like they were coalescing into existence from the void; I have no idea where these cockroaches were coming from.

This was a horror film moment. It was like Beelzebub had been unleashed, which makes sense as that demon, called the Lord of Flies, is more accurately translated as Lord of Things that Fly.

I went up to the roof and collected 18 bricks from a stack on the patio.

I brought the bricks downstairs, setting two upright, alongside each other, in six rooms and I then put a can of anti-roach spray between the two upright bricks in each room.

Breaking the head off of each can of Baygon, I would stand it between the two upright bricks. Laying the third brick across the standing bricks, depressing the can of Baygon's release valve, I had made a bomb.

I had made my own roach bomb and, with the mist burning my eyes and throat, I would move to the next room to repeat the process.

Six bombs later I exited the apartment, jumped on my motorcycle, and went to the other side of town to meet up with my friend and the movers.

After everything was packed we all took off for my new apartment. I sped ahead by motor bike to open the windows and to air out the apartment for a half hour before everyone else arrived.

I also stopped to pick up a broom, a dustpan, and some plastic bags at the general sell-all store around the corner from my house to clean up the ball of cockroaches that had been forming in the kitchen when I left.

My first inkling that there might be trouble came from the fact that all the neighbours seemed to be out of their homes on the street.

There also seemed to be a shimmering in the air, five stories below my apartment, where the stairwell opened onto the street.

As I walked towards the open apartment door three things made themselves clear to me.

First, my new neighbours were angry; they started yelling at me as they recognized that I was the new tenant.

Second, the air tasted metallic and green. No, I have no idea why it tasted green, but that is what I recall.

Third, I realized that my ad hoc roach bomb was pretty powerful. There was a trail of dead cockroaches down the stairs.

As I stood there, taking in the devastation, a cockroach on the street passed by the open door leading to the apartment's stairwell...

...The cockroach on the street skittered quickly, at normal cockroach speed, stopped, wobbled, and fell over, feet up, and still.

Image of a dead cockroach lying on his back

This might not be so good.

I moved to the side of the shimmering, metallic air, took a quick breath, and ran up four flights of stairs, to my new apartment.

I went all the way to the top floor where the patio and my second level was, unlocked and propped open the door to my apartment, opened all the windows on the top floor of my apartment, and returned outside to the patio for more fresh air.

Venturing inside again I went to the first level, hit the lights, and stared.

The floor was littered with corpses.

I had wrought cockroach genocide. I could feel my eyes burning. Shame? No, just that metallic, green tasting air.

Opening the windows, I was grateful that there was a stiff breeze. The shimmering air started to disperse.

The air still tasted metallic, but not green as I swept up the detritus of the infestation from the stairwell and the apartment. I counted this as an improvement as I filled bags with dead cockroaches and shuddered as I scooped their bodies into the bags.

I thought about the opinion held by some that cockroaches could survive the aftermath of a nuclear blast; well, they obviously couldn't survive my roach bomb.

About half an hour later I was finished, short of breath, and I waited on the roof. I was a bit too self-conscious to wait downstairs where all the neighbours were still congregated, looking up at me, and talking.

I thought that the worst was over.

Then the movers showed up.

By now, I had visited numerous factories throughout Asia for work, including a couple dozen in Taiwan. I knew the conditions that workers work in. I fancy that I was one of the pioneers of social audits which I conducted on behalf of some of my clients.

When the movers exited their trucks they talked to the neighbours. The movers smelled the metallic green air and decided that they were not moving things into my apartment. They considered my apartment toxic and dangerous.

At this pronouncement I knew there was trouble because Taiwanese workers routinely worked in what I considered very toxic surroundings.

After 45 minutes of arguing, the movers agreed to move my goods upstairs, onto the back patio, under the back roof.

But these workers refused to set foot inside the apartment.

They tried to avoid breathing in the stairwell.

My Belgian friend thought I shouldn't have used six cans ("SIX cans? Are you crazy? I don't even know if that stuff is legal anywhere else but here! Leave your stuff outside overnight. It will be covered from the rain and the fumes will keep the cockroaches away!" said my friend, and he was right).

That night I slept in a hotel instead of my apartment. I woke bleeding and stayed away from my apartment for two more days.

When I returned there were no live cockroaches in my apartment, although there were a few new dead ones on the patio... Great.

I decided to chemically wash the apparently strong toxins out of my apartment. Remembering organic chemistry courses and laboratory classes from undergraduate studies, I washed my apartment with water, then with bleach, with water again, and then with a weak acid. For my weak acid I used crates of Japanese rice vinegar that were deeply discounted at a grocery.

(The owners of the nearby grocery must have thought a crazy western sushi maker (Japanese rice vinegar makes the rice sticky to make sushi) with obsessive compulsive cleaning tendencies (the bleach) had moved into their neighborhood.)

I would throw buckets of the various cleaning solutions onto the walls and then swab with a mop. Backing up to throw water onto one wall in the main hallway, I recoiled violently.

I had gone through the opposing wall that I had wet down previously. I did not go far through the wet wall, but I had heard a sound I knew well--cockroach carapace crunching.

Whirling around, I was appalled.

A tiny sub wall had been built about one cm, or a third of an inch, deep on some of the walls on the house to hang the most recent wallpaper upon.

Cockroaches had filled the gap. They must have been living, eating the glue on the wallpaper backing, dying, eating each other, and building up for years.

Image of a dead cockroachFortunately, my chemical cocktail had killed them all, too.

In the end, I cleaned everything up, had new wallpaper put up, including on the ceiling, and I had a fantastic apartment.

No cockroach entered that apartment for 14 months. By then your humble scribe and your Heroine, who had also moved in, were owned by their first joint cat, Chips, who took it upon himself to eradicate all cockroaches unwise enough to enter.

And we never had to worry about cockroaches again.

Thank goodness there are no cockroaches here in Hong Kong; your hero Pommes is untested still when it comes to cockroaches and I do not want to make another bomb, although I learned to love the bomb in Taiwan.

Chris, Regina, and Pommes who is lying on my forearms looking at me in wonder


Anonymous said...

tuppiUhm.. For the first time, I actually read your entire post, and now I kind of wish I didn't.. there are some thing I just don't want to know about ;)

There are no cockroaches in my apartment!!

jjdebenedictis said...

Best. Cockroach. Story. Evah.

I've repeated this story to other people; it's just that good.

Probably wasn't good for your liver, however.

Sepiru Chris said...

Thanks Bea,
I am glad that you read a full post. :) I am also very glad that you have no cockroaches in your apartment. Think of how many socks you have to be knitting to keep them happy... knit, pearl, knit, shudder...

Cockroaches give me the willies too. I would much rather have not known about them. But, as they say, better the devil you know, than Beelzebub...

And OxyJen, thank you very much for your comment too! Get that literary agent of yours on the phone after YOUR book deal is consummated! Forward the link on! :)

Sepiru Chris (whose literary history, as per posting one, dates back to Babylon)

Tifighter said...

Sheesh, what a story! The other day, I was thinking how I was missing Asia a bit. Thanks for curing me of that thought...

Chiemikku said...

Ignorance was bliss... Chris, you have revived my sealed memories from the Latin American tropical forests. Those roaches are evil - they aim between your eyes...

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Tifighter,

More than welcome. But they were interesting and vivid memories, no?

Dear Chiemiku,

You know that I am going to want to know all about these South American memories when you come to visit next...


rebecca said...

This has got to be the very worst cockroach story I have ever heard. It's a miracle you didn't poison yourself. It just seems unbelievable that anyone could live like that with so many roaches. Ah, but I have been sheltered, indeed.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Rebecca,

Those were my thoughts when the cloud of evil started to coalesce on moving day--after the screaming stopped...

I have no idea how anyone could live with them. Not hygienically, that is for sure.

I try not to think of how much I poisoned myself, that day.

But, it was a fantastic apartment once the little blatters were gone...


missalister said...

Oh for crying out blissfully loud! I went to your site and followed through and around and down and down, flushed down I was, and wound up not in the sewer, but worse maybe, in cockroach hell! This is so well told, so delightfully humorous, that I devoured all of it—Beelzebub, SIX cans-worth of shimmering nuclear aftermath, angry neighbors, the abominable cockroach sub wall—and survived like a cockroach survives. And I know a bit about cockroaches from having spent time in Florida here in the States: they do fly straight at one and they do aim between the eyes as Chiemikku says! Pure evil!
Pure enjoyment, humble scribe!