The only time I've ever given any though to joining the military is when I watch Aliens, because they make it look so damn cool. Even when they're all dying horrible, horrible deaths.
Aliens is probably one of the greatest movies ever made, and whether I knew it or not, it became the model for the next couple months of my life. Ripley and the Colonial Marines wound up marooned on a shithole planet full of horrible, nearly unkillable monsters; I had ten and a half months left on a year lease in an apartment full of horrible, nearly unkillable monsters.
With over two weeks until anyone comes looking for them, Ripley and the Marines barricade themselves inside a building, shuttering all points of access and creating multiple fallback points. I did the same, systematically shutting off all access points and reducing my living space to an easily defensible perimeter.
Whenever I go to Home Depot I just immediately find the nearest employee, tell them what I’m looking for, and ask them where it is. I know that’s probably frustrating for them, but Home Depot is the king of the emasculating hardware store, and the deck there is completely stacked against me finding what I want.
When I can’t find something in a grocery store I at least know what I’m looking for – at Home Depot I’m usually looking for some vague tool that I don’t know the name or function of, so my options are to either search the entire store aisle by aisle or ask the nearest Orange Apron.
“I’m looking for sprayable foam.” I said to the Orange Apron one weekend in early August.
He stared at me blankly.
“Sprayable foam.” I said again. “That exists, right?” If it didn’t, this would not be the first time I assumed a gadget that I’d seen on an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise eight years ago was now real and feasible.
“Sprayable… Foam?” He didn’t seem to get it.
“Yeah. You spray it into cracks, and then it gets hard?”
He raised his eyebrows.
Oh Jesus it sounds like I’m describing anal sex.
“You know,” I said, trying to save face. “It’s like caulk.”
(Pronounced phonetically: Cock.)
I’m pretty sure he thought I was propositioning him, but eventually I found a can of Great Stuff – an expanding, hardening foam that you spray into crevasses around your house to block out drafts and insects.
I used my caulk liberally around my apartment, spraying foam into every crack I could find, but this didn’t stop the roaches from coming. In all likelihood I was closing the barn door after the roaches had run out – they had found a way into my apartment and were now breeding somewhere inside, and the only thing my foam was doing was ensuring that they couldn’t leave.
My kitchen was spotless, and since the invasion I’d all but quit eating in my apartment. Of course, food isn’t an issue for roaches – they can last months without a meal and munch on other dead roaches or their own children whenever they need a snack. The baits and poisons I’d set out didn’t seem to be doing much, nor did either of the two visits from the apartment’s exterminator, so I took the next most logical step:
I would surrender my living room and kitchenette to the roaches. They were willing to die for it in great numbers, so they’d damn well earned it. Even though I was still the one paying for it.
Roaches are generally nocturnal (They mostly come out at night… Mostly.), so every night after work I would race home against the setting sun in hopes of arriving at my apartment with time to scarf down a quick dinner – usually two slices of bread with peanut butter, eaten standing over the sink. After eating I would immediately wash all the crumbs down the sink and run the garbage disposal, wash my knife with hot soap and water, and scrub down every countertop for the nth time to eliminate any possible roach-attracting food source.
Then, as the light through my blinds grew orange with a spectacularly smoggy Los Angeles sunset, I would grab my laptop and water and retreat to my bedroom, shut the door to the living room, and tuck a towel underneath it to seal it.
Since my bathroom was adjacent to my bedroom, I could easily hole up in my anti-roach fortress all night without having to leave. Of course, the air conditioning unit was in the living room and I was scared to open my window lest a roach find a way to get in past the screen, so a lot of the already hot summer nights were sweat drenched, sticky nightmares right out of any given Vietnam War movie, complete with rampant paranoia and classic rock.
Even holed up in my room, a supposed ‘safe zone’, I still couldn’t go more than a minute without catching a flickering shadow out of the corner of my eye, assuming it was a roach, and having a brief heart attack.
Cockroaches pose no real physical threat to me – or to any human, for that matter. Sure, they spread some diseases that they bring up from the sewers, but unlike bedbugs or poisonous spiders they don’t actively seek out and attack humans. They just scurry around between the shadows, eating our refuse or theirs.
As an anal retentive person, though, the idea that something in my living space is out of my control – breeding, shitting, and cannibalizing prodigiously – is about as bad as it gets. Whether I wanted to or not, I found myself devoting a huge amount of my time to speculating about where the cockroaches were in my apartment, how many of them there were, what they were doing, and whether that speck on the wall was lint, a baby cockroach, or cockroach shit. (It was usually lint.)
For my own peace of mind I needed to eliminate any chance of me seeing anything that even remotely looked like it could be a roach. This is how I wound up spending most evenings during the hottest part of the summer in bed with my laptop, the covers pulled up over my head and tucked into the rim of my floor fan as a sort of primitive air conditioned tent.
Peasant families in Pakistan are being driven to PTSD by a neverending onslaught of American Predator drone attacks. Meanwhile, in North Hollywood, I was slowly being driven to insanity by a few inch-long insects living in my walls.
In Aliens, the titular Aliens eventually breach the perimeter and kill most of the Marines as Ripley and Newt make their escape in the shuttle. I woke up one morning in September to find a dying cockroach writhing on the floor of my bathroom and, the following morning, another one in my bathtub.
Game over, man! Game over!
I was running out of things to cram underneath my doors to block out the roaches. I made another trip to the Home Depot where I’d embarrassed myself the month before and bought a doorsweep, haphazardly sawed it down to the proper size, and haphazardly screwed it onto the bottom of the interior door between my bedroom and the living room, then used my bathmat to block off the route under the door between my bedroom and bathroom.
I was now essentially paying over a thousand dollars a month to lie in my bed with the covers over my head, sweating buckets every 105 degree night and trying desperately not to speculate about where and when I’d see my next cockroach. Between the body odor and the lack of cross ventilation, my room was an unpleasant place to be.
So there I was in late September, freshly back from Spider Man and staring at two cockroaches frolicking behind my toilet and officially reaching my breaking point.
For a stronger man than I, that breaking point would be him deciding that cockroaches ultimately didn’t scare him. He’d realize that cockroaches live virtually everywhere that humans do, and that in many parts of this country even the nicest of houses have the occasional roach. He’d realize that in life you just need to sack the fuck up and deal with insects, because if the worst thing that’s happening in your life is that you have a couple bugs in your house, you’re better off than most people on Earth – hell, you’re better off than most people in Los Angeles County.
My breaking point was the realization that my obsessive frenzy over household pests would never stop, because it’s just kind of the shitty, wimpy man-child I am, and that whatever it cost me to break my lease would be worth it, because I would be buying my peace of mind back.
Over the next 42 days I endured a couple of terse phone calls with my leasing company, put most of my small possessions in the freezer for 24 hours to kill any roach eggs, thoroughly wiped down all my furniture, and moved back into the Studio City three bedroom I lived in when I spent a summer working in Los Angeles a couple years ago. In the six years he’s been living here, my roommate Tim has never seen a roach.
After I’d moved everything else out of the old unit, I left all the mainstays of my five months in North Hollywood behind for the cleaning crew – Raid, boric acid, Bug Barrier spray, the jars I put over the drains to keep roaches out, the doorsweep I’d installed under the bedroom door. I may not get my security deposit back, but I don’t even care that much. I’m just relieved that it’s over.
In Alien 3, Ripley discovers that it isn’t over – an Alien egg came with her from LV-426 and now she has to shave her head and go through a bunch of clumsy new shenanigans on a prison planet or some shit like that. Although few movies stack up well against Aliens, Alien 3 is generally regarded to be bullshit.
I’ve never seen Alien 3, and I think I’m going to keep it that way.
Truman Capps is a man of many phobias.