Giant Flying Roaches

an intimate portrait

Gary L. Dryfoos

In southern Florida, they're starting to report a new kind of cockroach. It's big -- about the size of your thumb -- and it has wings, and it's attracted to light. It's a pretty scary bug. Besides being larger than any non-mammalian vermin ought to be, those wings mean that it can, and does, hover in front of people's faces, making the occasional flying jump at their ears and mouths. You don't want to close your eyes when you yawn.

That ``attracted-to-light'' stuff, though, that's the worst. I used to live in a roachy apartment in Brooklyn, New York, but no matter how bad the bugs got, I could always count on one thing: they hated the light. At night, before I stepped into my dark kitchen, I'd close my eyes, hit the lights, and count to five, slowly. When I opened my eyes, the kitchen looked okay, and I could get what I wanted. Sure, it was a little creepy, knowing there were these things, in the dark corners, watching me, ready to jump out as soon as the light went off. But that was kind of like being six years old again, and afraid of the lobster-monsters lurking under my bed or in the laundry hamper. I guess that feeling had never really gone away; it was familiar to me. So having stealthy, sneaky cockroaches around didn't bother me much.

These bold new roaches, now, they scare the bejesus out of me. I don't usually say things like ``scare the bejesus out of me,'' but these bugs, like I said, are coming up from Florida, and down there people do say, ``scare the bejesus out of me.'' And when they describe these giant roaches, they say it a lot.

Imagine going into your kitchen at night. It's quiet, and it's dark. You go to the refrigerator. You open it. The little light inside comes on. And ninety-dozen buzzing, thumb-sized cockroaches come flying out of the cool night air, and into your refrigerator to cozy up to that little light. Eeaagghhh! So there you are at two o'clock in the morning, crawling around the back of your fridge (more roaches back there, no doubt) trying to unplug it, so that the next time you open it up, the little light won't come on again. Then you get out your big flashlight (I always imagine that everyone in Florida has one of those big flashlights, the kind that look like car headlights and use those square batteries).

Okay, now you're set. You go over to the kitchen door, set the flashlight down on the floor, aim it towards the refrigerator, and turn it off. Next you go back to the refrigerator, and open it. Then from the kitchen doorway, you turn on the big flashlight, close the kitchen door, and leave. You leave because you probably don't want to watch all of those giant roaches flying out of your refrigerator and onto your big flashlight.

So now you go back to bed. It's kind of a cool night, remember, so you're relaxed, and you're nearly asleep again, when something lands on your cheek and starts walking around. Oh, did I mention that these bugs are also attracted to body heat? Well they are. Which means that on a cool night, anything that you leave outside the covers, like your hands or your face, becomes a popular air-field for the roaches. They don't do much -- they don't bite or anything -- they just like to walk around on your face, or into your mouth or up your nose. They don't mean you any harm, it's just the way they are. They enjoy it. So now you have to hide completely under the covers so that the roaches can't get you. Just like the lobster-monsters, I guess.

But eventually you do get to sleep. And in the morning, you wake up to discover that you left your refrigerator open, and unplugged, so now most of your food is ruined. And your big flashlight has a dead battery, too.

Nobody knows exactly where these big roaches are coming from. Maybe Southeast Asia, or Central America, or Mars, for all I know. But, like I said, they're just now starting to show up in southern Florida. They should be arriving in Boston in two or three years.

NEXT ISSUE : Invisible Mosquitoes with Hepatitis B.