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The Germans Are Coming! (German Cockroaches, That Is)

August 3rd, 2011  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized

I’ve heard it many times, particularly among our friends who have come from California to live in the Northeast: ah, the seasons. After a lifetime in a place where snow doesn’t fall and the leaves don’t change, seasons can be a lyric little reminder that the year is  a cycle, yadda yadda.

In our little corner of the northeast, we have more than one cycle of seasons. We get the usual snow then rain then heat then ochre then snow again like everyone else, but in our building, there’s a parallel set of seasons, what I’ll call the vermin cycle. It roughly corresponds with the seasons outside. In the winter, it’s ants driven inside, looking for whatever food the kids drop from the table or, charmingly, throw behind the couch. In the spring, we are besieged by large, lazy flies. These are particularly pitiful because they dawdle their days away as inside flies, refusing the open door, choosing death over freedom, even though we all know the streets of Upper West Side, with its endless piles of dogshit, should be a fly paradise. The Fall is a somewhat quiet time, with just a few vile-looking centipedes trying to break into our sanctuary.

But summer, sweet summer. That is the time of the German Cockroach.

I should say here that we keep a basically clean house. Too many Legos and crazed kiddie drawings strewn about perhaps, but our apartment is not infested in any way. It hasn’t been since the first week we moved in a few years back and I waged a pitiless and victorious battle against a family of (actually quite cute) mice whose deaths I will have to answer for in the afterlife.

But if our apartment is clean, I cannot say the same for our building, or, indeed, our city. Part of living in New York means that your home is not just your home. We all live in a heap, and are accordingly impacted by and having an impact upon our neighbors on all sides and our landlord and their landlords and so on. Our landlord in particular, who is one of those peculiar half-negligent Upper West Side building owners, is ultimately the foster parent of all these cockroaches. He owns, by my estimation, somewhere from $50-$100 million dollars of real estate in this neighborhood, but seems a bit short of the resources it might take to keep that real estate vermin-free. He cares enough to have the basement baited with poison, but not enough to actually hire the manpower to clear out the dark cluttered parts of the basement or put adequate lighting in. The result: cockroaches multiply wantonly, with total disregard for family planning, grow fat in the dark crevices outside our door (which adjoins the basement). They then venture forth are  quickly poisoned, and in their delirium they make their way into our apartment, where they wait, dead and dramatic, for us to wake up and see them in the early morning.

This is what it is. I have tried working the landlord, but that’s a bit like asking the C Train to stop shrieking each time it pulls into the station. Some things in New York suck and they will keep on sucking. But I am a little anxious about how all this roachiness is playing out with the kids. Cockroaches are the life form they are now most familiar with, at least numerically speaking. And this morning, when my 3yo son was off on a tear of story-telling, with cockroaches as the protagonists. “That cockroach needs money,” he says. Why? “So he can buy fruit.” OK. “And a gun.”

But no mistake: cockroaches are vile little bastards. As New York City’s excellent roach website explains, when they want to party, their shit acts like aftershave: the scent that attracts other roaches to come out and play:

Cockroaches secrete a pheromone (an attractant chemical) in their feces, which attracts other cockroaches… Egg cases (Oothecae) of some species of cockroaches can be found cemented to and/or dropped inside kitchen cabinets, behind refrigerators, and under or behind stoves.

And if that’s not putrid enough, here’s a warning for kids from the aptly-named nomorecockroaches.com:

Health experts say inhalation of cockroach feces and body fragments, particularly among inner-city children, has resulted in an explosion of asthma cases in the past two decades. It is believed that the cockroach may be a carrier for a range of bacteria, including salmonella, staphylococcus and streptococcus.

I’m not sure where this is going. I guess if I was a man I would get up in the landlord’s face about this and demand some action. But I have so many other things to lean on him about. And the roaches aren’t going away. This is New York. It’s the price we pay.

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