Tag Archives: bugs

My spirit animal is a daddy long legs

Whenever I see a cockroach in the house, my body automatically goes for the kill. Even if I’m outside, but it’s close enough to my house where I suspect that, given enough time, it’s possible that the little guy might somehow randomly make its way into my domain, that’s enough of a potential threat to warrant extermination. And it’s more than just fear, it’s a physical sensation. I see a cockroach and the insides of my body feel like they’ve all contracted inward, trying to find their own hiding spots to get away from the gross little bug. My skin crawls, my breathing accelerates, I don’t know what’s going on, but just looking at a cockroach has a very real effect on my body and mind.

But today I was looking for something in the basement. I moved a stock of plastic containers and, always on the lookout for a potentially hidden roach infestation, a daddy long legs crawled out from behind a corner. And my heart kind of melted a little. I thought, aw, look at that, a daddy long legs. And I just kind of watched as it went from one side of the room to the other, finding a different pile of junk to hide behind and make his home.

His. Look at that. I was already anthropomorphizing the little guy. If he hadn’t disappeared against that far wall where I keep my skis propped up for the majority of the year, there’s a very real chance that I might have tried to lure him upstairs with me, maybe I’d even give him a name and figure out some way to prevent him from pulling another inevitable vanishing act.

The daddy long legs had probably been living downstairs in my basement comfortably for generations. He probably has a whole family that he’s a part of, a mommy long legs, at least a dozen baby long legs. So why doesn’t it bother me the same way that a cockroach does?

Because daddy long legs should be scarier. I mean, they have giant spider legs. Yeah, even though I know that they’re not technically spiders. And isn’t there that urban legend that a daddy long legs has enough poisonous venom to kill an elephant, but they don’t have the fangs necessary to get that toxin into other animals? I’ve never bothered to look it up, but that story enough is at least somewhat convincing that, even if it’s not true, it should still make me want to at a minimum, keep my distance.

But there’s nothing, no killer instinct, I’m a daddy long legs pacifist. I see a daddy long legs and I can’t even imagine how I’d go about killing one if I were forced to. It doesn’t make any sense in my head. But give me a giant cockroach, like a mouse-sized, giant bug, and I don’t care how messy the clean up is, I’d stomp it out with my bare feet if necessary.

What’s wrong with me as a human being that I assign such very different values to insects? That’s got to be some weird sort of evolutionary hiccup. Cockroaches must have done something to my ancestors back when nobody had yet evolved past anything more complex than a lemur. But now that we’re the dominant species, I’ll be damned if I let those cockroaches think that we’ll ever forget whatever it was that causes us to continually lash out at them as an organism.

As long as I don’t have to deal with earwigs, I’ll be OK. Thankfully I’ve never seen an earwig where I live now, but when I was a little kid, we’d go camping upstate every summer. And by the end of each week, the tiny little holes where the wires slipped through the nylon to prop up our tents would be filled, I’m talking jam-packed with hundreds upon hundreds of earwigs.

They’re just like little cockroaches, only smaller, and they always travel in groups, like ants, like the sand-people of Tattooine. And they’ve got these little chompers toward the front of their bodies that, well, I’ve never let them get close enough to find out if they can bite, but I imagine they can. And in my imagination, it really hurts. Fuck earwigs.

And fuck cicadas. But I’ve already written about the seasonal terror that is cicada season in the Northeast. No need to revisit that horror. Daddy long legs, I don’t know what you did to escape my paralyzing fear of the rest of the insect kingdom, but whatever it is, keep up the great work. It’s actually a pleasure running into you every now and then. If all pests and vermin were as pleasing to the mind as you were, I’d be in great shape, just terrific.

I’m sorry it has to be this way, Mr. Cockroach

I walked into the kitchen and I saw a cockroach. It was a big one, which, despite that gut-wrench reaction that made me want to immediately pack up and move, was kind of a relief. I read something in a short story years ago about how if you see a really big bug, it’s probably just a loner lost inside your house, an event more than a trend. It’s when you start seeing little cockroaches on a regular basis, that’s when you know you have a problem, an infestation.


And like I said, that was in a short story, a work of fiction. I write fiction and I make up stuff all the time, little convincing sounding facts, just whatever pops into my head really. And so I don’t know why this provided me any comfort. I’ve never looked it up to confirm or deny its validity. But for whatever reason, whenever I see a big cockroach, I cling to this potentially made-up snippet of fact, that it’s not a big deal, that its presence in my house is an accident.

It doesn’t happen all the time, but they show up with enough regularity that I can never just enter a room without bracing myself for a potential intruder. I’m being mostly paranoid. It’s really no more than one bug every three months or so. But that’s enough. The basement is even worse. Aside from the bugs, one time about a year and a half ago we had a squirrel trapped downstairs. I’d open the basement door and just catch a glimpse of its tail before it disappeared between this hole where the pipes from the washing machine made contact with the wall.

So even though it’s not a super regular occurrence, I’ve still been surprised enough times that I’ll turn on the lights and my body is constantly ready for a possible attack. Because you have to attack, as soon as you see the cockroach, your only option is an immediate kill. If you let even half a second slip by where you hesitate, where you consider a course of action, you’re screwed. It’s going to disappear, you’ll never see it again, but you’ll never forget about it either. It’ll be everywhere and nowhere at the same time, constantly projecting its image in your peripheral vision in the form of phantom blurs and mistaken appartitions. And who’s to say that the shadow you can’t be sure you really saw wasn’t the cockroach? I mean, it’s got to exist somewhere, right?

I saw this cockroach in my kitchen and with lightning fast survival instincts, it vanished underneath the Swiffer sweeper. OK, at least I wouldn’t have to go moving around furniture to flush this thing out. But this put a lot of pressure on my next move. Should I move the Swiffer and go for a targeted strike? Or would it make more sense to slam my foot down on the broad surface of the mop, hopefully knocking it out without giving it a chance to find a more secure hiding spot?

I decided that, in an effort to not destroy my Swiffer, I’d give a little nudge, wait for the cockroach to make a run for it, and then I’d come crashing down with a final stomp. When I tapped the handle, I saw it move a little bit, but the pest must not have seen any available avenues for escape, so it went around to the other corner of the mop.

And it just stood there, most of its body obscured by the hiding spot, but its head and antennae clearly visible. I wanted to be like, “Hey, buddy, I can see you.” Like when I come downstairs and my dog is “hiding” in between the two couches. I’m almost insulted, like did you get in the garbage? Huh? You don’t think I won’t know something’s up?

But these thoughts shot through my brain over the course of maybe a half of a second or so, because remember what I was talking about earlier? Roach. Urgency. Kill. I brought my foot down, hard. As I got a huge wad of paper towels, so I could clean this thing up without having to feel its body against my fingertips, a part of me wished it didn’t have to be this way. Why the need for such strong reactions? My crippling fear, the surge of adrenaline that surely might be put to better use during aspects points in my life. There’s really no choice, I mean, I couldn’t have that thing free in my house. But can’t there be a simpler way? One involving a little less panic and stomping and skin-crawling sensations of existential terror?

I’m not freaking out

Don’t tell me to stop freaking out. How about you stop freaking out? I’m not even freaking out. You think this is freaking out? You should see me when I’m really freaking out. Just, you chill out, all right? How about I won’t tell you to stop flailing your arms in the air if you don’t tell me to get down from this chair? Because I’m not getting down, not until we see where it went, it might still be in here.


There it is, I just saw it, I think it went underneath your jacket. Why didn’t you use the coat hangers? I’m just saying, if that thing gets in a pocket, if it’s pregnant, you’re going to take it home, it’s going to get in the walls, your walls, that thing’s going to multiply, fast, I think just one of them can carry enough genetic diversification to supply a dozen generation’s worth of population, that’s going to be some shit man.

And yeah, one little bug, that’s not such a big deal, but do you know what an infestation looks like? Seriously, you’re not going to have a free second man, you’ll see them on the walls, inside every pocket, you might as well get rid of those coat hangers now, too little, too late, they’re all going to get inside. And I hope you get used to shaking out your shoes before you put them on. You like that crunching sound? Or what if it’s a really small one, and so it just lives in there, hanging out in between your toes, you’ll be like, what’s that itch? What’s going on?

There it is! It’s right behind that box. Do you know how many of those little guys get carried around every day inside boxes just like that? It’s the corrugated material, you can fit like a whole city’s worth of bugs right inside one box. That’s why I don’t let any boxes inside my house. “Not so fast,” I always tell the UPS guy before he even has a chance to knock at the door. “Just leave it down the block. I’ll get to it.”

And I don’t care how many packages I miss out on, because you might get used to those trails of little baby bugs running from crack to corner, but what about the alpha bugs? Huh? Those giant ones that survive into old age, they’re like three, four inches big, I’ve seen a few of those a few times, they were everywhere at my old restaurant, like in the basement, there’d be puddles of standing water and I’d just see the shadows of their antennae from like five feet away.

No thanks, and you tell me stop freaking out, please, this is how it starts, I can’t believe you’re not pushing me off this chair, this is the safest spot in the room. Here’s a little tip. Throw out that jacket. Because yes, I did see it run from underneath your jacket over to that box, but how can we be sure that it was the same one? I mean, do you honestly think that there’s only one bug in this whole place?

No, there’s got to be hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands. I think that’s like a rule, or a rule of thumb, it’s like for every one that you see, there’s got to be like a hundred thousand in the walls. I’m telling you, they’re bred to never get caught, most of these things go their whole lives without ever being seen by a person. But they’re there.

Throw out the jacket. I’m throwing out everything. I really don’t care what my neighbors think, because whatever it is they’ll say, they’ve probably already said it, calling me crazy. You get to like a block away from your house, you strip down out of all your clothes, I’m talking naked, I know it’s tough to believe, but you just got to do it, and you run to your house.

Because what’s the alternative? Huh? I’d rather be naked and have everyone think I’m a little crazy than risk carrying a colony of those assholes back to my house. Because imagine you have just one hiding out in your pocket. You know what that means? You’ve probably got at least a hundred squirming around in your boots, like in those little spaces in between your shoelaces and the holes where you tie those laces through.

I’m not crazy! OK, you think I want to throw all of my stuff away? Because I will. I’ll toss it all out, I’ll burn it, I’ll run bare-assed to a new apartment, I’ll start totally from scratch, it’s the only way, OK? This city’s crawling with them … just … I saw it! It’s right there! Kill it, just step on it, but don’t let the eggs get on your shoes! They’re everywhere! You stop freaking out! I’m not freaking out!

Scared of bugs, and cicadas, especially cicadas

I used to be really scared of bugs. One time when I was a little kid a black spider crawled across back. My brother made me aware of it and I started freaking out, like really going nuts, one of those freak outs where every muscle in your body contracts at the same time and you start hitting yourself, knowing that if you have to make hand contact with this bug, to get it off of you, it had better be hard enough to kill it. I remember freaking out too much, to the extent that I didn’t get to see where the spider went, if it went anywhere at all. Maybe it ran for cover, or maybe it found a nice little fold in my t-shirt to camp out in, to sleep and plot and lay thousands of tiny eggs.

One day that same summer I was riding my bike around town when all of the sudden the wind whipped my shirt against my skin in such a way that I could feel that there was something latched onto the back. It was a cicada. I think they’re all over the place, but there are a ton of them every summer on Long Island. They crawl out of the ground by the thousands starting some time in July. They leave behind these thick, deep holes, like the size of a quarter, and the holes are everywhere, each one a reminder that something big and giant and disgusting had emerged from the depths of the earth.

Most everyone pronounces it “si-CAY-duh” (you like that bullshit pronunciation guide?) but for whatever reason, my maternal grandfather always called them “si-CAH-duhs,” and so that always kind of stuck with me, not that this really has anything to do with the story, this story that’s been sidetracked for the better part of a paragraph now by pronunciation. But getting back to it, there was a cicada stuck to my back.

After they crawl out of the ground, the cicadas then go through a transformation. I’ve read online that they live something like sixteen years underground before they make the journey to the surface. OK, I never looked that up online, but growing up on Long Island, that’s what various people have told me. They come up looking like these bloated coffee colored beetles. They can’t fly, they can only crawl, really slowly. But then they have this metamorphosis. They break out of their chocolate shells, leaving them behind for everybody to step on. For every crunch that you hear under your feet, you know that there have to be hundreds of these bugs in every tree, just completely dominating the environment.

These bugs are the worst. They’re even bigger out of the shell than they were inside, something that doesn’t make sense to me, but it’s true. They’re loud. They make this sound, like one of those backyard sprinklers that goes around in a circle and then “ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch” doubles back to start the circle all over again. And since they all come out at once, it’s like one day it’s a regular summer day, and then the next day you walk outside and the noise is deafening, a wall of sound, and you can see these giant bugs flying around everywhere.

I’m not exaggerating; they are giant. Seriously, they’re like three inches long. They have black backs covered by translucent, segmented wings. Their bellies are white and they still have the remnants of those little legs from their previous incarnations. At that top of their heads they have two useless eyes. I say useless because they’re actually all blind.

They’re blind but they’re constantly flying around. So it’s not uncommon to be walking along when out of nowhere you’ll get smacked in the face by one of these giant dumb bugs. They don’t bite or anything, but like I said, they’re loud, really loud, and if they get caught up with you they’re too stupid to figure out how to get away from you. So it might fly into you, get scared, start making all of that noise, and then keep flying into you over and over again, because it can’t see and it doesn’t even have a purpose on the surface world anyway.

They really have no purpose. I guess birds eat them, but can’t birds just eat bird seed? They come up, transform into these giant flying nuisances, and then they die like three days later. By mid-July, the streets will be littered with these things. But the worst part it, you won’t even know which ones are dead and which ones are alive. Because they’re so mindless, they’re just hanging out in the middle of the street, waiting for you to walk over it, or maybe just unknowingly step on one of the wings, and they’ll start freaking out making that loud crazy noise.

So back to me on the bike. Once I noticed it was there, I started freaking out too, almost as dumb as the cicada. My hands went in the air, I flailed around, lost control of the bike, fell over, cut my hands falling, and somehow during the struggle, the cicada got caught underneath my shirt. And now we were both really freaking out. I think I tore the shirt off of my body and left it in the street. It was really traumatic.

Every summer my phobia grew worse and worse, spiders and cicadas turned into ants, roaches, earwigs, I was scared of everything. I couldn’t leave the house. I’d see a bug in the bathroom and I’d refuse to go in there for months. Finally, my parents, seeing how this was crippling my development as a person, they brought me to a hypnotist to get this all sorted out.

“I want you to relax and take a deep breath,” was the last thing that I remember the hypnotist saying to me. The next thing I knew, I was outside, the anxiety was gone. I heard the cicadas and remembered that I should feel afraid of them, but I wasn’t. I saw a cicada on the ground. I picked it up by wings and gave it a big hug. I couldn’t believe I was cured.

How did that hypnotist do it? And that’s when I started freaking out. Because seriously, how could he do it? What other kind of mental powers did he possess? What else did he do to me while I was in my hypnotic trance? And that’s when I developed a new phobia, a phobia probably equal to my old bug phobia, but this time I was afraid of hypnotists. I think it’s called hypnophobia, although Microsoft Word seems to think that, with its red squiggly underlining, that hypnophobia isn’t a real word. But it is real. Because I’m very afraid of hypnotists. Sometimes I’ll think about what they could do if they all joined forces. I can’t even leave the house.

My parents, realizing that this phobia would be just as damaging as my old bug phobia, they tried to find some help, but all of the doctors and professionals kept saying the same thing, “Take him to a hypnotist. Hypnotize him until he’s not scared.” But how can a hypnotist cure hypnophobia? It’s not possible. Even if I could stop peeing my pants long enough to step foot into his office, he’d start off telling me, “OK Rob, I want you to relax, take a deep breath …” and I wouldn’t be able to, my hands would be in the air, flailing around, and before I could realize what’s happening, I’d be rolling around on the floor and maybe the hypnotist would get trapped under my shirt and I’d have to start punching my chest and ripping my shirt off and running away. And I’d still probably have to pay for the appointment, so at this point I’m starting to think that maybe this hypnophobia is incurable, like I’ve run out of options here, like I’m just going to have to learn to live with all of this crippling fear and anxiety.