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THE CALL WAS COMING FROM INSIDE THE COCKROACH by Maggie Dove

“It’s just a Palmetto Bug. I’ll put it outside.”

This could be a more daunting task than relocating, say, a daddy long legs or a lost lizard that found its way into the house. When the humidity is just right in Florida, somewhere around the 90% mark, the Palmetto Bug doesn’t just run away from you. The Palmetto Bug defiantly takes flight, rocketing directly into your face, making even the least squeamish of native Floridians scream in horror as the fwip-fwip-fwip of their wings flutter at all five of your senses.

The Palmetto Bug is a shiny, brown, beastly creature that can grow to over two inches in length, with spindly black antennae that are just as long. Palmetto Bugs are so large that you can hear them chewing something crunchy from the other room like your Uncle Lou going at a tin of peanut brittle, as I unfortunately found out the hard and crunchy way when I interrupted one eating a crouton that had fallen onto the kitchen floor one night.

“It’s just a Palmetto Bug. I’ll put it outside.”

You could smash the Palmetto Bug with a shoe or a newspaper, but they were so large it seemed mean, like you were killing a peer, and if you didn’t angle your smashing instrument just right, it could go Pulp Fiction on you and spray its Dr. Pepper-colored guts four feet across your wall and you’d have to summon Harvey Keitel to come out for the clean-up. It was easier to just put them outside.

Besides, it wasn’t like they were those smaller but more ominous German cockroaches we had in our house, where when you saw one then it meant there were a million more hiding behind your walls. Any time we bug-bombed the house, it was like walking into a German cockroach apocalypse when we returned four hours later; thousands of their small bodies legs-up on the floor, the masses so dense that you had to sweep them out the door like you were cleaning up after an old-timey ticker tape parade.

They would recover their ranks and repopulate the house within a month.

The Palmetto Bug, unlike the armies of German cockroaches, was most often a solo traveler in your Florida home; an unwelcome, weird friend who stopped by unannounced. He wasn’t a symptom of a bigger problem, he was a self-contained local nightmare that you shuffled out the door with a piece of junk mail. Anyone’s mother would (incorrectly) tell you that they didn’t even want to be in the house to begin with; that they lived in the palmettos, hence the name “Palmetto Bug”. They weren’t roaches for Pete’s sake. They were outdoor bugs, like beetles or moths!

Tourists were always eager to tell you about these gigantic, fearsome creatures they found crawling up their Florida motel room walls, and we native Floridians would wave them off with:

“It’s just a Palmetto Bug. We put them outside.”

The only people who were unimpressed were tourists visiting from New York, who bragged that Palmetto Bugs had nothing on New York City cockroaches almost as fiercely as they argued their title of Best Slice or Best Bagel.

In my thirties, on my first trip to New York, I saw a Palmetto Bug crawling up a wall in Times Square. I pointed at it and said, “Hey! You guys have Palmetto Bugs here, too! Maybe I brought him up here on vacation!”

My New Yorker friend stared at me.

I found out that day that the real, scientific term for the Palmetto Bug is the “American Cockroach”.

I found out that day that the real, scientific term for the legendary New York cockroach is the “American Cockroach”.

They were the same goddamned bug.

And New Yorkers still said theirs were superior.

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