Last week I received an informal memo from my office building (I overheard some guys in the hallway) warning me against using one of the two men’s bathrooms on my floor. This was a problem because it’s my preferred bathroom: It is larger, has more stalls and better smelling soap. Basically it’s like going to the bathroom in a Cadillac as opposed to a Kia.
But when I heard WHY I shouldn’t use the bathroom, I quickly conceded. Apparently, there was what you might call a cockroach convention in the bathroom. You see, my office building dates back to 1920 (I just made that up, I don’t even know if that’s possible) and last month huge renovations began to completely restructure much of the building’s lobby, hallways and bathrooms. This must have bothered all the cockroaches who lived there, because they decided to hold this town council in the men’s bathroom (where else would they hold a meeting?) I didn’t peek in like some other guys did because I’m not a raging lunatic, but I imagine that if I did what I would have seen was fifty or so cockroaches milling about with cups of muddy coffee and biscuit cookies from a tin. There would have been a chairman in front of the group trying to quiet everyone down, and it would unequivocally have been the most disgusting thing I have ever seen in my life.
A little side note: It’s not that I’m that squeamish around insects. I was just like every other kid who played with bugs. But somewhere down the line I reached the age of reason and realized that bugs can kill you. This was confirmed when I was living in my first New York apartment during college and one night while watching TV I saw out of the corner of my eye something dart across the floor. It was so large that for a second I wondered how a cat could have gotten into my apartment, and how the cat could have fit a raccoon in its mouth? Then I nearly fainted when I saw that it was actually a cockroach. I mean, this thing could have beat me up in a standing fist fight. And contrary to what my dad used to say, it was not afraid of me. It was bothered by me, but thankfully too cool to waste its time on me. It left and I didn’t sleep for two days. That experience changed my whole way of thinking about bugs. In fact, you could even say that at that point I underwent a Metamorphosis. (I’m selling that joke to “The New Yorker”!)
So, logically, I avoided the bathroom all week, even though I had seen men walk in and come out alive (yes, I actually waited outside to make sure). It wasn’t until this morning, in fact, that I decided to venture back in. One too many times I had been forced to wait on line for a urinal in the small Kia bathroom. I deserve better than that at work. Well, I probably don’t deserve better, but I’m stubborn and kind of stuck-up, so if it came down to waiting in line to pee or overcoming my own petty fears, I decided I would just go in the janitors sink. But then they started locking that door, so I went with option C and faced my fears.
I opened the door to the bathroom like a police officer entering a crime scene: quietly, stealthily, eyes darting around the room searching for movement. I felt bad for the guy who was coming out of a stall right as I walked in because if I had had a gun, I likely would have shot him, and he knew it.
After a thorough investigation of the entire room, I felt confident that the building management had eradicated the cockroach uprising, or maybe reached a settlement agreement with them and given them their own conference room. Either way, I was relieved. I went into a stall and sat down. (HAHA, POOP! Come on, people, this is serious.)
After about 30 seconds, it happened. (No, not that.) My worst fear. I thought I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. No sooner did I audibly say to myself, “It can’t be . . .” did I see it approaching me. One cockroach. One, big cockroach. At the town council, he would have been the one with the dirty overalls and the ax over his shoulder. He moved slowly and unsurely, as if thinking, “I know that meeting is around here somewhere . . .”
I was paralyzed, not only by fear, but literally I couldn’t get up yet. I wasn’t done. So I tried to calm myself. “We are all part of Nature,” I thought. “There is a order to Nature. I understand that. I have my place; the cockroach has his. And his is Hell.”
To spare my loved ones a considerable amount of embarrassment, I won’t go into detail about what happened next. But basically the cockroach wasn’t moving. And I had to. But I couldn’t let him out of sight (that’s when they kill you). Since I was peeking at him through the bottom of the stall door in front of me, I had to kind of open the door before I stood up so as not to lose sight of him. Let’s just say that if anyone else had walked in the bathroom right then, I would have been caught in the most compromising position of finishing up in a bathroom stall, my gaze locked with a large bug, both of us wary of any sudden movements.
Luckily, no one did come in the bathroom. And the bug, for all his dumb bravado, didn’t make a move. I sidled past him to the sink where I washed my hands, never taking an eye off him. He remained still. In fact, he may have been dead. But he could have been just playing dead. You never know. Bugs are crafty. They haven’t survived for millions of years by being predictable. Which is why, when I left the bathroom and passed someone in the hallway headed to the bathroom, I didn’t warn him about the roach. Nature has its order, and I had survived that order. But it wasn’t for me to take food out of the roach’s mouth. We had a mutual respect.
But now I travel to the bathroom with a small can of Raid wrapped up in a newspaper. Because I won’t let him take away my freedom to pee at will. If I do that, he’s already won.