it is the winter of 1983, and we are living in indiana. cold, depressing, ugly indiana. at least this description fits my admittedly foggy memory of the place. lured there by an alcoholic's promise that there would be good-paying work, we find ourselves living in a glorified trailer with frozen pipes, a pot-belly stove in the middle of the living room for heat, and a pair of old dentures floating in a glass to greet us when we move in. one night it is so cold inside that the glass of water my dad sets next to his bed every night is frozen solid, the cold air seeping up through holes in the floor. my brother and i huddle together for warmth underneath old blankets, and my mom cries and worries that if she turns on the heat we'll all be incinerated because of bad gas pipes. this trailer is referred to by my granny's ex-husband as "humble hill."
one day my mother, trying to make the best of a bad situation, decides to make chocolate chip cookies. nothing says domestic tranquility like gooey chocolate and the smell of brown sugar congealing in the heat of an oven. the first batch is in; my brother and i are all anticipation. soon the air fills with warm smells, but the smell is not the familiar smell of chocolaty goodness. it is, rather, the smell of burning mouse poop. there is a layer of verminous excrement an inch thick lining the bottom of the oven. my mother bursts into tears and is inconsolable for the rest of the day, and zac and i wander off with dashed hopes mingled with amusement that our mom made mouse poop cookies. when she tells the story to our dad he laughs out loud--not the sympathetic reaction my mom was looking for but then, i don't think it he laughed because it was all that amusing. sometimes we laugh just to keep from crying.
i thought of this story yesterday, when i walked into our new apartment. art and my brother spent hours on sunday moving most of our stuff in, and i was bringing in the last truckload myself. i walked in, turned the lights on, and surveyed my new abode with satisfaction. it is the first apartment i've seen that doesn't have white walls. instead, a nice neutral grey scheme dominates. the ceilings are high, with fancy crown molding, making it feel luxuriously huge in here. our bathroom has a ridiculously big bathtub, and both rooms have huge walk-in closets. i was euphoric. until i went into the kitchen.
the clock on the stove was blinking, and as i approached it i noticed something blocking the numbers. i leaned in, squinting, and then jumped back. there was a cockroach inside the clock, just laying out there chilling on top of the numbers. i tapped the glass, wondering how long it had been there, and yelped when it scurried off. five minutes later, it was back. i tentatively opened the kitchen cabinets and saw the signature "aaah! light! run!!" scurrying of several small roaches. there was cockroach poo everywhere, and a scattering of extraneous appendages and shed chitin. at one point a roach crawled out into the open, and then disappeared behind one of the knobs on the stove. naturally i complained to the girl in the office, who shuddered appropriately to show her sympathy and called in an emergency exterminator and maintenance to remove the vermin from my oven. i came home and bleached the living daylights out of all cabinets and drawers before putting things away. too soon, my friends. too soon.
since we have no table, at dinner time (consisting entirely of things that didn't require the use of a stove) i sat the kids down on the tile of the kitchen floor, with a lid of a storage container as their table. they were happily ensconced on the floor, telling each other cheerfully that they were having a picnic in the new house, when a cockroach burst out from under the dishwasher, made a mad dash across both of their plates, and disappeared under the cabinets on the other side.
i admit, i cried like a baby.
now the giant two inch long roaches (aka: palmetto bugs) are an inevitable part of living in florida. they appear out of nowhere, and no matter how clean you are or how well you keep house they WILL get in. but these are not the dirty ones that infest dirty people's houses. they're like really gross beetles that wander in from outdoors, give you the chills, and are magically able to play dead for weeks only to scurry away when you try to dispose of them. but these are not the roaches that are in my kitchen. nope. i have dirty people roaches.
i'm trying to maintain a calm attitude here, and praying that extermination and fixing my oven will make me feel less like the kitchen is some vile no-man's land into which i shall not wander. "trying" is the key word here.