Nerd Factor: The Roaches of Tuckerman

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Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Thirty years ago this week, three college friends and I moved into an off-campus rental in a suburb. That house was an odd place and we would have many adventures and misadventures there. One of the earliest indicators that the house on Tuckerman Street would never be normal was our early encounter with the roaches. 

     Looking back, I am not exactly sure when we found that we had so many unexpected roommates. Obviously, it happened very early and I suspect that it was all part of the horrible first night at the house. Eric, a friend I had pretty much known forever, and I had arrived earlier in the day to start moving in. We had already discovered that the air conditioning at the home was not working properly. This was in Maryland in the late summer, so we had high temperatures and higher humidity; not exactly the ideal moving day. By the time Bruce got there, a friend whom I met in my freshman year when he sort of excavated a hole into my dorm room wall (a story for another time), those weather conditions had produced a raging thunderstorm. 

     That storm was a problem because we managed to lock ourselves out of the house. There was much disagreement about who made that mistake but suffice to say we had blundered badly. Fortunately, as I mentioned, Bruce had creative ideas about entering spaces. He broke into the house through its tiny connected garage.

     The storm cooled the evening off. Flush with victory in our triumph over our first crisis as renters, we settled in, confident in our abilities to live on our own. 

     That is when we heard the sound from the kitchen.

     The best way to describe that sound was that it was wrong. . . neither loud nor soft, unlike anything heard before or since. We turned on the lights to discover at least a hundred roaches pouring over our new-to-us kitchen. Some were big. Many were small. And I remember in my horror repeating the old saying that there are ten roaches you do not see for every one you do. The roaches disappeared in the light and our hearts sank collectively.

     The next day we bought roach spray. We followed the instructions on the cans religiously and Raid, the god of roach murder, seemingly rewarded our faithful devotion by driving the roaches away. 

     In fact, we did not see another until a week or so later, when Tony, my third roommate who missed the adventures of the first evening, was working out on his weight bench. He called out to us to come and see a roach that was on the wall in the laundry room. 

     The roach was a mutated horror. The right side of its body was that of a large roach. The left side was easily double if not triple the size it was supposed to be. We watched the abomination twitch and shuffle, speculating on how the chemicals must have altered the creature. “Oh no,” I whispered, “What are they doing to us?”

     Soon we were back at the hardware store looking for another solution that would not endanger our genetic structure. As we mulled over the choices, a raspy voice said to us, “You boys looking to kill roaches?” We turned to see a wizened old woman, a store employee who thanks to our many years of reading fantasy stories we immediately recognized as a magical figure sent to impart the secret of our survival to us as long as we did not anger her. She steered us away from the false god Raid and opened our eyes to the magical items that were the Combat roach bait trays. 

     We never saw another roach again in that house. We moved on to new misadventures. It is strange to look back on this nightmare fondly, but we got through it all. Nostalgia makes epics out of endurance. 

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