“Do You Want to Know How I Got Rid of Them?”
At first, I tried chemicals. Raid was readily available at the corner convenience store, in several formulas aimed at various vermin. Cockroaches weren’t the only pests in the buildings. Other brands also competed at eye-level on the shelves. I realized the problem was widespread.
One morning I opened my kitchen cabinet and found a big cockroach sitting in the middle of my breakfast bowl, rotating its feelers, as if offering itself up in sacrifice for my breakfast. The Raid had worn off. I shrieked and dropped the bowl, giving the roach an escape route.
I pulled everything from every cabinet in the kitchen, cleaned and wiped all the little spaces between boards and doors and wall. On a whim, I picked up a roll of gray industrial tape that I’d left on the counter the day before. I stuck lengths of tape over the openings in which I expected roaches might hide. For the next week I kept vigil over the cabinets, opening them several times a day just to surprise any cockroach that thought he had privacy in there. The surprise was on me, however, because I did not see a single roach anywhere!
I phoned Asma to tell her about my new approach.
At first, I taped only the insides of cabinets and closets. When I realized how efficient the method was— far better than chemicals, which reek and then stop working— I taped other areas of the apartment. Over time I perfected the technique, learning how to choose the narrowest width needed, and how to apply it straight, without wrinkles. I sent my husband out for three more rolls of industrial strength silver tape.
Once that tape stuck, there was no ripping it off. Even a thumb-sized cockroach could not emerge from behind it. I taped door frames, baseboards, stoop, and window frames. I did a neat job so it wouldn’t look industrial. An imaginative person could have looked at the strips and thought they were a decorative statement.
My most significant accomplishment was taping the bathroom. This technique evolved over several years of vacations, because while we were abroad, all cockroaches knew it, and gave themselves carte blanche to move in and set up housekeeping. They liked the bathroom best, even better than the kitchen.
I simply taped every crack and orifice I could find. Each year, the roaches would find new ones, and each year, I’d tape up the new ones. The bathroom actually became a room of visual delight, what with strips and squares of silver tape lining seams and covering holes. I should have photographed it.
The day we’d leave for vacation, I’d save the bathroom taping for last. At the last minute, after the luggage had been taken out and the kids were whining, “Mom, come on,” I would tape the entire toilet lid and seat cover where they met the bowl.
When the entire bathroom looked ready to board the plane with us, we were ready to leave. Later, while listening to the drone of the jet engines, I would turn my attention to all the neat stories I’d tell the people back home. I would stop worrying about cockroaches, secure in the hope that I’d foiled the yearly immigration. I wondered whether I’d be able to boast of my lovely taping to anyone in the States. No, probably not. I wondered if I might at least meet someone with whom I could share my favorite movie, Joe’s Apartment.
I did! My mom loved it; we laughed like kids. My sister, however, didn’t last beyond Joe’s first infestation.