We all become aware of those unwritten rules, invisible lines that will never be crossed. Those cultural cues are indecipherable, but as real and impenetrable as a wall. They may feel like an unfair exclusion, but may also exist to protect.
Anyone who lived away from home while in college, especially off campus, surely had their encounters with vermin. No, I don’t mean housemates, but those denizens of the natural world which cling tenaciously to the fringes of human culture. Namely cockroaches.
To say this house was infested is like saying forests have trees. I was the host but the party never stopped, and I wasn’t invited. I may have paid the rent, but the house was theirs.
It is a truism that one gains deep knowledge of a topic only by submersing oneself. I go on record here that cockroaches are highly intelligent and may very well inherit the earth, meek or not. I read that they would survive a nuclear holocaust. Except that they lack motivation, I am surprised they didn’t beat us to inventing ‘the bomb’. Thankfully, their methods of gaining territory are less ham-fisted than that, though no less effective.
You may scoff at the thought that roaches are intelligent. I agree, it would be a rare roach that did well on an SAT test. However, their ability to read minds is unparalleled in the human sphere. They tracked my every intention.
Attempts at dispatching them with a rolled up newspaper were consistently stymied. I would stealthily approach one, apparently oblivious, or indifferent to my presence. At the barest thought of attacking, it would scurry off, in a direction not foreseen. I would anticipate each zig, but his ability to read subtle shifts in air pressure allowed him to zag and repeatedly evade multiple swats. Did I only imagine laughter echoing as it escaped behind the fridge?
Whack-a-Roach would have failed as an arcade game. No one would ever win.
Several times I cornered one, only to see it leap off the counter and glide as an air foil to escape. Pure genius!
Their instinct for survival was astounding. I began to suspect that I was not at the top of the food chain after all. But that these creatures had secretly inverted it and they were merely toying with their prey. It was unnerving to consider that these disgusting insects might actually be the crown of creation. Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” reads very differently in light of this.
Maybe it was the frigid winter, or the isolation. I resigned myself to peaceful co-existence but that was not enough. All a game, they found pleasure in frustrating my efforts toward a truce.
This became manifestly obvious when I entered the kitchen late one night and had the audacity to turn on the light. They lacked the decency to scatter at my approach.
They didn’t even interrupt their poker game. I would have thought their resentful murmuring was just gambler’s trash talk, moving the bet forward. But the dark, inscrutable glances directed toward me told a very different story.
I was not welcome there. I was the intruder. They would outlast me. I was the transient, the other. I knew they would never admit me into their little club, no matter how much I might crave acceptance.
Soon after, I moved out.
I never was invited to join in one of their poker games. In retrospect, I feel I am fortunate that they didn’t consider me a worthy opponent. The stakes were too high. Too easy to read, they knew all of my tells. I didn’t even qualify as a lowly mark. I would have been fleeced.
They did me a favor. You’re known by the company you keep.