Two summers ago, I lived in New York.
C had already been working there for about eight months, and as the fates sometimes throw happy surprise parties, I got a job that took me there, too.
It was August, it was sweltering in that particular Manhattan way, and in a fit of YOLO (god, I hate that phrase) we decided to rent a loft in Soho and live it up. What we learned, of course, is that unless you’re financially equipped to live it way, WAAAAAAAAAY up, a loft in Soho still has some drawbacks. That’s another story.
In the summer, in the city, everything seems to just slide hazily past. There’s a sheen to all surfaces, you don’t want to sit down, and I personally found myself moving with a kind of alien economy. Once down in the furnace of the subway tunnel, I would summon every ounce of meditative power as I experimented with how much I actually needed to breathe. Maybe, if I could just slow everything down, Matrix-style, I could convince my atoms to cool, even slightly.
I started carrying a handkerchief for the sole purpose of mopping my brow. I felt like Fred Mertz.
One night, C and I met up with another couple, dear friends, and we feasted at a favorite restaurant. Happily expanded, we waddled into the navy blue heat and stood on the sidewalk, fanning ourselves and laughing.
In Los Angeles, we got ‘em. They’re disgusting and I hate them and while I can justify the existence of most living things – in an abstract way, if needed – I don’t get why cockroaches are here. Please do not cite any profound scientific reason because I DON’T CARE AND I DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT. Spiders, no problem – they eat flies! Flies, okay – they eat shit! Ants – annoying if they invade, but have you seen their architecture!
But cockroaches. Nope.
One of this couple, S, had both hands full as we stood on the sidewalk, hooting at nothing. He, too, is prone to eloquent perspiration, and we exchanged sympathetic moppings. And then suddenly, suddenly, a horde of cockroaches flooded out of the nearest sewer grate and engulfed him.
When I related this story recently to a friend, he asked in horror, “A horde? Like, how many?”
“Like, 20!” I shouted. “So many gross!”
“Oh,” he said, waving his hand. “I thought you meant he was literally covered in them.”
A moment. Is 20 cockroaches not 20 too many to have on your person?
However, when the horde attacked my friend, this is what he did: He closed his eyes. He closed his mouth. He stayed perfectly still.
He let me scream and do a jig and swat at him and scream some more. Those cockroaches skittered all over him like he was hiding cockroach treasure. GAHHHHHHH!!!! I eventually managed to knock them off his body, and the entire time, he remained calm. For the record, C and our other friend had scattered. As S stood there, statue-like, and I performed my screeching dance around him, we must have looked like some ritual human sacrifice.
It wasn’t until much later that I realized how completely amazing this was. In the moment, all I could do was flagellate and twitch as the memory of that gruesome violation lingered. But my god. In the face of total, disgusting, panic-inducing attack, S just stayed quiet. He must have known it would pass. He must have trusted that someone would help him. He must be some sort of zen god.
Lately, I’ve heard from a lot of friends that they’re feeling discouraged. Uncertain and frustrated and just plain exhausted. Sometimes, I’m exhausted, and I haven’t done a damn thing. I thought of this story, not because of the soothing allegorical nature – Cockroach attack! Screeching! – but because it reminded me: This, too, will pass. Maybe when I’m feeling ambushed by life, I should close my eyes, close my mouth and hope I’m next to a friend who will help me.
If that’s you, please, please get those fucking cockroaches off of me.