A childhood bugaboo that still makes me jump

September 09, 2001|By Phil Perrier

LOS ANGELES - I have a thing about roaches. Always have. Find them to be incredibly nasty. In a spooky, primordial sort of way. Nothing makes me jump faster than seeing a roach coming my way. You would think I'd be more comfortable around them. We grew up together.

My family always had roaches in our homes. Not only did I abhor the roaches themselves but also the socioeconomic baggage that comes with them. The simple equation: Roaches equal poverty.

None of my rich friends had roaches. Once, while sleeping over at the home of a well-off friend, a roach scurried across the kitchen floor. My friend's mother screamed, then grabbed the phone and called an exterminator. I looked on in stunned silence.

Had my mother seen a roach stroll across our kitchen floor, she probably would have known him by name. And my father would have owed him money.

Roaches get into everything: cereal, rice, dried pasta. I once saw a roach walking around on the inside of my alarm clock. I have no idea how he got in there.

My worst nightmare as a kid was having a roach crawl in my ear and burrow into my brain. An unlikely scenario, but I had read some Poe, and we had a lot of roaches.

During the summer, big roaches came in from the trees outside. In the South, such roaches are called Palmetto bugs. A more horrific creature is hard to imagine. Sleek, black, with helmets like Darth Vader. And they can fly.

Once, at school, one of these behemoths crawled out of my sneaker and ran around the classroom in a frenzy. Apparently, being trapped in a sneaker with a giant, sweaty foot for several hours is unsettling to a cockroach. I hoped none of my classmates saw where they roach came from.

One summer, we had a crack in our bedroom window. My brother and I heard something rustling in the window blinds late at night. Just as I turned on the light a roach roughly the size of the Hulk took flight and came right at me.

I screamed like a little girl and ran to my parents' bedroom. My father, dressed only in boxer shorts, came to the rescue. He charged into our bedroom, grabbed a racquetball racket and flailed the roach senseless.

As my father pounded the dazed insect, another huge roach took flight from the window, then another. Dad gamely stood his ground and smote all three bugs with the racket.

He was brave that night. Sure, he'd had a few beers earlier, but let's not cheapen the accomplishment. When the slaughter subsided, dad wisely plugged the hole in the window with newspaper. We had won this round, but roaches never quit.

Phil Perrier is a stand-up comic and a free-lance writer who lives in Los Angeles.

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