I first became aware of cockroaches when I was in elementary school in Salt Lake City, Utah, and we learned to do the Mexican hat dance to the music of La Cucaracha for a May Day program. Since then, and even though I now know they are found in many places throughout the world, I don’t remember actually seeing one until I moved to warm, tropical Samoa as a Mormon missionary in 1965.
SIDEBAR: The Samoan word for cockroach is mogamoga, while the word for Mormon is Mamona; and since colloquial Samoan often switches the sounds associated with the letters ‘n’ and ‘g’ — or mona vs. moga can be pronounced the same way – cheeky people would sometimes derisively call us mamoga, implying we were mogamoga.
I saw way too many mogamoga back in the day, but since moving from Samoa to perennially semi-tropical Hawaii, I’ve also spent too much effort trying to keep away from the creepy crawlers. For some enigmatic reason, I thought some of you might be interested in a few of my more insightful cockroach tales, and perhaps even add a few of your own in the comments window below:
• Cockroaches come out any time, anywhere, but they particularly like the dark . . . so there’s nothing quite like coming into a room at night, turning on the lights, and seeing all the critters scurry.
• By far the most creepy cockroach experience I ever had occurred one night in a small Samoan fale (house) in Fitiuta, Manu’a: My missionary companion and I were praying one night with Ieti and Lolini Te’o . . . when it seemed like hundreds and hundreds of cockroaches chose just that moment to swarm on the floor right in front of us. That’s right, cockroaches occasionally swarm, and I can tell you that to see a seething ball of them about 10-inches in diameter was totally gross. Supposedly we had our eyes closed, but we could hear them skittering across the mats, so soon enough we all saw what was happening. If I recall correctly, Ieti threw a rubber slipper (se’evae toso and they dispersed as quickly as they swarmed. Aue!
• There are these big three-inchers that can FLY! and ever since the 60s in Hawaii we’ve called them B-52s, after the huge Air Force bomber planes. Their extra mobility lends a whole new dimension to cockroach revulsion: For example, one day when we were living in the Kapahulu section of Honolulu (on the slopes of Diamond Head and close to Waikiki), one flew right into my wife’s hair . . . and she FREAKED! while it struggled to get away, its spiny legs getting hung up in the strands.
• Another night in the same house — which, in retrospect, was relatively infested — I could hear the chittenous sounds of a B-52 flying around in the kitchen. Turned out there were two of them, having fun, going round and around. As I was smacking at them with my “rubbah slippa,” as we say in Hawaii, one flew right into my cheek: Eeeuuuw! So creepy — and itchy.
• The roaches really seemed to love this one kitchen chair in that house, which I knew was always good for catching a couple at night when I flipped on the lights: It took me quite a while to figure out that they were living inside the cardboard covering under the seat, which I totally blasted with bug spray from then on.
Similarly, roaches love to lay their eggs on the bottom of drawers and/or other hard-to-reach places. In fact, it was always a little discouraging to find one of the old cracked-open egg containers ‘cuz that meant another 30-or-more critters were now wandering around our house.
• Another time I was trying to smash one with my slipper — they can be very fast and sense the air pressure build up as a pounding approaches, when I missed . . . but my hand kept going, and I sprained my wrist: I think I told everyone the next day why I was wearing a wrist brace that I hurt it playing tennis, or something a little more dignified than the cockroach won.
• Speaking of itchy, it turns out that cockroaches can be a major source of allergies: For one thing, their doo-doo eventually turns into dust that can be inhaled, which in turn exacerbates allergy symptoms and even asthma.
Then, of course, they eat anything and everything, and walk everywhere you can imagine, especially if it’s moist, dark and dirty . . . so they’re also tracking around a lot of extra mess. For example, one of the things they love to eat is the glue in books and envelopes, so we’ve found one’s got to be real careful in opening a box of old texts and stuff like that.
• Our Kapahulu neighborhood, in general, was broadly infested: For example, the roaches seemed to love the mango trees there. On a warm night you could see them strolling along the sidewalks, and often crawling all over our cars. Dozens of them seemed to particularly like crawling on top of our humble Toyota station wagon. Ah, those were the days.
• Of course, eventually the critters would work their way inside cars — especially if you would eat in them — and who didn’t. So, we actually ended up putting “roach motels” in our car, as did many other people:
For the uninitiated, those are cardboard traps with a small, porous bag of cockroach goodies glued in the middle of the very sticky bottom. Apparently the smell — which reminded me of rotten fish guts, but you had to put your nose somewhat close to catch the bouquet, so they were almost worse than cockroaches — lured the roaches to “check in,” and the glue kept them from “checking out,” as one marketing campaign for the product went at the time. One of the Freddy Kruger movies used this bit rather graphically, but I digress. I will admit it was particularly gross to pick up a roach motel the next morning that had attracted a “full house,” so to speak.
• One familiar place that had quite a cockroach problem in those days was the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Waikiki sales and marketing office, where I worked, which back then was located in the Bank of Hawaii building on Kalakaua Avenue in the heart of Waikiki. That place was so infested: When I would go back to work at night sometimes (remember, I lived in nearby Kapahulu), I always had to wait a few moments after turning on the lights so they would all run and hide . . . and then carry a can of kill-spray for when they got brave again, despite the light.
• Often, of course, they would come out in the daylight. For example, one day I was talking to two gentlemen from Brazil about possibly doing a promo tour to Rio . . . when I noticed a half-incher crawling over the one guy’s shoulder. I was mortified, and wasn’t quite clear on whether to reach over and brush it away, or warn him. Fortunately, the roach reversed itself, and I don’t think the guy ever knew.
• Or there was the time a bunch of the PCC sales and marketing people went to a Thai restaurant on Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki, and one Tongan guy reached the bottom of his food, there was a half-incher drowned in the sauce. OOPS! Of course, we all laughed, but wondered if he was the only one who had something extra hiding in his kaukau [food].
• Another time I had gone to Kauai to write a freelance story, and did a drive-through in my rental car for lunch. When I opened the bag of food, about a half-dozen hungry roaches that thought it was Big Mac time for them, too, aggressively crawled out from their hiding places. Eeeeuuuuw!
Well, I could go on but, frankly, I’m making myself a little squeamish . . . and even though cockroaches have supposedly been around since the age of dinosaurs, and are reputed to be able to withstand atomic blasts, please know that we continuously put up the good fight against them — cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning, as well as sealing stuff in containers they can’t get into gives us a little sense of security. Also, we found when we fumigated our house a few years ago (for termites, which with their annual swarms this time of year are another story in Hawaii) seemed to wipe them out for the longest time.
But they’re creeping back . . . and in the meantime, we always keep a slipper handy!
[Please submit your own cockroach stories.]