Josh Perkins
1 June 2018
I often joke that I have an undeniably Californian disposition; a product of being born in San Diego and educated in Berkeley. But, New York City always had a distinct magnetism to me. I am sure it has a similar effect on anyone who grew up watching Sex and the City reruns on hot summer afternoons when parents weren’t around to protest. It was a pull that I could no longer deny, so here I am, writing about life in New York kind of like Carrie Bradshaw, just without the money and the hair.

New York City is known for a number of things: fashion, banking, callous rudeness, and pests. So, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I flip on the lights to my summer sublet and I see small flashes of copper scurrying into the dark recesses of the apartment. I’m less surprised than disgusted. The apartment is on the Upper West Side of Manhattan—109th and Amsterdam. This far uptown, the roads get narrower, the residents older and the subway stops less frequent. The buildings have a worn brick façade that means they are either very old or are made to look like it.

Cockroaches, at least the New York variety, have a moist, oily sheen to them that screams disease vector. I grab a paper towel and squash my first victim against the countertop. The exterminator wouldn’t come for another two days so the cockroaches and I are unwilling roommates for the time being. The first night, I avoid the kitchen and the bathroom and huddle in my bedroom for refuge from the main roach colony.

I couldn’t do so forever. I wake up and head to the bathroom; the discarded carcasses of cockroaches are spewed in the corner behind the door. I look for a weapon and I take the bottom of the soap dispenser to smash some more against the wall. No luck. Cockroaches have an unmatched propensity for survival, humans, on the other hand, have a strange attraction to self-destruction. Global warming might be the end of us and this apartment might be the end of me. Evolutionarily, I am no match for an insect that has survived since the early Jurassic period. Kill as many as you like but there are always more when you return.

It’s a commonly held and largely unconfirmed belief that cockroaches are as disgusted by humans as we are by them. It’s why they run away when you enter a room and you only see them in quick flashes. They are, perhaps, New York’s only non-confrontation residents. But to hell with the entomologists. Disgust is a complex emotion beyond the capacity of a tiny insect brain and I don’t think these cockroaches are capable of thinking beyond their innate desire to terrorize me.

Outside the bathroom, I hear the rustling of my human roommates, but when I open the door they’re gone, crawled back to the darkness of their individual bedrooms. They have more in common with the cockroaches than perhaps humans should and seem remarkably unbothered by the stranger now occupying the bedroom down the hall. They are also comfortable cohabitating with cockroaches so maybe we’re better off not knowing each other for the time being.

I open the refrigerator, it’s empty aside from some milk, a couple of old cheese singles, eggs that have likely spoiled and, of course, more cockroaches. I open one of the kitchen cabinets and a few cockroaches fall onto the counter and run away. There is a broom by the trashcan but judging from the floor, I don’t think it’s been used in the past year. What sort of people live like this? I leave early, take the subway to Penn Station and mull around midtown wondering if I can find a way to avoid the apartment until the exterminator comes the next day.

I think: maybe this is just how New Yorkers live. Perhaps this is the penance we all must pay. Have New York’s famous residents ever had to kill cockroaches with wads of toilet paper every time they use the bathroom? I picture Anna Wintour crushing bugs with her immaculately manicured hands and cling to the image to assure myself that life in New York won’t be a bug themed horror film for much longer.

The exterminator arrives like the second coming of the Messiah. When he finishes he tells me: “So now that I sprayed they’re all going to start to crawl out” and “it will take another two months for them all to die.” I leave in three. Needless to say, this isn’t my Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City fantasy.