West Side Rag »The beetle was a” massive hairy-legged monster, “so why was it reluctant to kill it?


Posted on September 14th, 2021 at 1:10 PM by Carol Tannenhauser

Photo via Wikimedia.

From Allan Ripp

I shuffled into the bathroom for relief in the middle of the night and felt a slight tickle on my foot. How nice, I thought, the dog came in to check on me – then why didn’t I hear the clatter of its paws? I turned on the lights and experienced the urban nightmare of a giant water beetle crawling over my ankle.

Having the presence of mind to whisper and scream as my wife was sleeping a few feet away, I violently hurled the intruder away and sent him near the bathtub. Strange that I have no problem with other beetles and constantly pick up beetles, crickets, ants, daddy long legs, caterpillars and even the occasional honey bee on the go. I made trophies from well-preserved cicadas and dragonflies to display on our piano.

But as anyone living in a pre-war Upper West building knows, water bugs are different, creatures from the “other side” that inhabit sewer pipes and hallways, or emerge from damp basements and toilets. I think of them as giant cockroaches – this one looked like it came from the Amazon basin, a monster with hairy legs.

Is it possible that the thing was actually an oriental cockroach, often mistaken for a water beetle, but more reddish-brown in color, with a spindly antenna and a protruding head (facts I later learned from an exterminator website) ? Of course it could have been, but by 3 a.m. my knowledge of etymology was a little shaky. All I knew was that I couldn’t let it escape into the rest of the apartment and that I was willing to kill to make it happen.

I grabbed a paper cup, which luckily was left on the basket, and in one fell swoop I covered the beast. The only question now was whether to crush it or stamp it out of existence. But then I heard – and felt – his trapped, encrusted self struggling to become free in the cup. I imagined it lived a peaceful semi-aquatic life behind the walls, feeding on silverfish and house dust mite larvae. Did it deserve to be wiped out for making the wrong turn in my bathroom?

Was I also hesitating because Rosh Hashanah had arrived when I turned to my compassionate and almighty Creator in the hope of being included in the annual book of life? Which of us was the real insect?

I squeezed the lid of the mug shut and got up to open the window, but when I tried to lift the screen the bug fell out and scurried across the tile floor, neatly staying behind the tub’s drain pipe. I bent down to position the cup for the next drag and hit my forehead on the sink – not exactly mercy karma. When I rubbed my temple and swore revenge, he ran away. I pushed the cup down hard, but he dashed by and slipped back into his parallel cootie universe through a crack I never knew existed. Note to myself: Call great and stock up on boric acid.

I woke up a few hours later and wondered if it was just a Kafkaesque dream. But then I looked in the bedroom mirror and felt the bump on my head. I tiptoed into the bathroom hoping for the all-clear. Okay, good – and then there he was, on his back, legs up, motionless next to the butt. I did the decent thing and gave him a funeral at sea, flushing twice. I pray he died of natural causes.

Mr. Ripp runs a press agency in New York.

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