|Posted by Kimberly on December 31, 2011 at 3:50 PM|
It was sometime in late summer, the first summer after Katrina, and I was living on Allard Boulevard. The short stretch of two blocks that together comprise Allard Boulevard in MidCity are among the most beautiful in New Orleans, a city in which beautiful blocks abound.
Allard Boulevard also benefits from its location at the bottom end of City Park, near a wildlife-rich bayou filled with ducks, turtles, an occasional grouping of swans, and the elegant egrets, either white or silverly blue. The egrets wade slowly along the shallow waters, carefully and calmly placing each slender leg—cautious and alert but without hurry or worry. This small bayou is bordered by tall, stately Cypresses and surrounded by ancient Live Oak trees, grown wide and wild with massive branches that twist dramatically and hang heavy with Spanish Moss. A lovely water fountain encircled by benches sits not far from the bayou and is watched over by a delicate bronze nymph statute that sits at its center.
The other side of the bayou can be reached by either of two small arched bridges that will take you to a playground where the Live Oak trees have grown branches, thick as tree trunks, winding low along the ground so children can play on them. The playground sits between a small classical gazebo and a much larger rectangular pavilion that is bordered on one long side by concrete lions. The four lions lay reclining and facing the bayou—and the ceilings of both structures are painted that specific shade of just-almost-robin-egg-blue that is known to repel mosquitoes and other flying bugs.
A small but nobly constructed bronze sign posted among the winding trails in this southern-most section of the park will inform you that the land was formerly the Allard Plantation and was donated to the city for civic purposes. And so, Allard Boulevard was the name given to the residential street below it with the most palatial houses, impressive both in scale and beauty.
It was somewhat of a fluke that I found myself on this block. A graduate research assistant at the University of New Orleans at the tail end of the resources I had accumulated before returning to school, I found it rather ironic to sit in graduate seminars discussing poverty in the abstract when by any statistical measure many around the table were experiencing poverty in the concrete.
Well, it was on this most glorious of streets that my second cockroach story occurs. My placement on this block came about when Jeffrey, the professor I was renting from in another part of MidCity, decided he needed to sell the massive house I had been living in with several units including a slave quarters at the back of the lot. The buildings had not been flooded but but suffered substantial exterior damage. And since rental housing was incredibly hard to find during this time, Jeffrey and I became roommates in the condo on Allard Boulevard that a real estate company rented to him until he could find a house he wanted to buy.
This condo was the only multifamily building on our block. Even with its four units, the building was smaller than many of the single-family mansions that surrounded it. Two of the units in our building were still under aggressive renovation and this would occasionally disrupt existing tenants, human and otherwise.
So, at this time I was living a pleasantly sparse but gracious material existence and was sleeping on a futon mattress placed directly on the floor. One night, after a particularly vigorous day of renovations that reverberated throughout the structure, I was sleeping peacefully on my back until coming to with the distinct feeling of something skittering across my chest in a downward direction. I instinctively reached up to grab the intruder off my chest, slapped it on the floor next to the futon mattress, and with my other hand grabbed a shoebox that was fortuitously available within arm’s reach. I slammed the shoebox down hard and immediately fell back asleep.
I awoke the next morning wondering if this had been a dream. Alas, it had not. I looked over at the shoebox and tentatively lifted it up. The massive cockroach was indeed there, squished but still squirming. I slammed the box back down and quickly left the room to take a shower. I dressed and ate breakfast. By the time Jeffrey returned from his morning stroll to the park where he would read the New York Times on a bench in the sun, I was sufficiently composed to tell him about the “encounter” and ask him to remove the squirming cockroach from under the shoebox when he was able, as I still too shaken by the visceral (and highly personal) nature of the experience to finish the job myself.
I told the building/construction manager about this the next time I saw him, and he gave me one of those *heavy sigh* “Well, you do realize you’re in the Deep South” replies, which I found extremely dissatisfying. I thought without saying “But this one skittered ACROSS MY CHEST” and out loud tried to counter with a rational explanation of how it seemed that the renovations were disrupting the bugs and he might want to be aware of that, but the battle was already lost.
Once you have stepped into the shoes (and slapped the shoebox) of the apparently-squeamish-person-from-not-around-here-with-unrealistic-expectations-about-bugs, there is little you can do except a brief side-step shuffle and exit with as much grace as you can muster, stage right.
“The Cockroach Smackdown” is partnered with another super-short story posted earlier called “The Cockroach Shuffle.” CLICK HERE to read “The Cockroach Shuffle”