Wednesday, August 17, 2005


like moving insects

Every place we have ever lived has been falling apart. We accept this as a logical consequence of living in Hudson County and we do not complain about it. Entropy doesn’t bother us. Now and then, Hilary will be overcome by a fear that we aren’t living as we ought, but normally she is far too preoccupied with her rescue efforts to bother.

We began in a space station on Boulevard East in Weehawken. The rooms had no doors on them, but the flat did have a central vacuum system that I used to chase after cockroaches. I now recognize this as disgusting and reprehensible behavior. But I was twenty-one years old, terrified of bugs, and burdened with a guilty conscience. The vacuum tubes allowed me the illusion that I was magically transporting the cockroaches to a bug paradise somewhere under the house where they would live in happiness and insect stimulation. More likely they were sucked through the pipes to an incinerator, where they died horribly, without even the dignity of a nice manly squashing.

Over the years I have lost my killer’s temperament. As I child, I entertained myself as children in automobile suburbs do: hunting large ants and mashing them under my shoe. Insignificant to me, but sacramental to the insects, who await their inevitable squashing with a combination of stoicism and scuttling bravado. The blue flyswatter was my symbol of power. When I saw a fly, I would hurry to crush its little face with cold plastic. The tip of my flyswatter could break the speed of sound. Its zip, moan, and splatter as it cut through the air was pleasing, like the buzz of a huge predatory bug.

I still have a blue flyswatter. This one appears to have been designed by a believer in the Eastern religious principle of ahimsa. It is slow and bulky, and it does not frighten any of the bugs. I don’t frighten them, either. Instead of punishing them with death, I lamely encourage them to leave via the terrace door. Sometimes I have an accompanying insipid parting comment, too; “run along”, or “see you later”, which is disingenuous, of course. I have no desire whatsoever to see them later. I am lying to the bugs. I am an insect phony.

Instinctively they know this, which is why they are so contemptuous of me. In their discussions behind the wall, their dark strategy sessions, they refer to me, unkindly, as “no threat”. They draw up pheromones maps of the refrigerator, and study them as they squat on the black mold. What do bugs want? Excitement, stimulation of the antennae, a chance to die gloriously in battle with humans. I give them nothing. I am ashamed to show my face to the bugs.

We shared the house on the Union City border with meaty waterbugs, multi-legged abominations that corresponded to no field guide entry I’d ever seen. They moved fast. When pulverized, they disintegrated into powder, paste, and twisted, fibrous limbs. It was unpleasant to scrape the muck off of the wall and the flat of the mop, but at least it didn’t look like a bug anymore. I had no problem disposing of the residue. The insect lord was kind to design them this way: to unravel like a stocking and lose their distinctive bugginess upon reception of the sacrament. But most bugs are not built that way.

One morning at the Hi-Vue, we woke up with the cicada. It was perched, unmoving, in the lace curtains above the bed. We spent an hour in furious deliberation in the kitchen, peeking when we dared through the glass door to the bedroom. In hushed voices we discussed its health: was it sick? dead? just sleeping? Terrified that the monster would start its infernal singing – right there in our house – we crept up to the doorjam. Hilary stood on the bed, grabbed the bronze crossbar, and draped the top of the curtain over the bottom. The cicada, swaddled in the gauze, did not move. Scared witless, we marched the folded fabric to the deck and slung it over the fence. Ten minutes later, we checked through the window and saw that the cicada was gone. It had been alive. I marveled again at Hilary’s bravery. Then again, she had never seen the horror of half-squashed cicada, oozing white pus, flopping and heaving toward its opponent in grotesque futility, chirping spastically for its lost

I would prefer not to live with insects. The expectations are unbearable. I am aware of their position on the food chain, and recognize that they, like the smelly farm animals, must exist somewhere. But I know my role, and I don't like it. On our television, there is nothing but violence: bloopers and crashes, people slamming loved ones into plate glass windows, sexual assault, funny jokes. There is a fly on the tiled floor of our bathroom, motionless on its back, its tiny legs splayed. I had nothing to do with its passing.

I couldn't help but be amused by this, especially seeing as I was up late last night, debating what was an appropriate way to deal with a moth that was flying aroung my room at 2 AM. Strangely enough, unlike the moths outside my window, this one had no interest in light.

I think it's the best to be nice to all the insects though - they greatly outnumber us...
How do you feel about spiders? I have always been asked to kill the spiders in the house, but I feel like they control the insect population. One night not too long ago Kat made me kill one on the wall and I told her I was going to take it outside. I did try and take it outside, but it fell off the index card before I left the bedroom. I pretended to still open the front door and take it out. We then got into some kind of fight in which I said, "Oh yeah, well I didn't take that spider out after ALL! It fell on the floor and now it's going to GET you in the middle of the night!" It went downhill from there.

Never cry spider...
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