“After trying each of the seven keys in the rusty lock, one finally did the trick. We pushed the door open and walked into absolute darkness. Deborah flipped on the light and the walls suddenly came to life, as swarms of Jurassic-styled creatures, ranging in size from ‘Yechh,’ to ‘Holy shit!’ ran across the walls and ceiling. Before I could exhale, my attention was drawn to the maroon carpet, crawling with hundreds more; half of them, carcasses in various stages of decay; the other half, former friends and family of the former, now grieving over them in the only way they knew how—by eating them.”—Ross Konikoff
West Side Stories
By Ross Konikoff
MANHATTAN New York—(Weekly Hubris)—9/28/2015—When I married Deborah, little did I know that six years later we would be the owners of a lovely one-bedroom apartment in Hallandale, Florida.
Deborah’s grandmother had owned it since moving to Florida from Yonkers in the early 1960s; then, upon her death, it went to Deborah’s mom and dad. They rarely used it, and eventually transferred ownership to us. I had always thought fondly of Florida, having toured the state many times with various shows over the years, but had never considered it a vacation destination, much preferring Europe or the Caribbean. Deborah’s sentimental attachment to the place, however, made it imperative that we incorporate it into our lives, so I agreed that, some day, we would make it our own.
Months became years before we finally boarded a plane to Ft Lauderdale, picked up a rental car and headed for Hallandale. We pulled up in front of the building after dark, grabbed our bags from the car and trudged up the stairs to the 2nd-floor walkway, with Deborah leading the charge. After trying each of the seven keys in the rusty lock, one finally did the trick. We pushed the door open and walked into absolute darkness. Deborah flipped on the light and the walls suddenly came to life, as swarms of Jurassic-styled creatures, ranging in size from “Yechh,” to “Holy shit!” ran across the walls and ceiling.
Before I could exhale, my attention was drawn to the maroon carpet, crawling with hundreds more; half of them, carcasses in various stages of decay; the other half, former friends and family of the former, now grieving over them in the only way they knew how—by eating them. Their mandibles never slowed as they gave us a fleeting glance, then returned to their necro-cannibalistic feast. I took a deep breath, puffed out my chest, then dramatically proclaimed, “I didn’t fly all the way down here to join an entomological safari. We’re going to check into the nearest Holiday Inn, then fly home first thing in the morning.”
Unfortunately, the words came out a full octave higher than normal, my voice resembling the Mayor of Munchkin Land’s, my grand proclamation sounding limper than Hugh Hefner on a Monday morning.
“They’re only bugs,” said Deborah, dismissively.
“You’re not seriously suggesting we sleep here tonight, are you?” I reasoned. “These goliaths have us outnumbered a thousand to one! They could carry us off in our sleep.”
Just then, an enormous six-legged Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, equal in size to a baby pelican, flew directly at my face, brushing my cheek with its furiously flapping, hard-shelled wings. It hardly required the skills of Dr. Doolittle to understand his message, which was that we immediately check into the nearest Holiday Inn, then fly home first thing in the morning.
With this, the ultimate provocation, l reached a crossroads: I could either run away, shrieking like a 12- year-old school girl, or I could man-up and run away, shrieking like a 14-year-old schoolgirl.
I looked over at Deborah, noting her resolute body language, and realized that surrender was my sole option.
Dropping the bags, I began the process of girding my loins, the second loin taking much longer than the first. I could at least take solace in the fact that, short of finding a three-foot alligator in the bathtub, nothing else could be more horrifying than what we’d encountered to this point.
“Any volunteers for exploring the bathroom?” my wife teased.
I shot back, “Oh, I see. Feeling a bit skittish, are we now? Well, I have better bladder control than you. I could wait 18 hours if I had to. You’re good for what, 2, 3, at best?”
“Come on, don’t be afraid. I’ll hold your hand,” she said.
“Shouldn’t we drive down to the Broward County Courthouse first, and obtain a permit to carry a firearm?” I said.
“Don’t be such a baby,” she responded, crunching briskly across the carpet, leaving a fresh trail of death and destruction in her wake. She pushed open the door and flipped on the light.
“There, you see? All clear in here,” she announced.
I walked over and peeked inside.
“There’s no water in the toilet. Hold on,” I said, reaching down and opening the valve.
I lifted the lid from the tank, and watched as several dozen startled roaches experienced the Great Palmetto Flood of 1996. I felt powerful again, like a deity casting divine retribution unto my flock for the trespasses of their brethren in the living room.
I thought to myself: shall I allow one to survive and escape, if only to spread the word of my munificence? Naaah.
We watched as they exhausted themselves in the turbulent waters, finally turning up their toes and floating on their backs. When the tank was still, I walked back into the living room, spotted a tennis racquet leaning against the wall, and brought it back into the bathroom. The right tool for the right job, I thought. Dipping it into the water, I skimmed off the carnage and dumped the entire colony into the waste bin.
Just then Deborah needed to utilize the newly functional toilet, so I ventured bravely into the hallway, all alone. As I faced the entrance to the bedroom my imagination ran wild with what sort of dangers might be lurking back there. I pictured a small scouting party with their tiny ears pressed up against the door, listening, timing it so that the minute I stepped foot inside, I would blunder into their elaborate trap.
I pushed open the door while gripping the tennis racquet, poised to flatten anything that so much as twitched. Feeling along the wall, I flipped on the light switch. To my great relief, a clean and well-lit room greeted me, with not a bug in sight! To know that the sleep chamber was free from infestation was my greatest comfort. This greatly reduced the odds that a team of well-trained Palmetto Special Forces would carry our slumbering bodies downstairs, and then feed us into a large wood chipper. Deborah emerged from the bathroom and wandered in.
“There, I told you. Nothing in here, either. Let’s just get some sleep and clean up the living room in the morning,” she said, naively, implying that a simple vacuuming would eradicate an infestation comprising thousands of ruthless aggressors.
We retrieved our bags and waded through the devastation, back into the bedroom. As we prepared for bed, I chose to remain fully clothed, shoes and all, in the event that a swift getaway should become necessary. I patiently explained to Deborah that the larger of the Palmetto species grows weary of his normal diet from time to time, seeking alternative food sources, such as fresh tenant.
After applying the fourth, and final layer of double-thick duct tape around the bedroom door, it was lights out, time for eight sleepless hours, ears on high alert, listening for the sound of a tiny battering ram, and the cheering of thousands of insects, anticipating a meal of human flesh.
An eternity later, the sun rose, the birds sang, the woodpeckers pecked, and a garbage truck crawled slowly through the neighborhood, stopping every 20 yards to lift, empty, and then drop the world’s loudest rubbish containers, while Tito Puente’s Greatest Hits blared through its open windows.
I peeled the tape off the bedroom door and peeked out, seeing no traces of the hordes from the night before. Where in the world hundreds of giant bugs could hide in the light of day was beyond me, but they were nowhere to be seen. The carpet, however, remained crunchy with cadavers, so I grabbed the decades-old Hoover from the closet and sent the wind beneath their wings, lifting the bulk of the zombie holocaust into the vacuum bag.
After a quick trip downstairs to deposit the bag in a dumpster, I ran back up, washed my hands several times, and then took Deborah to the closest Denny’s for a hearty, grand-slam breakfast celebration.
After gorging on pancakes and sausage we stopped off at our local house wares store, where poisons for assassinating every sort of creature lay, neatly stacked on the shelves. We walked right past them, however, going straight for the more permanent solution: two economy sized tubs of pre-mixed spackle, with which to seal every millimeter of the apartment so that nothing smaller than Deborah could ever again gain unapproved entry to our tropical paradise.
Tubs in hand, we raced back home, intent on committing caulking in the first degree, with malice aforethought. We stripped to our skivvies, opened the windows, and dug in. Starting in the living room, we slapped gobs of wet plaster everywhere. Nothing escaped un-bedaubed. By the time we threw in the trowel, every crevice, every crack, the spaces around every pipe leading into the kitchen and bathroom, the borders surrounding the bathtub, the toilet and the sink, anywhere a bug could possibly enter the premises, had been sealed.
That evening, we had dinner in a restaurant overlooking the ocean. As we lingered, savoring the wine, I began growing philosophical.
“Just think of all the dying that’s taken place in our co-op during its years of neglect, some of that blood now on our hands,” I said. “We may be in for our own, personal, Amityville Horror some day.” I added, half-jokingly.
“According to Schopenhauer, life is a constant process of dying,” said Deborah.
“I’m not sure that Schope was ever called upon to liberate his Berlin bungalow from a well-entrenched colony of Eurycotis floridana,” I replied, wittily.
“I feel no remorse at having reclaimed what’s rightfully ours,” she said.
“Well, if you put any credence in the Vedic Samhitas, you and I are certain to reincarnate as chameleons next time around,” I said.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,.” she said, lifting her glass in a victory toast.
Holding my glass in the air, alongside hers, I said, a bit too loudly, “L’Chaim!”
“L’Chaim!” came the response from several other tables. We smiled all around, finished our wine, paid the bill, and left for home.
If ever there comes a judgment day and I find myself the defendant in a trial at which my address for eternity is to be determined, I would like at least one example at which I could point, where I made an effort to avert the necessity of committing another massacre against even the lowliest of nature’s children. To this end I plan on mounting a sign, high on our front door, with the message: “Must be THIS TALL to enter.”
Note: Click on the cover of Ross Konikoff’s latest novel-on-Kindle to buy the book: