Once again, the season scrambles into its final weeks and with each passing day the tension builds.
No, I do not mean the Japanese baseball season, which — if you’re a Tokyo Giants fan — is a drool bucket per day all year long.
Nor do I mean the American presidential race, a bush league affair if there ever was one.
No, I speak of a loftier competition, a competition that pits human fortitude against animal cunning, civilized brainpower vs. brute instinct, man cast against nature in a battle as old as the Flood itself. Yet, unlike Noah, the idea here is not to find and rescue two of the opponents for posterity. Rather we aim at wiping their miserable antennae from the face of the Earth forever.
Yes, my fellow competitors . . . it’s cockroach season. And the pressure to exterminate is on.
First, if you’ve never had the pleasure of coming face to head with a Japanese roach, let me describe the enemy: They’re big. They’re ugly. They’re bugs. What more do you need to know?
Except that even the insect-loving Japanese draw the line at cockroaches. You will not fine any precocious Japanese lad with a pet cockroach in a cage or any Japanese filmmaker using a giant roach (excuse the redundancy) to defend the islands from Godzilla.
True, bigger and even uglier bugs are said to infest various and creepy corners of the world, but those creatures have one virtue that Japanese roaches do not.
To wit, they are not crawling about my kitchen.
Which brings us back to this dwindling season and the suspense of the moment.
For 25 years ago, a young boy from Illinois, armed with only a rolled-up newspaper and a pair of slippers (OK, on one occasion I used a plate), hammered 52 roaches into bug heaven, not even counting a few he gassed, trapped or vacuumed on the run.
That, I believe, is a world roach-squishing record. Yet there the legend only begins. For in mid-July of that summer, I moved from my bug-beloved countryside apartment to a roach-proofed house in the city. Meaning I flattened 52 cockroaches in less than half a season.
That’s akin to Barry Bonds out-homering Mark McGwire at the All-Star break. Or Mizuki Noguchi running a one-hour marathon. Or Mohammed Ali knocking out 20 guys in 10 fights. It unbuglievable. Even if I say so myself.
So the tension comes each year when I once again reach for my self-proclaimed standard. After all, it’s a year of Olympian efforts. Could this — after 25 bug-eyed summers — be the season that the roach record falls?
Frankly, it does not look good. Bug-hunting ain’t quite what it used to be, for a variety of reasons.
First, the days of the record were P.M. (Pre-Marriage), meaning I hunted alone. Now I have to share the insect population with my wife, who in turn does not share my enthusiasm for body counts. When she eliminates a roach, she neither brags nor whoops nor does a victory lap around the house — all sound reasons why we will never see a woman in the cockroach hall of fame.
I also feel the roach population has dwindled. Gone are the days when I use to lie on my futon and creak apart my eyes to spy a fat, glistening cockroach twitching down at me from the ceiling. The message was unspoken, but understood at once by us both.
“You or me, bub. One of us has to go.”
Nowadays I have to search for the varmints. Sometimes I can go an entire week without seeing one zip across the kitchen floor. Whereas in the old days, the roaches didn’t zip, they conga danced.
As to why the reduction, I don’t know. Perhaps — like the rest of the world — lady roaches are opting for careers over kitchens. Logically, you see, a roach could go into politics or sales and still be a pest.
“Or perhaps,” says my wife with a poke at my bachelor lifestyle, “it’s just the result of clean living.”
There is yet one more reason why the roach record looks firm, a reason I am eager to dismiss.
My subtle wife expresses it best: “Let’s face it. You’re washed up.”
In days of yore, she reminds me, I could produce almost every night. But — alas! — Father Time has not been kind. Now . . .
“One fast roach and you’re finished for a week.”
“No, no, you’re wrong,” I tell her. “I’ve still got it. The laser vision, the wrist snap, the blood-curdling cry of ‘Thar she crawls!’ Nothing’s changed!”
“It’s OK.” She pats my hand. “I love you anyway. From the neck up, you’re still the same idiot I married years ago.”
So this year’s pursuit of the roach record is symbolic of what’s left from the neck down. Let’s see . . . it’s mid-September and I’ve got about a month or so of cockroach season left. The record is 52, and so far this summer, I’ve smacked . . . four.
Like I said, it doesn’t look good.
“Frankly,” says an old friend, who — in honest to pesticide truth — studied cockroaches in grad school, “I find all of this a bit barbaric. A cockroach has as much a right to live as anyone. Why continue this carnage? In all other respects, you’re a sparkly-eyed, give-peace-a-chance, tree-smooching liberal. What do you have against roaches?”
I fix her in the face and seek clarification. “Roaches?” I ask. “Slick, greasy roaches? The kind as thick as a plumber’s thumb? Like the one perched upon your foot right now?”
She stares back, then glances down. Then screams. Then hops about the room. Then screeches for help.
Then . . . SPLAT!
So . . . 52 minus FIVE is 47. I’ve still got a month to go. Don’t count me out.