Magazine article The New Yorker

ROACH!; PEST DEPT.; PEST DEPT. Series: 2/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

ROACH!; PEST DEPT.; PEST DEPT. Series: 2/5

Article excerpt

It is a common misunderstanding, propagated by the movies, that a grizzly bear, when it stands on its hind legs, is preparing to attack. In fact, it is just rising up for a better look. So remain calm. Don't run, shoot, climb a tree, or curl into a ball.

A giant standing cockroach, on the other hand: this can be serious. You're on your own here. Let's just say you want to get clear of it, quickly. Cockroaches do bite, and they can live for a month or so without their heads, and if wounded they heal fast. According to Joseph Kunkel, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who wrote his dissertation on cockroach-limb regeneration, a roach will delay a molting cycle in order to grow back a lost leg, because its swift movements depend on having three feet on the ground, or the linoleum, at all times. (These are some of the things you learn when, having fled a giant standing cockroach, you return safely to an office with Web-search capabilities and happen upon the apparently limitless roach wisdom of Dr. Kunkel.)

The giant standing cockroach in question was spotted last week in front of an apartment building on Eighty-third Street, just east of Madison Avenue. It was twelve feet tall and hideous, its tentacles waving in the breeze. It was also--on closer, but not too close, inspection--fake. It was an inflatable cockroach.

No doubt, you've seen those giant inflatable rats around town, which union representatives sometimes station in front of work sites to protest the hiring of non-union labor. Perhaps you've stopped even noticing them. Their bared fangs and claws and red eyes no longer startle, as they did when they began turning up, fifteen or so years ago. They have become as unremarkable as sneakers hanging from street lamps.

And so the cockroach cometh. The cycle of indifference requires intermittent escalation, ever more lurid sequels. Roaches may be preferable to rats, if you're talking apartment infestation, but, when it comes to street-corner-protest infestation, they may be worse. Perhaps this has something to do with relative magnitude of enlargement or with the inflatable roach's authentic mahogany sheen or the creepy wagging tumescence of its legs--not the kind of thing you'd want to see silhouetted on the shower curtain. The rats, on the other hand, make you think of "The Nutcracker" or "Charlotte's Web. …

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