High on the Plains: Felt up by Kafka and the evolving cockroaches of St. Lucia


Chad Christensen, Columnist

I’ve been staring blankly at wall for several hours now. It’s response has been “nothing”—which is pretty much how it’s gone for all of spring. Perhaps even years, really.

This winter, I encountered a box elder bug in my office. He made it inside before the big freeze and refused to die. When I saw him during Christmas crawling across the floor, I didn’t squish him.

He was confident and moving fast as if he had no time to deal with me. I respected that and let him pass. I have several houseplants and I assume that’s where he’s been hiding out—probably in the dracaena bungalow.

That bug’s lived a charmed life. And he’s obviously more intelligent than his colleagues who are currently piled up in my windowsill. Yes, this bug was truly special. If Bear Grylls and Chuck Norris had a dirty love child, it would probably look like this bug.

About a month ago, I caught him on a walkabout up by the picture frames I have scattered on the walls. He was particularly interested in the map of St. Lucia. Perhaps he wished to go there? The winter had been rough on everyone and he knew this. And no doubt he had no intentions of waiting out another one.

He paused for a moment and seemed to turn towards me. His antennas were moving rapidly. Other than my constant battles against flies and the incessive ants clawing their way onto my kitchen counter, I haven’t had very many conversations with insects. So I didn’t say anything.

But I did think about the two cockroaches I battled in St. Lucia. They were the size of a child’s shoe, which for an insect is rather large. It’s when they become too large that you actually hesitate to stomp on them because of the mess they’d make or worst, it wouldn’t kill them. That is when bugs are truly horrifying. When you can make eye contact with them, you know it’s not going to end well.

After I discovered the cockroaches under the bathroom sink, I decided to prepare by drinking several margaritas. It was important to calm the hands, because I was going to spray the living hell out of these demon island bugs. But again, it was going to be difficult.

Although these bugs were large, they were definitely not slow—in fact, freakishly fast. Possibly mutated. And they knew where every hole was in this bathroom. When I turned on the lights, I could hear them hitting the wall. It was a low thud.

The bug spray I found was definitely foreign and it wasn’t sold in the U.S. This was high-grade stuff. They recommended I wear a mask—which I didn’t. I figured what didn’t kill me would just make me loopy and I was OK with that. I was on vacation.

When I sprayed them, I swear I could hear them screaming. Then they started leaping around all crazy-like inside the cupboard. I think they were trying to fly. It was evolution in real-time. Eventually they slowed down. Then finally, they stopped moving all together.

But this box elder bug was very different. Not like those brutes in St. Lucia. I wanted to tell him that—but I didn’t know how.

He wiggled his antennas as though he was going to speak. He then leaped from a picture frame and we struggled. He was strong. And very agile. I knew he was going places. I could tell. He then lit a cigarette and told me I looked like a young Paul Newman.

I didn’t disagree.