Sunday, January 13, 2013

Desperate Times: Pirates, Communists, Roaches

More than 200 years ago, when the US was a new country and just making her way out in the world, she came across the Barbary Pirates of Tunis, Tripoli and Algers on the North African coast.

US merchant boats full of goods to trade were not able to trade freely on the Barbary Coast, and instead were forced to pay "tribute" money to the "Princes" just to keep the pirates from blowing up our ships and selling all the crew into slavery.

 Between 1790 and 1800 the US authorized payments to the pirates of between 1/6 - 1/3 the total government budget. Anyway, European nations (ex: Denmark, the Two Sicilies and other World Leaders at the Time) had been long paying these "tribute fees" to trade along the Barbary Coast.  Who were we to change this tradition, a new country with a flag that hardly anyone recognized yet?

All this money,  for what? To not be killed? Yes.

The Barbary Pirates were running what we now call a "protection racket" (also known as "racketeering') -- translated: paying bad people to not be bad to you.

As soon as Thomas Jefferson became president he refused to continue to have US resources drained by racketeering thugs.  Jefferson called on Congress to authorize "millions for defense... but not one (friggin) cent for tribute" and asked for the creation of a navy.  A few years later the new US Marines stormed Tripoli and announced the whole racketeering thing was over.

  I love that moment of US history, but I didn't love my week this week, and what happened that makes me keep thinking of racketeering pirates.

A few weeks ago I saw a roach in the dishwasher. Ew. That's not OK.

Then one under the coffeemaker. Then one -- was it the same one? he had that same sneaky look - on the floor by oven.

I don't want to kill them, actually I'd like for them to get jobs, buy their own food, bathe, and maybe   pay me to hang out here, but I kill them anyway, quietly, surgically, followed always and every time by a burial at sea (flushing).

I mention this to my awesome landlord, and he sends over the Bug Guy who is not actually the Bug Guy who kills things but actually is the Bug Guy who takes your money and promises you there will be Other Bug Guys.

I dislike him from the beginning, I get the feeling he is talking to me but is spewing something he's memorized. He tells me all about German Cockroaches  - their eating habits, nesting habits, shitting habits, and babyroach-making habits.  I've lived in the South my whole life. I know enough about roaches, thanks.

He keeps talking.  My awesome landlord interrupts after 30 minutes, asks how much it will be and writes a check for about $600.

At this point I want the Bug Guy to leave and take his bug stories with him. But apparently he can't.  He tells me that for every roach I see, there are a thousand hiding behind my walls that I can't see.

"Like Communism?" I retort, admiring the juxtaposition of the two feared"pests"  and laugh at myself but  he doesn't stop talking for a second. Like he didn't hear me.  Hello? I compared the roach scare with the red scare, hello? Funny? Anything? Nothing.

 I'm pulling on my sweater, I have my keys jangling, every bit of body language that says it's time to leave but now he is set on trying to gross me out or get me to flinch or whatever sign he will know he's scared me enough into paying him his protection money.

He flashes his light at my counter where 30 minutes before I had made Cuban coffee. "See that? droppings, right there on your county" -- I don't correct him. I know the truth.  The truth is that those are coffee grounds and I want him to leave and he won't leave.

He then goes on to explain to me the fact that I see any roaches at all  is because the hive is so overcrowded a few have literally starved and are losing their minds.  After pausing for about two beats, he adds "If you knew what was behind your walls, you wouldn't be able to sleep at night...."

My impatient body languages escalates my walking to the front door like I'm going to just leave him here with his communist plague roaches. Before he can go he explains I'll need to clean out - empty out - my kitchen. All the way empty.  Bleach it all down, wipe it all down.  His men would be coming to spray stuff into outlets and then find hives and suck the roaches out with these high powered bug sucking vacuums; I'd need to be out of the house from X to Y time, and then they would be back again for another treatment Z days later.

Finally he leaves.  I empty the kitchen. I clean, I pack, I clean and clean. I find dead roaches and name them Trotsky and Lenin. I can't sleep that night as images of swarming roaches scratching behind the walls starts to really skeeve me out.

The Bug Guy with the poison and the vacuum arrives in the morning.

He does his work, then reports he found about 40 roaches.  He'll be back in 2 weeks to make sure the invisible communist roach problem doesn't return.

 I imagine that for $600 I could have bought some super cute shoes and danced all over those roaches and vacuumed them up myself.

For that same money I could have bought each roach a ticket to Halloween Horror Nights and then abandoned them there.   But that would have been too swift and simple and answer, too Jeffersonian for our modern world.

For bi-monthly payment of about how much it costs to fill my SUV with gas, the Bug Guy Mafia will continue their oh so capitalistic  invisible but horrifying roach destruction and protection racket.

Meanwhile, my kitchen is super clean and I have to eat every meal at a restaurant until the Bug Man returns. He didn't tell me I had to do this, but desperate times call for desperate measures.