Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Battle of the Bugs

First I must apologize for my slackness in posting the past few days. I still have a bit of lingering infection from my recent dental surgery (yes, still, even after two rounds of antibiotics), and two-and-a-half weeks of constant pain in my jaw (pain when I talk, pain when I eat, PAIN when my son affectionally slams his head into my face as toddlers are so wont to do) has really been dragging me down. And no, I haven't been back to the dentist yet, because I keep hoping if I ignore the problem hard enough it will just go away. And yes, I am being irrational and sort of a wuss, but read my recent wisdom-tooth-removal-related posts and see if YOU feel like going to the dentist. See? And you didn't even live it. You just read it. So there :P

Now, on to my post.


A few days ago, I saw one. A big fat slick black waterbug, lying legs-up on my carpeted hallway floor, twisted, twitching. Death spasming.

I hopped over it with a shudder of my own, and grabbed a wastefully thick wad of papertowels from the kitchen. I scooped it up gently in the towels, and bundled them tightly around it, and then made myself smash the little bundle as hard as I could. Quicker that way, I thought. Put the poor damn thing out of its misery.


You see, I have a problem with bugs. Bugs in my house.

Oh, they're all right outside, keeping to themselves, living their little buggy lives. Part of the ecosystem. Circle of life, and that. Pollinating and nourishing my garden. Tiny, intricate creatures, so delicately made, so alien to my comparatively massive mammalian self. Outside, sometimes, I think they're facinating. Sometimes even beautiful. In fact, there is a tattoo of a dragonfly on my back. Dragonflies seem so lithe and graceful, and have such lovely iridescent glassy wings; yet, there is a fierceness in their movements that is startling. Quite engaging creatures, certain bugs.

When I find them in my house, I want to smash them.

(I usually make my husband smash them for me).

There is something about these little creatures invading my domain that seems to activate a primal warding instinct. That line of little ants that seems so quaint and prim to me upon the sidewalk looks like an invading army of ugly, filthy marauding thieves crossing the threshhold of my patio door. The spider that seemed so friendly and useful spinning her delicate web above my basil plant seems full of malevolent intelligence on the rim of my bathroom sink.

Last summer I discovered much to my horror that the thin, shoddily constructed walls and poorly sealed window frames of my apartment building here in the wooded suburbs admitted many more unwelcome arthropod guests than I'd been accustomed to living closer to the city. In the space of one season, we suffered no less than three ant invasions, from three different species of ant-- black ants in the bathrooms (coming through my mildewed water-damaged wall), pharoah ants in the baby's room (coming through a poorly spackled fist-sized hole in the wall adjacent to the windows, and then around the unsealed window frame itself), crazy ants in the living room (sneaking under my patio door). Every time it rained, we played host to at least three quarter-sized refugee spiders. Waterbugs and spindly crickets abounded in the utility closet. And in one week, I caught no less than three GIANT FLYING COCKROACHES. I didn't even know Missouri had flying cockroaches. They sure showed me.

After I filed several complaints, the apartment office finally sent over a bumbling exterminator who looked amazingly like a stereotypical TV caricature of an exterminator-- right down to the poor posture, stained clothes, creepy stare, and amazingly bad teeth-- who tended to spill things in places he shouldn't, and once asked if he could pour some sort of toxic pesticide from one container to another in my kitchen sink. After two visits, he and his noxious chemicals scared me more than the bugs did, so I stopped asking the apartment office for help (which I strongly suspect may have been their plan all along).

My second line of response to this mass invasion was to invest heavily in boric acid traps, seal every crack in the poorly made, water-damaged walls I could reach with spackle, insulating foam, and caulk, and put all the food in my pantry in air-tight plastic or glass containers.

I had already been keeping my house quite clean (not always neat, mind you, but clean). I consider superior cleanliness necessary when you live with someone who spends a good deal of his time on the floor looking for odd things that aren't food to put in his mouth.

The Battle of the Bugs raged on into the fall. I lost most of my patio herb garden to the crazy ant invasion, but I did manage to keep my kitchen and pantry bug-free. (Except for that unfortunate flour weevil incident, but I blame that entirely on my Schnucks grocery. After all, who on earth expects a swarm of mature flour weevils to eat their way out of a sealed bag of chickpeas purchased at the store only two weeks prior? Well, I do. Now.)

Then winter came, with its blissful killing frosts. And away went the bugs.

But the winter was unseasonably mild.

And spring has once again sprung.

As they say in the movies:

This time, I'm ready.

Caulk gun? Check. Non-carcinogenic bug killers? Check. Enough air-tight plastic in my pantry to make a entire Tupperware party swoon? Check.

I don't care if I have to lay down a perimeter of diatomaceous earth and boric acid around this whole apartment building, my pretties. I don't care if I have to pot three different species of insect-repellant shrub. I don't care if I have to hire a team of trained bug-eating bats.

You're not taking my house, bug army. Go build yourselves a buggy civilization outside.


Andrea said...

We have a similar problem, only for us, it's mice. Cute little creatures in the pet store, sad that snakes eat them, but when they're in your walls and squeaking at 2:30 a.m. they're not so cute. They're devilish little things that know when you're fast asleep so they can make inordinate amounts of noise, waking your child and reminding you of the first horror movie you saw on HBO, Rats, where the babysitter got eaten by surprisingly predatory rats. While the toddler in the high chair watched. Ugh. And when our builder couldn't figure out how to install a tub level, it makes me wonder just how many nooks and crannies they created as well, unsealed of course. We know the mice getting in through the garage, and we just canceled our Orkin account because all they were doing was putting down those glue traps and charging us $86 every other month. We decided we would get our own glue traps (since we have dogs we can't poison the buggers for fear of our dogs eating a poisoned mouse and getting sick)and get them ourselves, saving the high rates of the exterminator, who couldn't seem to get rid of the mice all winter. In our case, the warmer weather might be a blessing since they won't need the shelter of our house anymore in the cold. I about threw in the towel, though, when I found three, that's right THREE, mice in the trash can we use strictly for the dogs' food. Shudder!

Peter said...

oh wow .. reminds me of our times in Fiji ... and there the season was the whole year ,.. no frost ever killed anything ... Curious what we will get here in Italy ... so far I have seen nothing and am so glad that i can keep stuff outside

I envision you in your bug battle gear ... poor bugs. For inspiration you might want to rent and watch 'Starship Troopers' - all about killing bugs!

Lisa said...

Eeek. That is icky. So sorry to hear you are still having pain. That really sucks. You need some better drugs, chickie.

Our old house was near a nursing home. When they expanded, they tore up their sewer lines. This meant the rats invaded our neighborhood. Once as I was putting the trash out, a rat flew out of the trash can. Two steps away from me. You made me think of that. We were killing rat babies in our garage for months after. YUCK.

Jaelithe said...

Andrea-- You are a far braver woman than I to be able to use those sticky traps. When I was a kid my dad lived in a house with an old-fashioned earth-floored coal cellar attached to the basement, and consequently we often had problems with mice. My father tried to live-trap them, but of course they always came back in the house. So, my grandmother started coming by and laying down dozens of sticky traps, and many a night I could hear the trapped mice screaming in the basement.

(For those of you who have never heard a mouse scream, it sounds sort of like the stereotypical teenage horror movie girl-who-is-about-to-die scream, only moved up several octaves. Sort of like if someone shrunk a pubescent Jamie Lee Curtis down to mouse-size).

My father used to have to go down and get the mice and bring them upstairs and either break their necks or drown them in the sink so that my sister and I would stop crying about the poor screaming mice.

(Did I mention I had a pet mouse?)

I expect now these days the sticky traps probably have some sort of fast-acting poison that offs the mice much more quickly though. Right?

Peter-- Well, there were only the three flying cockroaches that one week. (I am convinced someone in my neighborhood must have brought them in a suitcase from Florida or Texas. At least, I am trying very hard to be convinced they weren't native). And no lizards yet. So I think I'm still latitudes away from anything resembling the Fiji Experience ;)

Andrea said...

I don't know about poison on the glue traps, although that's a good idea so they don't die too slowly. I have only come across successful traps after the mice are dead. My hubby has come across them a few times while the mice are still alive, and he tells me it's sad, but we haven't heard any screaming mice. I would imagine they do scream though.:( I don't want to kill them, but they keep getting in our house and we've already had to replace chewed-through electrical wiring once. I don't want to have to live in fear of a fire just so the mice can live.

Jaelithe said...

Oh I certainly don't blame you for killing mice in your house! I'm sorry for my depressing mouse story.

Like I said, the live traps don't work very well . . .

We had squirrels in the attic of our apartment building lately and I was a vocal part of a whole-bulding posse calling the office once a week trying to get them to kill those squirrels dead. You can't take chances with rodents who chew electrical wiring. Better them than me!

Anonymous said...

I have had problems with mice and waterbugs a like. I like to use the glue boards to catch mice. To me it's better to catch the little suckers than have them invading my home and bringing in diseases for my kids to get sick. We must live in a house that attracts this stuff. We keep our house pretty well clean so can't figure out why we keep having all these problems.I use boric acid for the waterbugs. I thought my waterbug problem had gone away but seems to be back in the basement now. I hate those dirty lil suckers. I'm waging war on them big time!