I have written about annoying "critters" in this column before, and I was discussing bugs with someone the other day, and we both agreed that both fleas and roaches will be with us forever, since they seem to be impervious to things that would kill any other creature, including humans.
It’s been discovered that roaches can survive high levels of radiation. I’m sure that both Chernobyl and Fukushima left roaches running around.
I personally have experienced this with fleas. When we first left New York for Texas, we at first moved into an apartment we had bought for Whitley’s mother, who had recently died. She had a bad habit of taking in stray cats, so the place was full of fleas.
We renovated it completely, with new carpets, new paint and new wall paper–AND THE ROACHES LIVED THROUGH ALL THIS. I know this because our Siamese cat Coe, who was a housecat who never went out and thus didn’t know what a flea WAS, suddenly stopped on a stroll across the floor, looked puzzled, then began to frantically biting his flank.
I got him a flea collar and set off some "bombs" in the apartment and finally got rid of the bugs. The worst "flea story" I ever heard was when some friends who lived in a huge mansion took their three daughters on an extended trip to Italy. While they were gone, a momma raccoon crawled into their air conditioning duct and gave birth there. Not only did she bring little baby raccoons to the house, she brought in FLEAS as well.
The family came home, during on the central air conditioning, and blew fleas all over the house. The daughters, who were all getting bitten, were screaming frantically. Bombs wouldn’t do it in this case–they had to call in a professional exterminator.
Roaches are a constant problem in big cities, especially if you live near a restaurant. In New York City, desperate people even started keeping pet snakes around to eat them. When I was a teacher, I once knew a lonely little boy who kept them in jars as pets. He told me he found them mostly inside plug sockets, because they liked the warmth. I remember sitting in a friend’s living room and seeing a HUGE roach calmly stroll across the room. Our friends said, "Oh, a roach," then realized they didn’t sound surprised and upset enough, so they changed that to "OH! A ROACH!" I suspected they saw quite a few of them, since they had a habit of leaving old half-filled coffee cups underneath their chairs.
These were the only people I ever knew whose CAR was infested with roaches, from their habit of leaving old fast food wrappers in it.
Other critters who infest our homes are mice and rats. In New York City, there used to be (and maybe still is) a special squad to call if you spotted a rat in your kitchen. I remember reading an article in the New York Times saying that the rats in the city were really getting big, and I saw this for myself when I was walking down the street one day.
A group of us were all going in the same direction when a rat the size of a small dog crossed in front of us (again, not in any hurry). One of our group broke the cardinal New York rule that says strangers never talk to each other and exclaimed, "My God, did you see that RAT?" When I turned around to look at the rest of the group, I recognized a famous movie star who was one of the members of our informal "crowd."
In the country, you get infestations of bigger critters, like raccoons and possums. Raccoons have "hands" with opposable thumbs (like we have) and I remember going camping once with some friends who put stowed their dinner in a tree in order to keep the coons away. But it didn’t work, when they came back from their hike they found everything gone except for the avocado.
I also remember driving up to our country house in New York with some friends we had invited up for the weekend, when we came upon a tipped-over trash can in the middle of the road. Despite all my precautions, the coons had gotten into the garbage again, and the most embarrassing thing about it was the used tampons and sanitary pads they’d left strewn all over our driveway as a sort of "greeting" for our guests.
In Texas, we had a possum who liked to hang out in our back yard and tip over our birdbath. We’d be sitting in our rocking chairs on the front porch, enjoying the evening, when we’d hear a "CRASH" and know he’d done it again.
Not everyone recognizes possums when they see them, and our cleaning lady is one of these people. One day, she came rushing into our apartment saying, "There is a giant dead RAT outside," and sure enough, when Whitley went out to look, there was a small crowd, including at least one dog, gathered around a possum that was "playing possum." Whitley, being a Texan and thus familiar with them, said to everyone, "It’s not dead, just go away and eventually he’ll get up and leave." They clearly didn’t believe this, but they finally dispersed, after poking the possum with a long stick a few times (while the dogs sniffed it), and sure enough, when we went down later to check, the critter was gone.
I suspect that–whatever eventually happens to humankind–these critters will still be here after we’re long gone.
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