The Bug Was a ‘Massive, Hairy-Legged Monster,’ So Why Did He Hesitate to Kill It?

Photograph via Wikimedia.

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 etymology 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.

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    1. Mark Moore says:

      I helped eliminate a spotted lanternfly yesterday. It was in the lobby of our building on Columbus Avenue.

    2. Mary Fincher says:

      Mr. Ripp:

      Your water bug’s cousin is my houseguest who has overstayed their welcome. He waits for me most mornings in my kitchen like a pet waiting to be fed. He looks at me longing for some sign of acceptance and appreciation.

      We’ve arrived at this new phase of our relationship after I had every nook and cranny of the bathroom caulked.

      I have learned that water bugs are signs that we will be okay and that we have all the answers we need within.

      Thank you for sharing… it’s nice to know that I am not alone in this experience! Although, I do hope that my guest is soon satisfied that I have gotten the message.

    3. LL says:

      An actual water bug somehow got to my bed in the middle of the night. All I know is I woke up at around 2 am to fond a water bug ON MY ARM. And I screamed like whoa. I somehow managed to kill it. And that is the only time I have dealt with one in my apartment. They are creatures from my nightmares.

      I have seen them on RSD a few times which is never fun.

    4. SB says:

      Thank you for your mercy. The last time I had a waterbug (or what I thought was a waterbug) in my apartment I was ready to spritz it to death with roach spray when it took flight, buzzed around my apartment, and then slipped under the door to hide in my bedroom. I packed up and headed to my girlfriend’s in another borough to stay the weekend. By Monday I felt secure that it was deep in the sewers again and returned home. I’ll try to remember your approach next time.

    5. Julia Z. says:

      Love this article, thank you! I am guessing your visitor was an American cockroach (*Periplaneta americana*), originally from Africa and Middle East.

      Here is my growing chronicle of my encounters with them, mostly in my pre war UWS apt:

      • Allan Ripp says:

        Amazing!! Thank you for sharing this site and your experiences – next time I’ll know who to call on for advice! Allan

    6. Paul says:

      I once saw one with a license plate and bumper stickers.
      But I wasn’t living on the UWS at the time.

      I didn’t have bug spray but I hit it with carburetor cleaner. Did the job.

    7. Janet says:

      I so can relate. They have souls. . I feel badly about going up against bugs yet I still want them gone only because as you pointed out where they have been spreading germs and diseases. Humans will leave this earth but they will live on. Thank you for sharing. Hope your head healed quickly.

    8. sudden_eyes says:

      So we’ll written!

      Honestly, I just kill them, BUT we once had one that looked exactly like the roach in WALL-E, and that was a tough one. I tried and failed to get it out onto the fire escape. … It didn’t live. Sigh

    9. Sarah says:

      I think I like Mary Fincher’s spiritual approach above as suggested by Socrates:

      “An unexamined life is not worth living.”

    10. MAD says:

      My exterminator said to close all your drains at night, esp. in the bathroom. They come up out of the drains. Gel bait in wall cracks works well, too. If you have construction or wet spots in your building, you will be more prone to have these visitors in your apt. Make sure any holes you have around pipes are sealed to the best of your ability. Good luck!