A Special Christmas Killing
See, I spent Christmas at the home of Sherry Weaver, the lovely hippyish Brooklynite who runs Speakeasy Storytelling, which was my first experience with the city’s storytelling scene some five months ago. She has a great house, puts on a lovely spread, and I spent the evening talking to my friends from the storytelling community—including Cyndi, a self-described “bar wench” who told me about the Speakeasy series in the first place, so you can just imagine the closure, and Mike Daisey, who had just told, back on Thursday, at the last Speakeasy, the best story I’ve ever seen performed, and which represents the new high bar in my own attempt to master the art. I met some of Sherry’s friends, too, and spent most of the evening chatting up a lovely woman named Esther, who represents one of the things I like about parties: I find if I ask around enough, I’ll eventually meet someone who has a job that I never even realized existed. Esther, for example, operates a website for a medical charity that helps people in developing countries get glasses and eye care. (This, by the way, is what Sherry’s friends are like: I also talked to a woman who teaches women’s studies at Pace, a poet who actually doesn’t teach anywhere, and a street performer type who regaled us all with Leonard Nimoy’s “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” then revealed he’s writing a book about Will Eisner. Nice people all. The kinds of people first-generation hippies know.)
There was excitement, too—an older gentleman felt dizzy and shaky, and someone called the NYFD, who showed up promptly, flashing ambulance and all, and after taking a few readings, slipped an oxygen mask over the man’s head and spirited him away to what I presume was medical safety. What I mostly remember, however, is going for more Dewar’s White Label and overhearing three different women in three separate conversations, and every one of the women was talking about how sexy it was to have cute firemen at a party. So if you’re in New York, and there are women at your party, and it’s getting a little slow, there’s your ticket: arson.
Anyway, I took the subway home from Brooklyn to Washington Heights in a vast 80-minute L, came home, and went directly to sleep. I wasn’t sleeping very well—in and out; that happens sometimes—so I did what I usually do when that happens: turn the TV on to Turner Classic Movies, with the volume slightly low. Usually that soothes me and I’m able to pitch into slumber.
Then, along about four, I felt something moving against my naked shoulder. With the instincts of a fantasy-novel barbarian, I sprang from the bed just in time to see a dark figure of some sort skitter into the corner between my bed and the wall. An insect, surely—but what kind? A spider? A generic flying bug? (I sleep next to a window that is frequently cracked open just a tad, so things can get in by accident.) I flipped on the light and discovered the answer: it was a New York City cockroach. My first encounter with one since I moved here ten months ago.
I didn’t panic. If anything, I was a little disappointed. After six years in Tallahassee, Florida, where cockroaches are so large they constitute an entire demographic, this New York type was impressive—about the length of a pen cap, including the pointy thing that hooks onto your shirt pocket—but it was no Florida roach. In Florida, cockroaches are not only huge, but they’re sneaky and fast: furtive, scheming, surprisingly tricky, and impossible to catch in the open unless you have some combination of sprays, at least one good phone book, and the patience of a tableside dog. Also, some of them fly. It takes you to a very primal place.
This guy wasn’t even trying. After darting under a pile of papers (I’d just been cleaning, so I had a few piles of papers on the floor), I banged on the pile in hopes of scaring it out. No good...but then I discovered I could actually hear it walking. The dumb sonofabitch was actually lumbering! I could track it by sound! It had moved under my desk and was crawling along at an unhurried lope. And then, as I watched, it actually emerged into view, crawling over a plastic bag with the slow stagger of a smoker on a hike. Like any veteran roach-hunter, I had already picked up the heaviest-but-smallest book I own—Michael Jackson’s Guide to Single Malt Scotch—and when this fellow got off the bag and hit my open floor, I actually loomed over it calmly, taking careful aim, and smashed it instantly, without using up more than two ergs of actual exertion. (Note: you need a small book because after killing roaches a few times you begin to notice that large books often catch on a corner somewhere and leave the roach room to escape the full brunt. So the key is density, not surface area.)
But still, there’s something inherently superstitious about the killing of such a large bug—even one as lazy as this guy—and I have never been able to pick up any roach right away. (If it’s in my house, I’ll leave it till the morning so the sunlight can burn away the roach-cooties). And it’s also very very hard to go back to bed an hour after you’ve been crawled on in your sleep, even though it’s the perfectly logical thing to do. (After all, my brain has been telling me, since you’ve only seen one roach in ten months, the odds against your facing two tonight must be quite minuscule!)
This is also why I’m convinced my real problem is that I just didn’t drink enough. If I’d been thoroughly blitzed, I might not even have noticed the roach in the first place. When I was in New Orleans, after a terrific night with my new friend Madisun, being in a similar state of mind at a youth hostel didn’t protect me from seeing a roach, but it did allow me to get back to sleep after it wandered far enough away. (Thanks to Madisun for sharing the flights of vodka!)
Anyway, I’m up and it looks like it’s time now for me to get to work. Thanks for listening. Special thanks goes to my friend Susie, who inspired me to tidy my room, which resulted in my place having more open floor than usual and make killing the bastard that much simpler. Thank heaven for all my life’s good influences! It’s a Festivus miracle.