By Allan Ripp
I shuffled into the bathroom for middle-of-the-night relief, and felt a soft tickling on my foot. How nice, I thought, the dog came in to check on me – then why didn’t I hear the pitter-patter of his paws? I turned on the light and encountered the urban nightmare of an enormous water bug crawling across my ankle.
I had the presence of mind to whisper-scream since my wife was asleep a few feet away, and violently flung the intruder off, sending it near the bathtub. Odd that I have no problem with other bugs and am constantly picking up beetles, crickets, ants, Daddy Long Legs, caterpillars and even an occasional honey bee when out and about. I’ve made trophies of well-preserved cicadas and dragon flies to display atop our piano.
But as any resident of a pre-war Upper West building knows, water bugs are different, creatures from the “other side,” inhabiting sewage pipes and tenement hallways, or emerging from dank basements and toilets. I think of them as massive roaches – this one looked like it came from the Amazon basin, a hairy-legged monster.
Is it possible that the thing was actually an Oriental cockroach, often mistaken for a water bug but more reddish-brown in color and sporting a spindly antenna and protruding head (facts I later learned from an exterminator’s web site)? Of course it could have been, but at 3 AM my entomology skills were a little shaky. All I knew is that I couldn’t let it escape into the rest of the apartment and was prepared to kill to make that happen.
I grabbed a paper cup thankfully left on the hamper and in one swoop had the beast covered. The only question now was whether to crush or stomp it out of existence. But then I heard – and felt – its trapped, crusty self inside the cup struggling to be free. I imagined it living a peaceful semi-aquatic life behind the walls feeding on silverfish and dust mite larvae. Did it deserve to be snuffed out for making a wrong turn into my bathroom?
Was I also hesitating because Rosh Hashanah had arrived, when I appealed to my own merciful and all-powerful maker in hopes of being inscribed into the annual book of life? Which one of us was the real insect?
I squeezed shut the top of the cup and stood up to open the window but in trying to lift the screen the bug fell out and scurried along the tile floor, shrewdly stopping behind the tub’s drainpipe. I bent down to position the cup for its next move and smacked my forehead on the sink – not exactly clemency karma. As I rubbed my temple and vowed revenge, he bolted. I brought the cup down hard but he whizzed past and slipped through a crack I never knew existed, back to his parallel cootie universe. Note to self: call the super and stock up on boric acid.
I awoke a few hours later, wondering whether it was just a Kafkaesque dream. But then I looked in the bedroom mirror and felt the welt on my head. I tiptoed into the bathroom in hopes of an all-clear. OK, fine – and then, there he was, on his back, legs up, inert beside the plunger. I did the decent thing and gave him a burial at sea, flushing twice. I pray he died of natural causes.
Mr. Ripp runs a press relations firm in New York.