Nothing is more pleasant than being awoken in the middle of the night by the feeling of the guy you are sleeping with wrapping his arm or leg around you. It induces a brief state of alertness, perhaps a small smile, and then you snuggle in close to drift back off to sleep. Nothing is more disconcerting than being awoken in the middle of the night by the feeling of something brushing against your leg when you are sleeping alone. It induces an immediate a state of panic.
“Holy Shit!” I yelled, jumping out of bed. “What the fuck was that!”
It was 3:00 a.m. and I’d been deep in dreamland, wrapped up in my soft bed contentedly alone, when my subconscious mind tapped my conscious mind on the shoulder. That soft brushing against my skin should not have been. I landed on my feet before my mind came fully awake, snapped on the lights, threw back the covers, and gazed in horror at the almost foot long centipede that’d decided to snuggle up with me in bed.
Throw a grizzly bear in my path, and I’ll roar back. But when a humongous cockroach divebombs my head, I scream like a big girl. Eyeballing a centipede who’d decided to mate with me in the middle of the night brought out the frightened, blubbering little girl in me instead.
When you live in the tropics, large bugs are part of your world. Cockroaches are more pervasive in Hawaii than middle age couples visiting from the fly over states adorned in matching aloha wear. The local joke is that the cockroach is Hawaii’s State bird. Though both centipedes and roaches make you shudder, the larger and more prehistoric looking of the two brings on a special brand of terror. Centipedes out ugly cockroaches ten to one. And they are aggressive as all hell and poisonous to boot.
This one didn’t live long enough to accomplish whatever vile plans it had for me. With all my senses throbbing on full alert and blood pressure skyrocketing to heights it’d never experienced before, I grabbed a shoe and pounded the fucking thing into oblivion. And then spent the night curled into a quaking ball in the living room with all of the lights on, fully awake and on guard, never catching a wink of sleep. The next morning I made a quick trip to the local garden shop and bought a gallon of Diazinon to pour as a barrier around the house, and twice the required number of bug bombs to set off, filling my home with poisonous gases. The memory was not as easy to rid myself of.
When I first moved to Hawaii, discovering a humongous cockroach in my home brought on chicken skin. They’re evil looking things and more than willing to do battle with you if you don’t leave them alone. The first time I ran up against one, unprepared and not yet skilled in cockroach warfare, I trapped it under an upended empty coffee can. And then realized it’d never die on its own and I probably couldn’t live there for the next few years with a cockroach imprisoned under a tin can in the middle of my living room.
As the years past I became more skilled at dealing with the little beasts though never quite managed the nonchalant attitude locals displayed in sending the latest one to cockroach hell. I had a friend, a closeted little muscle stud who’d grown up in Hawaii, who used to kill them by squashing them with his bare feet. Whether he’d just done battle with a roach or not, I always made sure he showered before climbing into my bed.
My most humorous cockroach encounter was a night out having diner with a group of friends in Waikiki at a beachside restaurant open to the tropical breezes when a cockroach divebombed our table and landed head first into one of the girl’s small cup of sour cream. Many people like bacon bits as a topping for their baked potato, she had the opportunity of trying cockroach instead. We all grimaced, laughed, and then called the waiter over who replaced the cup of topping with a cockroachless one with compete indifference.
A daily occurrence in Hawaii, you get used to cockroaches. But your primitive senses still flare up, the fight-or-flight-or-freeze response still kicks in when one of the creepy critters makes its way into your life. The good thing about living in Hawaii is that it helps you to prepare for bug encounters when visiting other tropical paradises in the world. Or not.
On a trip to Bali, after spending a week in Kuta partying my ass off I headed up to Ubud for some rest, a chance for my brain cells to dry out, and a few days of much needed relaxation. On my first day in town I checked out the main drag, spent some time at the market, and then had a late dinner before heading back to my hotel in the nearby village of Mas where I settled down in my bungalow’s sitting room to read for a while.
The hotel was a cool little property, a dozen or so two story cabins spread along a curving path in a jungle-like setting. In each bungalow, there was a sitting room and bedroom downstairs, and then another bedroom and a spacious lanai upstairs with private views over the surrounding rice fields. There was a Bali style bathroom downstairs too, and they got it right: the shower was outdoor in a private little grotto but the toilet and sink were inside. I’d already learned the hard way that Bali-style bathrooms with the toilet outside means spending your morning trying to take a dump while mosquitoes bombard you. Not the best way to start off a day.
The property was designed to provide peace and privacy, an oasis of tranquility from the heavily populated touristy areas of the island. There were no televisions or phones in the rooms. Concrete lined trenches snaked along the property’s exterior boundaries, paths for the hotel’s staff to use that, like with servants in Victorian times, kept the hired help out of view of the noble class. The architect of the place had gone to great lengths to provide a feeling that you had the island to yourself. Even the restaurant was laid out so that regardless of how many of your fellow guests showed up at the same time as you for breakfast, you’d have a quiet little oasis to sit in while you sipped your muddy Bali coffee and contemplated the start of your day.
That night, comfortably kicked back and absorbed in what I was reading, movement on the wall separating the room I was in from the bedroom caught my eye. A little bit of aloha transplanted to Bali’s tropical paradise: one of those huge damn cockroaches that are a part of daily life in the islands. I’d lived long enough in Hawaii to no longer panic when I spotted one of the creepy crawlers, but still got chicken skin, my atavistic senses coming alive. Non of the Buddhist ‘all life is precious’ crap, your only duty upon spotting a roach is to kill it. As quickly as possible.
When you are going to put an end to a cockroach’s miserable little life, you need to commit to it fully. You need to man up and let the testosterone flow freely within your veins. A halfhearted attempt ain’t gonna cut it. You need to bring the full force of your disgust, terror, and revulsion into play. A quick snap with a rolled up newspaper like you would employ swatting a fly will only tickle the thing. A slap instead of a splat will only serve to piss it off when it recovers. And then, .38 seconds later it will pull a kamikaze act on your head.
No, you need to find something heavy enough to pulverize its very existence into oblivion. And use enough force to smash its exterior skeleton so that its white maggot-like life force squishes out and leave a Jackson Pollock painting of reddish-browns and creams on the wall. Like with a good golf swing, you need to aim carefully, then allow your stroke to follow through past the ball. Your intent should not be to kill the cockroach but rather to destroy it and whatever surface it is crawling on, to send them both permanently into a whole different dimension. Preferably in a million pieces.
I carefully slid off of the couch I’d been laying on so as to not give the thing an early warning of its impending doom. Grabbing one of my hiking boots, a suitable weapon weighing a good ten pounds, I snuck up on the roach from its blind side, keeping an eye on its twitching antenna. If you are new to cockroach hunting, you need to watch those things. Sure their movement is spooky and you’d just as soon not allow those creepy antenna that seem to have a life of their own to work their magic on your psyche, but if they stop that’s a sign the critter is preparing its air assault and then you have to go feet-wet sooner than planned.
I cocked back my arm, aligned my trajectory, and let fly. Thud. The walls shook. The bungalow swayed. The sound of my boot hitting the wall echoed through the property like an M80 going off in a coffee can. And I stuck the landing. Cockroach shit flew out from the heel end of the boot and a mixture of brownish-red exoskeleton and white crud oozed out from the other. Success. But the gods of Bali were not done fucking with me yet.
My award winning shot had also disturbed another guest of the bungalow. The – now dead and destroyed – cockroach had been hanging on the wall between the bedroom and sitting room, inches away from a set of drawn back curtains used to separate the two rooms. Along with roach guts, a humongous spider as big as my head came flying out when my boot hit the wall. It’d been hiding behind the drapes and my assault on the roach disturbed it. I’d never seen such a huge spider in my life. I’d seen puppies smaller than this thing. It wasn’t one of those massive bodied spiders like a tarantula, most of its size was its twig-like spindly legs. But it’s bright yellow body was longer than any local guy’s cock I’d picked up nightly back in Kuta.
It only hesitated out in the open for a quick second, just long enough for my goosebumps to get goosebumps while it decided whether or not to go on the attack. I obviously wasn’t a worthy enough adversary and it took off scurrying into the bedroom at the speed of sound. Or at least my screams of terror lasted longer than the time it took the beast to scuttle up the wall and dash across the ceiling into the next room.
Fight, flight, or freeze are the natural response options that have served humanity well over the centuries. Being in a state of hyperarousal keeps you safe and alive. The odds of winning when taking on a critter an eighth of my size were not stacked heavily enough in my favor, so ‘fight’ was out. Besides, what I really wanted to do was to dissolve into a ball of blubbering tears like a little girl. That’s your third response option that no one ever seems to mention. With no phone to call for help, and any staff members still awake in the middle of the night hidden away in their privacy trenches (no doubt giggling about the pussy-ass tourist scared of a little spider), I was on my own.
I could have done battle with the beast, I could have immediately checked out of my cool little bungalow and flew the town too. Instead, whimpering in fright and leaving the downstairs illuminated in case I was forced to go one-on-one with the critter, I ran upstairs, deciding that using the smaller, upstairs bedroom would be the better choice of valor. I turned on all of the lights in that room too, hopped into bed, and immediately got busy securing the mosquito netting that draped the bed – a feature I’d early assumed was for ambiance – by tucking it deep under the mattress around its entire perimeter, building a safe cocoon to protect me while I slept. Not that I did. My eyes were as wide open when the morning dawned as they had been once I had my fortress built.
I embraced the flee response option when the sun rose, heading out for what I am sure was the earliest breakfast the hotel had ever seen. Motioning the largest male employee over after being seated, I told him about the spider. His responding nod was nonchalant, news about a spider large enough to eat Tokyo a non-event in his life.
When I got to my next hotel in Sanur a few days later and had internet access again I used Google to find out just how dangerous that spider was, how quickly its murderous venom would take to kill you while you writhed in agony pleading for the gods to finish you off. No one seemed to agree on what to call it, most went with the rather non-threatening name of Wood Spider. What they were in agreement with was that its potent, neurotoxic venom, while not lethal, caused major pain and that its relatively strong jaws often left scars on its human victims. Knowing what it was doesn’t mean that I won’t freak out just as badly the next time I encounter one of those creatures, but next time I’m gonna kill the thing. And then feed it to the first cockroach I see.
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