House Guest

00:00 June 30, 2011
By: Debbie Lindsey

 They are amazing. They fly, crawl, burrow, leap tall buildings, eat tall buildings, and ultimately segue into our conversations at otherwise classy moments. Some invade our picnics while others are actually invited. They have been here since the dawn of time and will be the last to turn out the lights. 

Yes, we have quite a relationship with the smaller of Nature’s offspring. But not always a welcomed one. I remember a time waiting tables when a rather plump rat commenced to running laps around the restaurant. To settle the unsettling effect this had upon our customers I explained that “Toto” had slipped his leash again and attempted to shoo it home. This may have backfired when an over zealous busboy with a butcher knife hollered “Got ‘em!”. Tips were a bit off that day. 

I love, if not respect, most every critter out there; but some really need to stay out there. When I lived in the Quarter my apartment was a vacation destination for mice. At one point I simply decided my guest list had grown too large and was unacceptable. Relations were strained to say the least. 

Feeling less than hospitable I set spring traps out for the uninvited guests. Killing mice was not something I was proud of and I chose this method because it seemed quick and more humane that the protracted torture of the sticky traps or poison. I became very proficient at trapping, until one evening I saw myself for what I was “a killing machine”. I ordered a cease-fire, at least on my part. However, my cat was still allowed to use his powers of persuasion upon those mice that chose to violate the truce.

Some pests can be downright dangerous. Like the time I was riding my bike down Burgundy Street when one was slowly crossing my path. A mouse? No. A small rat? No. A tiny newborn kitten? Maybe. Thoughts of a helpless kitten caused me to swerve away from it and nearly smack dab into a truck. And just before my attention became totally focused on avoiding a trip to the emergency room, I took one last glance and identified it as a Palmetto cockroach—the Godzilla of all roaches. 

Cockroaches that size are just wrong. And if you find that troubling, then consider how these guys survived the Ice Age and that was no easy feat. Surely that was due to the cunning and brilliance of the cockroach. I have long suspected them of covert activities indicative of a sinister yet ingenious intelligence. Too often I’ve come home from work to find my stealth hunter cat cowering behind a chair or locked out of the house and furniture slightly out of place so as to corral the dogs. You might think me silly to believe what my pets tell me but I have seen with my own eyes the organizational skills of cockroaches.

One such instance occurred many years ago. It was on a quiet night… almost too quiet. I had fatally struck a roach of mammoth proportions with my Times Picayune. That’s when I remembered a PBS show about how bugs communicate with each other. A shiver of regret went through me. I had instigated a battle and would have to see it through. To my horror, but not my surprise, the comrades of the deceased slowly entered the room. I clearly was outnumbered and about to panic when they began to retreat, but not without the bludgeoned roach—their fallen soldier. Too organized for my taste.

Another clever group of annoying creatures are the termites. You just have to respect and fear their voracious appetite when combined with their engineering skills for tunneling. These little buggars have the ability to fill a homeowner with unspeakable fear and a soul sucking sensation when their foot finds that soft spot in the flooring of their newly purchased fixer-upper; triggering a FOR SALE sign and a resume for that middle management job in Des Moines, Iowa. But, these pests do offer us some perverse pleasures. One favorite is observing a flock of intoxicated Bourbon Street tourists fleeing a swarm of termites (it seems that there’s some sort of urban myth about flesh eating termites).

French Quarter wildlife generally consist of river rats and mice and truly diverse entomological encounters are somewhat limited due do to a lack of green space (but to their credit, the insects there do seem to work over-time to compensate). So when we moved out towards City Park, gaining lots of nature and our very own yard, we were in for a change. Holy shit, I had no idea just how many bugs there are (add to this: raccoons, bats, and birds of every description including hawks). Every day I discover something new that crawls, climbs and glides, while working up a healthy appetite for my plants. But hey, I say live and let live because with the biters come butterflies, bees, ladybugs, worms (they turn that soil like a back-hoe), dragon flies (they eat mosquitoes) and a much more I haven’t met yet.
I am constantly amazed by the amount of toxins folks pour into their efforts to tame Nature. We humans really do believe that it’s “all about us”. Of course our persistent pests will have the last laugh as we saturate ourselves with pesticides that are the equivalent of lite beer to them. I say, just leave them to fight it out among themselves—they have a far more balanced war strategy that will not take out all your precious pansies.

While Nature is culling her own herds outside I have struck a deal with my vivacious vermin indoors.  I agree not to spray, swat, or squash (within reason) if they will reside (within reason) out of sight behind my walls; and I do keep a fly swatter handy just to remind them that as their innkeeper, their hostess, I need my own personal space. These are my house rules. Therefore at night when I hear movements within the walls I know, rather than spirits stirring, it’s the scurrying of my house guests.



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