The Cockroach Wars, Part II: Apoca-cockaroach-alypse

When I was in fourth grade, our class was given a test to let us know what types of careers we were geared toward based on how we answered some multiple-choice questions. I wasn’t surprised by many of the career options that were recommended for me—artist, writer, teacher—but one I found completely mind-boggling: pest exterminator. How in the hell did that come up?

I was a nerdy kid who liked to spell, read the dictionary, and handwrite chapters out of my textbooks for “fun.” I didn’t see how that translated into killing bugs and rodents. Well, apparently, there is a small germ for this deep down in my soul, because this year with our cockroach problem, I’ve found the pest exterminator that exists inside of me. We’ve had them bad this year—an apoca-cockaroach-alypse—but after exploring several methods of pest control, I think we’ve finally got a handle on the problem.

Pest exterminator in the making. See the killer gleam in my eyes?

We used a fogger when the cockroach problem was definitely more than a few stray ones making their way up the pipes. I had heard that for every cockroach you see, there are ten more hiding, and I wanted them all dead. Now. It turns out, though, that using a fogger is a real pain in the ass. We had to move everything out of our kitchen cabinets and into our living room. Then after we were done fogging, we had to move everything back in and clean all the kitchen surfaces to make sure that we didn’t poison ourselves or our cats. This ended up being an all-day affair, and we found out later that we were supposed to repeat this in twenty-eight day intervals to get rid of new hatching populations. After our first fogger attempt, we just didn’t have the heart to repeat the process. Too much work. Grade: C+

I really, really liked the idea of Pest Offense and wanted it to work, but I was dubious. Pest Offense is a tannish box that looks like a garage opener from days of yore. You’re supposed to plug it into an outlet, and the device will then use electrical current to scramble a cockroach’s senses, creating a force field that shields a person’s home or apartment from pests. It sounded a little too Star Wars for the world I live in, but I was desperate. I read the reviews online for Pest Offense, and they seemed equally divided between “works like a charm” and “what a piece of crap.” I’m afraid our experience fell in the latter category. When I first plugged the device in, I did notice a cockroach that stood rooted on the wall near it. It’s working, I thought. It’s scrambling its brains. Alas, that was not the case. The cockroaches frolicked, more concerned with finding food and water than being alarmed by the pretty blinking light on the box. Grade: F

Our first line of defense, and always one of the most effective, is boric acid. We’ve been carrying around a large squeeze bottle of the stuff since we had our apartment in Bushwick (and it only cost $1.99—the sticker is still on the bottle). You have to make a boric acid barrier in the cracks and crannies where the cockroaches like to go. When we had problems before, we would squeeze a few lines under the sink, and presto, the roaches started dying off. This gets very messy, though, when you’re cleaning or trying to make food. Water mixes with the boric acid and makes a paste like mud. Also, it’s a little hard to explain when company comes over.

“What’s all that yellow powder on your counter?”

You just don’t want to say, “Well, we have a little cockroach problem right now.”

Never pretty.

Boric acid is also somewhat toxic. It’s all right when you just need to do a little upkeep underneath your sink, but it made me nervous to have it on the floor or around the counters where my cats might step in it or possibly eat it. Grade: B+

We have a professional exterminator that comes to our building monthly and sprays down any apartment that’s having trouble. All you have to do is put your name on the sign-up sheet in the lobby. I saw that my direct downstairs neighbors had signed up and was terrified of inheriting their roaches once they’d been sprayed. The night before the exterminator was due to come, I crept downstairs and added my name to the sheet, wanting to avoid as much social stigma as possible. The guy came the next day with his canister of bug juice and squirted poison with a nozzle as I anxiously followed behind him, wringing my hands. I told him we’d never had such a problem, but this year it was just terrible.

“Yeah, we been getting a lot of that,” he said. “It’s because we had no winter last year. Cold kills ’em.”

I really didn’t notice much of a difference the two times the exterminator came and sprayed, but I appreciated hearing a reason for this problem and being reassured that it wasn’t because my neighbors were filthy or our apartment. Grade: C

We had a bad week back in early October, spotting two or more roaches on the counter when we woke up in the morning and flicked the lights on in the kitchen, and to top things off, we had a houseguest coming to stay for a week. I sure didn’t want her to wake up to that. I had read a few reviews about Combat Source Kill Max that said it worked well. I was shopping for other things in the Duane Reade when I came across this little box, and feeling dispirited and sure that my problem would never be solved, I went ahead and purchased it.

The Combat Source Kill Max directions said to put drops in the cracks and crevices of cupboards, counters, anywhere the roaches would go. The substance comes in something that looks like a glue gun, and you apply tiny drops that are smaller than the size of a pencil eraser. The stuff works as both bait and poison. It attracts the roaches and they carry the substance back to their lairs, where even more roaches are killed.

I applied drops as directed, and not even an hour later, I saw some big fatties heading along the wall to the poison. They were so anxious for the bait that they didn’t even try and hide. And then suddenly, the carcasses started piling up. This stuff is the shit!

I get a little smug sometimes and want to pat myself on the back, convinced that the roaches are gone and I’m an ace pest exterminator. But every once in a while, one pops out, keeping me humble. It takes maintenance. You have to reapply the bait to keep new roaches from appearing—all part of that life cycle I’ve read so much about. Grade: A+++

The Cockroach Wars, Part I

I’ve got the feeling that everybody has to deal with this problem at some time in their life, but lately it seems like cockroaches have launched a personal vendetta on me.

Kristi and I have been pretty lucky in our apartment so far. There were a few times when we first moved in that we saw a couple of roaches. We bought some bait traps at the Stop & Shop, and bang, the problem was solved. This year, though, beginning in about January, we’ve had cockroaches in our kitchen, and the bait traps aren’t working on them.

Of everything in the bug kingdom, I think I find the cockroach the most loathsome, and I suppose it’s because of the associations that come with cockroaches. Ants are portrayed as industrious team players, spiders are crafty, but cockroaches are seen as just plain dirty.

Our kitchen was being taken over by the small German cockroaches, their brown, shiny bodies skittering away when a light was turned on. We researched roaches on the Internet, and at first dusted all the cracks on our counter with boric acid. The things weren’t dying off quickly enough, though. We scrubbed down our cabinets with bleach and enforced a strict no-dirty-dishes policy, but the little bastards still kept coming. I read that after cutting off the roaches’ food and water supply, it can still take months to wipe them out completely because they will start cannibalizing each other. Fabulous.

Kristi decided that enough was enough and got a hold of some roach foggers. It was time to bomb our kitchen to kingdom come. She came up with the idea of putting plastic over the kitchen doorway and staple-gunning the tarp in place. This doubly functioned to keep us and our kitties safe from the poison and to prevent the roaches from escaping it.

We removed all the dishes, blew out the pilot light, and Kristi put the fogger in the middle of the kitchen. Once it had been set off, Kristi sealed off the doorway, and we started watching an episode of Buried Alive with the worst cockroach infestation ever:


My skin was crawling afterward, and Kristi went to the sealed-off doorway to check on the fogger’s progress. She called me in to see the bodies of about forty or so roaches on the plastic tarp; they had died trying to escape. We watched another show before going to bed, and I periodically went into the hallway to view those dead bodies, torturing myself.

The next day we killed a few slow-moving roaches, big, hardy ones that had only been stunned by our napalm-like fogger. For the most part, though, the problem seemed contained.

And then they came back with a vengeance, appearing in places we’d never seen them before. We even got a few of what I call the dinosaur roaches. These are the huge roaches that live in the basement of our apartment building—they’re so big I swear they make noise when they move, like tap dancers. Now that the weather’s nice, they like to sun themselves on the side of the building like insectile iguanas, and if a window is open, they’ll pop in for a visit. We’ve been visited by this particular specimen twice this week.

We bought an electronic device, the Pest Offense, which is supposed to scramble their brains and send all roaches, mice, ants, etc., packing. The smudgy instructions said to give it a week and that the problem may become worse before it gets better. This advice sounds like something out of a fortune cookie, but I’m slowly waiting, hoping that nothing like this happens: