My second year of college in Santa Barbara, I moved into my very first apartment. I had an air mattress, a bean bag chair, and a very low bar for living standards. It was the best of times.
Granted, when I joyously threw open the kitchen window, I found myself face to face with a painting on a shed of a man with his hand over the mouth of a crying child and the words, “Fermez la bouche!” (Shut your mouth!, for those non-francophiles) Was this a political statement or a warning from the local French mafia? Oh well! I was soon distracted by the children in the building who ran after me demanding money like orphans from a Dickens novel and the discovery that across the street were three unmarked frat houses whose residents did not know the difference between a school night and, say, Carnivale.
Living somewhere tropical is paradise, but it does come with a catch. Aside from rowdy frat boys. That catch is bugs. Once, I saw something peeking around the bottom of my slightly-open door that I thought was my roommate’s shoe. I figured she was going to try jumping out to scare me. I rolled my eyes and said, “I can see you, Erin,” and from across the apartment, Erin’s voice called back, “What?” The shoe revealed itself as an alien monster called a potato bug that skittered into my room. I can only assume the neighbors didn’t call the police at the sounds of my primal screams because I hadn’t paid up when their Dickens children tried to shake me down for cash.
But nothing compared to when cockroaches built a nest inside our microwave.
I would like to say we IMMEDIATELY sent that microwave to hell to burn. I don’t know quite how long we kept it around, but too long. Too long. The cockroaches crawled under the glass of the clock, streaking across the lit-up numbers. Sometimes, when pressing the buttons, you’d hear a, “Beep, beep, BZZZZ.” That last sound I can only guess was a cockroach getting the electric chair.
The worst part is, microwaves don’t kill cockroaches. We’d have to pay careful attention while heating up a meal, because often a cockroach would appear out of a vent and start scrambling straight toward the good stuff. We’d rip open the door, screaming, and it would race back into hiding.
One day, enough was enough. We had a break from midterms and were tired of defending our food with the savagery of prison inmates. We bought a brand new microwave.
We stared at the old one, strategizing.
The microwave had to go to the dumpster. But whoever picked it up risked cockroaches crawling all over them. We struck a deal. I would put the microwave into the box, which my roommate would then seal while I screamed and slapped cockroaches off me, then run it to the dumpster where she would scream and slap cockroaches off of her.
I took deep breaths and jogged in place as Erin pep-talked me. Then, I grabbed it and lifted it up.
Tiny cockroaches swarmed the counter.
I dumped the microwave in the box. I think the screams I heard were mine, but my soul had floated out of my body by that point, so who knows.
We stuck to the plan. We got the counter cleaned, the microwave to the dumpster, and our new microwave gleamed proudly at us.
Erin ran one more load of our cleanup trash to the dumpster, and returned looking ill. “The box is gone.”
“The trash collectors came already?”
She swallowed. “No.”
It dawned. Someone had seen an old microwave and believed they’d scored a new appliance. The microwave would take another victim. Like the video in The Ring, the cockroach microwave could not be destroyed, the evil could only be passed on.
When I ultimately moved out of that place, I remember smiling and thinking, “Goodbye, dumpy apartment. Now, I enter real adulthood with grownup apartments in my future. I’ll look back on this time and laugh, and I will never deal with gross crises like that again.”
As those of you who are familiar with foreshadowing will pick up, I wasn’t exactly correct.
Happy Thanksgiving! (I shout as everyone has suddenly lost their appetites.) I personally will be thankful for bug-free kitchen appliances. For more stories of apartment horrors, check out for Apartment Horror Stories, Part Two: San Francisco and Raccoon Warfare.
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