Roach problem? Just call the expert.
Ah, Jerusalem — golden light reflecting off the stones, the cry of the muezzin from the mosques, the bustling markets and squares, the cockroaches.
“Oh, everyone in Jerusalem has them,” soothed a local friend.
But if you think about it, that’s not very comforting. It’s also not true. The two families we know best in Jerusalem don’t
have them. And that’s why we never dreamed, when we moved there, that the holy city would be cockroach-infested.
I’m willing to admit that I’m hysterical about cockroaches. But I have good reasons: I’ve lived in New York.
In fact, I once had a kitchen so plagued with roaches that whenever I closed a cupboard door, severed cockroach legs would drift lightly down from the hinges. (Is that the sort of disgusting detail that should be left out of family reading?)
But cockroaches in Jerusalem, the gate of heaven? At first I blamed the previous tenants, two artists with a propensity for the sort of messiness that suggests visual impairment. For example, they had kindly left us some food in the refrigerator — a contain of humous, three apples, half a bar of butter.
The butter had two baby cockroaches embedded in it, their little round middles flattened into a composition in yellow and brown. (Was that another disgusting detail?)
A friend came from Safed to visit. “Great
apartment,” she enthused.
“Cockroaches,” I warned.
She waved a reassuring hand. “Oh, everybody has cockroaches.
We have them, too. Just a few. You just have to spray thoroughly in the summer.”
But we didn’t have “just a few.” We had flocks and herds of them. And it only takes a few cockroaches to change your life. They transform your outward perceptions and your inner sensibility. Once you have cockroaches, every speck on the wall, every quick shadow seen from the corner of the eye becomes a roach. The peace and comfort of your home is destroyed. Is that a caraway seed or a — ?
Besides, I had
sprayed. First I had powdered, and that killed quite a few. Which seemed an improvement only for a moment, since instead of having many live cockroaches, now I had a lot of dead ones, while there were still untold multitudes and hosts of them left alive.
I meditated upon this Miracle of the Roaches, and then I sprayed, fully aware that anything that kills the hardy cockroach must also be peeling precious minutes off my own life expectancy.
I moved the refrigerator and sprayed underneath.
Families of roaches came hustling out. I gunned them down and they dropped, clutching their nervous systems. I found a nest of them in the joints of the kitchen table. Nuked ’em where they lived and fled to avoid the dewy fallout.
The kitchen was quiet. But, as I well know, you only fool yourself if you think the ethnic cleansing of your kitchen means they’re gone for good. Half a day later, they began appearing in the bathroom. By evening, a few had reached the dining room.
Returning to the scene of the crime three minutes after I’d tromped a juicy big one on the bathroom tiles, I found a formation of ants carting away its vital fluids — a new front in the war against insects. “Oh, everyone has ants,” assured yet another friend. “They just appear suddenly, you don’t know why.’ (This time I knew why.)
Luckily, I remembered that I know a true expert on cockroaches. Dr. Jeff Kimche, a professor of biology at the Hebrew University, has devoted many years to studying the brain and behavior of Ol’ Loathesome.
Since a significant portion of Jeff’s grant money
has paid for breeding cockroaches in 40-gallon drums in his laboratory basement, I used to wonder about him. But he won me over with the assurance that he too gets the creeps when he finds one crawling up his pants leg.
The roaches he coaches are not some exotic species brought back alive from the Amazon basin but hardy Israeli sewer roaches -- sabra
roaches — just the kind everyone
has in their kitchen. I felt calmer, knowing I had found the right address at last, a true authority.
So, Professor, how do I solve my cockroach problem?
“Insert an electrode into a particular neuron in the
roach’s brain and it dies immediately,” Jeff said thoughtfully. Experts like, I know, to tweak and twitch the uninitiated.
“But seriously,” I urged.
Jeff next came up with a much more elegant solution suggested by his research. Coat the cercal receptacle, located near the cockroach’s anus, with wax, thereby crippling the roach’s extraordinary ability to sense air-pattern changes caused by an attack — “and then step on him before he gets away.”
Yes, science is wonderful, and I’m sure we’ll learn something important about the human nervous system from studying the cockroach’s. My personal reflex, however, was to invest in applied science. I hired an exterminator.
The exterminator trampled the neighbor’s flower garden on his way to me, demonstrating his thoroughness, and then herded my family out of home-sweet-home for half a day, lest we perish like parasites.
And indeed, a week after he spread his heavy poison in every corner of the house, we haven’t seen a single roach.
Only now I hear my neighbors spraying their own kitchens, where they have been invaded through the walls by the cockroaches I once called mine. The war, I think, is not yet over.
Still, I’m glad I moved to Jerusalem. In Tel Aviv, they have flying
cockroaches. In Tel Aviv, I hear, there’s no escape.