B-52 and other cockroach tales

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.]


  1. One night Nan went in to brush her teeth and found a B-52 sucking the water off her toothbrush.

    I don’t think she used that toothbrush anymore after that!

  2. Mikaele says:

    A former senior service missionary at HRI, Sister Marilyn McNeil, submitted this cockroach response:

    I won’t belabor the subject, but your cockaroach stories caused me to remember a few of mine:

    My earliest recollection is when my parents lived in East Oildale near Bakersfield, CA. The roaches would swarm and whoever was nearest to the always ready vacuum cleaner would scurry to try to suck up as many of the varmints as possible. Then, the vacuum cleaner bag once full was immediately removed and carried to a metal waste barrel where it was promptly burned. This was ever on-going, in unison with the “Mexican hat dance”.

    Another time when I lived in Houston, TX, one of my sisters, Barbara, was staying with me and had been introduced to the “flying” cockaroach, and developed a paranoia about them. So one night, we are sitting in the living room when she goes to the kitchen. She turns on the light when suddenly we hear her let out a blood-curdling yell, A Cockaroach”, and more screaming. After grabbing any weapon we could, we approached very carefully and I went to swat at it. To our surprise, it turned out to be a two-inch piece of steak which had been flung against the wall and stuck when it missed the nearby trash can earlier. We all had a good laugh about the whole ordeal. Barbara was red-faced and felt sheepish every time we told this story on her.

    Blessedly, living here in Northern, CA, we are spared the horror of untold numbers of Cockaroaches. I try to be brave about them. But honestly, my stomach turns just at the thought of one.

    Now, geckos are kinda cute, one even got in our bed when Elder McNeil and I were in Laie.

  3. Mikaele says:

    My good friend and CCH alumnus Gary Wong, responded on the CCHers website:

    Oh yes, pal…I can definitely relate to those “dive bombers”; but the ones that more than once smacked me in the head seemed like the three inch kind (but felt like a five inch-er). In Hong Kong it was not unusual to come home in the evening open the door turn on the lights and “smack” right in the kisser. Never saw them that big in my life. I even saw a scorpion as large as my index finger in the countryside of Shatin. Aah the mission memories continue!!!

  4. Mikaele says:

    Received the following from Doc Meek:

    Dive Bombed by a Winged Creature at Night

    When I and my wife Jeannette were in Tonga, I was walking one night
    from one building to the next and suddenly this creature was dive bombing
    me, attacking me I thought. I was fending him (her?) off as best I could
    when the companion struck my right shoulder from the back, square
    on the scapula.

    I thought it was going to pick me up and carry me away. Good thing I had a
    heavy briefcase in my hand. These attackers were so large that it took me
    quite awhile (after I ran into the building for safety) to figure out what they
    were. Small birds? (I had felt the blunt beak when it hit my scapula, eh?)

    I watched from behind the safety glass as they continued trying to attack
    me. They were upset that I had gotten away. I think they were avenging the
    deaths of their cousins at my hands the previous night in the house.

    After awhile it dawned on me. Oversize cockroaches.

    I was always looking over my shoulder after that, when I was out at night.

    Doc Meek, Sherwood Park, Alberta, CANADA

    P.S. Bug sprays and fumigation are toxic and hazardous to human health.
    “The slippa” is best, or the cockroach motel sticky glue plates.

    J Collins Meek, PhD
    Learning Strategies Consultant
    >>>What if you are smarter than you think?>>>

    Email: docmeek@gmail.com
    Blog: http://www.docmeek.com

    CANADA: PO Box 3105, Sherwood Park, AB T8H 2T1
    US: 3688 W 9800 S, #138, South Jordan, UT 84095-3260
    Phone: (801) 971-1812; Fax : [801] 282-6026

    International callers first enter the country code (+1) and then enter the Phone and/or Fax number above

  5. Mikaele says:

    Received two similar comments through my FaceBook page:

    From my sister-in-law, Janice Foley: can’t think of anything I would rather NOT do than hear cockroach stories!

    And from Carol Parker: YUCK.

  6. Mikaele says:

    Fran Corcoran, Branch Manager of the nearby Kahuku Public and School Library, sent the following directly to me:

    I’d never seen a cockroach until I moved here [Hawaii] in ’97. For some reason they give me the creeps, too. They eat through baggies, tinfoil around chocolate candy, nothing seems to stop them – except that famous slippah. I won’t walk barefoot in my house for fear of seeing one and not being able to stomp it. I do wonder at the Good Lord’s creating this bug which becomes immobilized when on its back…a way of giving us humans an even chance?

  7. Mikaele says:

    Pam Thompsen, a sister Church College of Hawaii alumna, responded on our CCHers network to B-52s with her own stories:

    Mike – I have been teased for years about my reaction to those incredible bugs. Right after my husband and I moved to Honolulu he went to Washington D.C. for two weeks leaving me at home with our little two year old boy. Immediately I began finding our crusty, icky friends, the roaches, in our apartment (Queen Emma Gardens). I didn’t know what to do, not wanting to pick them up or squish them. I knew they could live through most anything, like being vacuumed up. So I began putting cups or glasses over them to contain them until Tim came home to take care of them. When he finally arrived he found about 20 cups sitting on the floor and counters throughout our apt. A really silly haole-type reaction to the bugs. I grew up later and took care of them myself. You can imagine that funny scene greeting my husband. Aloha, Pam

  8. Mikaele says:

    And Sandy Hekekia, another Church College of Hawaii alumna, also responded on our CCH network:

    My introduction to the Hawaiian Cockroach, my first year at CCH….Sept1960. There were 3 of us in the dorm room, Cynthia Wong Chong, and Cecilia “Bay” Kuamoo (deceased) and I got the top bunk. I would wake up in the morning and had smashed at least 1 huge cockroach. This was not too cool, since I had never seen such a monster. I can’t remember seeing one in Idaho (we have plenty in Arizona). I was horribly afraid of spiders and now a dirty cockroach was worse. Some people eat them — that I saw in Thailand. I would play with water snakes and we would chase each other with them when we would swim in the Snake River in the summer but forget cockroaches.

    I remember when I visited with Earl V. and Herman P. at their apt. off of Lusitana St. [in Honolulu] and I opened up the refrigerator and hundred of tiny cockroaches ran all over the place. I decided to never eat there. It seems like Earl said, “not to hurt his friends.” I know he remembers that incident and I am trying to remember who lived there with him…..I am pretty sure it was Herman. I never checked the floor to see if any maxi-cockie’s were running around. It must have been the cheapest apt. in Honolulu. Pres. V and his cronies have come a long way!! The Opunui stories of eating in the “no kitchen” dorms will turn your stomachs but what a legacy. New gray hairs were popping up every week in [CCH] Pres. Wootton’s hair, I am sure. I better close……there are too many of those stories to tell.

  9. Mikaele says:

    Earl V., referred to in comment #8 above, responded through the CCHers network:

    I received an email from a sister of mine who went to a mall for a hamburger and drink. She opened the straw cover and put the straw in her drink to sip, and thought her Sprite tasted a little different. She asked the clerk to sample it, and she too thought it tasted odd.

    My sister looked into the straw and found numerous little black roach eggs. She checked other eateries and found the same problem — straws with many black things inside. Yuck! Be sure to check your straws.

    Tin Tin, one of the best Chinese restaurants in Honolulu, was hard to beat: Just don’t inspect the kitchen…but especially do pay attention to what you’re eating.

    Sandy, Herman, Frank P. and I lived together.

  10. Mikaele says:

    Gary Wong — a former Waikiki entertainer, inspired by Earl’s comments (#9 above), submitted the following through the CCHers network:

    Whoa…big Earl mentioned Honolulu’s China Town Finest…Tin Tin. Now that may open a “can of worms”…literally! A hundred-and-one years ago (yeah) mom found a roach practically doing “backstrokes” in the abalone soup bowl she was about to scoop to sip some broth from. For the next hundred years she never went back there. Yeah, I know… although a bit dramatic, you wouldn’t think so if you heard her describe it. And that’s no “baloney” abalone!

    And here’s my take on a real swashbuckling experience: Tin Tin was the favorite place of many Waikiki entertainers and “late-owls”; so one early 2:00 AM my good friend Dan Hugho and I ordered our favorite Chook (abalone/ chicken rice soup). I did what I usually do, tear up some lettuce to mix in with my Chook. Suddenly, with wide-open eyes, I stared down into my bowl…and I saw it! Shocked, I literally stood and jumped-up, knocking over my chair and scaring my friend and surrounding customers: With chopsticks-like swords in left and right hand, I leaped forward and sidewards and with one sweep plunged my chopstick at my enemy.

    So, when my friend and customers finally stopped laughing and my friend looked into my Chook bowl, he saw one huge caterpillar actually lifting itself up and, as though dodging each of my attempted thrusts, wiggled up and down and sidewards while balancing itself on one of the pieces of lettuce. He could have been suffering from heat, but you couldn’t stop the laughter heard around China Town that night.

    Well…all thrills ended when the waiter himself, while staring with wide-open mouth and slitted eyes, swooped up my Chook bowl and briskly disappeared into the kitchen only to reappear in a second with a bowl of Chook to place before my piercing eyes. My friend said, “That was too fast…he must have quickly picked and threw out the lettuce and brought back the same bowl.”

    No one really knows; it has become one of the Tin Tin legends. So to this day…when you serve me soup, please don’t mind if I bend forward and look and stare into the heart of the soup bowl, wondering if my “swashbuckling” friend might re-incarnate back to take his revenge on Wongie. Da Tin Tin. End! Aloha!

  11. Mikaele says:

    And again from the CCHers network, Nettie Alapa Hunter responded:

    Gross…gross…gross!!! Those are the only things I do not miss about Hawaii (and Samoa)!!! la kukarachas!!! All these stories gave me the creepy crawlies!!! I remember the days my Mom made us take every thing out of the house to do “spring cleaning”, which seemed like every other month or so to get rid of them pests! So glad to be living in the Northwest now, but still miss the rest of what’s good in HI–except for the B52!!!

  12. Mikaele says:

    CCHers Network member John Aki submitting the following:

    I thought you folks all knew that one of the reasons Chinese food taste so good is their secret cockroach seasoning. Another great Chinese ingredient is the 100-year-old egg. It’s great with rice soup called juk. I also have pictures on how they process black bird saliva into nice white spit for bird nest soup. They use bleach. It’s a good thing bird nest soup is expensive otherwise we would all have bleached intestines.

    Intestines! Now that’s another great Chinese dish. Ahhh, Tin-Tin restaurant — those were the days when we were young and had cast-iron stomachs.

  13. Mikaele says:

    To which, Nettie Alapa Hunter replied:

    Oh John – THANKS for sharing!!! Did I tell you that Chinese food USED TO BE my favorite, as of now?

  14. i had 6 of those NASTY buggahs invading my house 1 weekend. they not only fly but they fly fast and right at your face! so you know they not afraid of you.

    i invested in those bigass combat bait traps for ‘large roach’ (i got them at lowes) and havent seen 1 in da house since. i killed one outside on my lanai lately. if you see them even if outside you should kill them otherwise you know they about to go inside your house. i think they invade your house when it rains and their homes outside are flooded or if its like dry bad heat in da house and/or if dark. and slippah whacking sucks since they fly.

    arm yourself with simple green and fly swatters to physically combat da b52 especially should they fly right at you. da simple green is for ranged attack so to dampen da buggahs wings/body including in midair so that it makes it harder for them to fly/move and i heard its corrosive (to da insect, only an irritant to us) so it may eat away at its body/wings plus its biodegradable so it wont poison up your house like da raid. da fly swatter is so you got some reach which is better than using slippahs especially if they fly (two fly swatters/one in each hand can be use to disrupt da air current to make a flying buggah crash to da floor though ive tried it on da peskiest of flies and not a b52 yet). also i would recommend da combat bait traps for ‘large roach’ around your house (be sure to keep your keiki and pets away from them). hoyhoys work too but unless you want to tend to your roach wax museum every now and then, forget it.

    i would call da “australian” (though orginated from tropical asia) cockroach as da true b52. they look like da “american” cockroach but are actually slightly smaller with da distinctive yellow band ring on its head (it looks like yellow/golden surrounding a batman symbol). it may look fairly big like 2-3 inches because its living in paradise which ho brah its not just paradise for us but for them too and you just live with their world. da “american” cockroach (i would call false b52) is da largest and can fly but are poor fliers actually compared to da “aussie” cockroach which is quite a capable flier.

    whatever it is, remember if it flys then you need weapons! finally dogs and cats work too, my friend told me her pit bull killed one, but i think cats work better being more nimbler and they will torture da roach as its best new toy which is ho FUNNY. enough rambling ARM yourself with da simple green, fly swatters, equip your house with bigass combat traps, and have a cat or preferably 2 (they clean themselves especially if related and both female) that can scale walls and/or jump 5ft into da air (so to pounce)!

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