Making Mischief in New Orleans, Part I

I haven’t been in New Orleans since before Katrina, but I love the city. When I got to LaGuardia, all stressed out after finishing a very long, tedious proofread and having the messenger pick up the package just in the nick of time, I found it soothing to hear Southern accents all around me. Our flight was delayed because a group from Mississippi (about forty people) had been in a bus accident. Nobody was injured, but the group had been delayed and the airline held the flight rather than leaving people displaced until the next day. When they straggled onto the airplane in groups of twos and threes, some personally thanked us for waiting, as if we other passengers had anything to do with it. It was a nice thing to do, though, and it put me in a good mood for an almost three-hour flight in such tiny, cramped seats—and of course, I was behind one of those guys who insisted on reclining all the way back so he could take a nap.

I got off the plane all right in New Orleans and taxied to the bed and breakfast, which me, my friend Sarah, and her daughter Megan are renting for the week. It’s called the Dauphine House and is supposedly haunted. The owner told me that there are five ghosts in her house. One is a couple from the 1860s that she saw on the staircase; she guesses they’re from right before the Civil War based on what they wear. One is a little girl who’s about six to eight years old and likes to play in the closet near our rooms. (I think I can handle that as long as she’s not like the kid from The Changeling.) The owner believes she died during the yellow fever epidemic. There’s also a ghost who’s very concerned with money and paces one of the balconies, and then another man who’s a dapper dresser and runs around in a top hat.

I was starving after two teensy bags of peanuts on the plane so we went to eat at a place that the bed-and-breakfast owner recommended, and on the way there and back, we saw the biggest, most luxurious cockroaches I’ve ever encountered. They put mine to shame in The Collectors. With shadow, they looked as big as three inches long and didn’t move too quickly since they were busy sucking heat out of the sidewalk—that is, until we started photographing them; then they got their hustle on. With the heat and humidity, I was covered with a fine sheen of sweat by the time we came back, but I was too tired to shower. I climbed into bed and slept for the next nine hours with no visitings.

New Orleans cockroach

We had drawn up our itinerary for our time before the World Horror Convention begins and decided to go on the cemetery voodoo tour the first day. After browsing through a few shops, taking breaks from the heat, we met up with our tour guide Gwen, a natural-born Creole, she said and then explained the differences. Gwen said spirits and ghosts are attracted to large bodies of water and that’s part of the reason why New Orleans is such a spiritual place.

She took us to Saint Louis Cemetery, No. 1, where Marie Laveau’s crypt is, the great voodoo priestess. I’ve been interested in her history ever since reading Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Voodoo Dreams: A Novel of Marie Laveau. People leave all sorts of tributes, but I was truly puzzled by a set of nail clippers that had been set on the edge of her crypt. I know Marie owned a beauty shop, so maybe it’s referencing that? Or somebody’s looking for extra help while opening a nail salon?

nail clippers for Marie Laveau

We were taken to another crypt that apparently held a hoodoo priest, though nobody can tell his name because the face of the stone is so badly damaged. Gwen told us about the serious black magic that this guy could do, and how cops would enter locked rooms to find bodies with their throats mysteriously cut…by nobody it appeared. I’ve heard NYPD talk about similar things, coming into a room where Santeria had been practiced and just feeling oppressive, bad things. This priest’s grave was decorated by three X’s, calling for magic, and other shrine-related items that had been deposited throughout the day. My favorite—somebody’s hotel room keycard.

tributes left for a hoodoo priest

We were lucky on our tour and ran into one of Gwen’s friends who runs the Golden Feather, a Mardi Gras Indian restaurant gallery. He let us see the Mardi Gras Indian suits on display and told us how each member spends one year making his, with a design that has special significance for him. (The owner told me there are only two shops in New Orleans that carry these supplies, and now I’m wild to find them.) When the suits are completed, the Mardi Gras Indians parade in different festivals as a way to honor the American Indians who protected the enslaved people during the slave revolts.

Mardi Gras Indian suit at the Golden Feather

Our tour group was flagging at the end, and Gwen offered to take us and a few other hardy souls to visit Priestess Miriam at the Voodoo Spiritual Temple and Cultural Center. Priestess Miriam was mixing up perfumes when we arrived and took a while to come to the door and let us in. She has two rooms full of shrines and altars that she’s been building since the 1990s. Gwen showed me her Burmese python and told me that Priestess Miriam reads bones, which are supposed to give really accurate, dead-on readings. I was curious about all of the Virgin of Guadalupe images that I saw in her altar room and asked Priestess Miriam about that since I have a shrine dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. She told me that the Virgin is a door, and all doors are feminine because it’s through a woman that anybody gets into or out of this world. I definitely see the getting-into part and have to think more on the getting out, but I’m in love with the idea that all doors are feminine.

Priestess Miriam, Gwen, Megan, and Sarah

After our tour, we had a sit-down and food, and then took the streetcar along the Moon Walk. Sarah told me she had run out of stickers for Horrorfeminista, so I gave her a new load, and she did this decorating while riding the streetcar. Now our paper roaches will be alongside the real ones in New Orleans.



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: