The encroach of empty-nest syndrome


Japan has taught me tolerance: I’ve become far too comfortable living with cockroaches. And they have gotten used to me too. I’d come home from work too tired to care about the dark configurations on the kitchen counter. When I turned the light on, they wouldn’t even run. I’d then turn off the light, say good night, and go to bed.

You would be amazed to see what goes on in your house while you’re not there. At the beginning of the summer I had noticed some baby roaches scuttling around and thought: What is this, a freakin’ day-care center? But then again, they don’t eat much and they don’t take up much space, so I didn’t do anything about it. And you know kids, they grow so fast. By the end of the summer, they were as big as sofas. When they started standing in front of the kitchen door blocking my entry, I knew it was time to do something.

Not only that, now that I am home more often, I’ve noticed increasing numbers of ants marching through the house. One of the main attractions for these tourist ants is a large exhibit called “Cat Food Bowl,” which is a realistic-looking bowl full of real cat food. The ants bring exceptionally large groups of friends to see it.

The cockroaches, on the other hand, are more independent, rushing from exhibit to exhibit, only stopping for a few moments in front of each one. They will twitch their antennae quizzically in front of something they especially like. Their tastes are different from the ants. The roaches prefer the rather mundane still-life “Fruit Bowl.” The most antennae-twitching goes on at the exhibit called “Kitchen Sink.”

I soon learned that the ants were not merely visiting the “Cat Food Bowl” exhibit, but were also stealing from it, taking pieces of the cat food back to their nests. The roaches were likely also engaged in these heists. As the curator, I have a duty to protect my exhibits. So, being a curator with a cure, every night when the kitchen is dark and quiet, I sneak in wearing fatigues and mow down as many cockroaches as I can. I am armed with the latest in cockroach weaponry: one can of roach spray with a new fangled “jet” nozzle attachment to hone in on the victim. The closest thing to a semi-automatic spray can as you can get.

I enter the kitchen, one hand on the light switch and the other on the spray can. When the light comes on and I see a roach, I grab the beer can out of his hand, point the spray at him and say, “Sayonara!”

Watching the effects of the spray is disconcerting as the roach runs haywire in all directions. The unpleasant effects of bio warfare. But at least if the police arrive to take footprints it will be obvious the roaches were trespassing.

I decided to protect “Cat Food Bowl” by building a moat. I filled a larger bowl with water, then put “Cat Food Bowl” inside it. Now, with a water barrier, the ants would not cross over into the food bowl. This seemed to work. For a day.

The next day, I saw dead bodies in the water and watched while other ants risked their lives swimming to the bowl of food. Not even half of them made it all the way across. Two ants had taken refuge on a life raft made out of ant corpses, and the two live ants were on their hind legs doing a wild rather exotic dance — perhaps some kind of “ant”cestor worship.

The crowds of ants continued to increase around “Cat Food Bowl” and soon there were long lines coming and going from the display. I decided to follow the line of ants. It went outside the kitchen, down the hallway, through the genkan, out the door, across the sidewalk, into the garden and underneath a cactus!

It did occur to me that through a little training, I might be able to teach the m to go into other people’s houses and retrieve money. I could casually drop a piece of honey off my toast into my neighbor’s purse while visiting her house for example. I would soon have a retirement fund under the cactus. But instead, I gave the ants the spray treatment too.

With the ants now gone and the roach population under control, I have to admit I’m a bit bored. I think they call it empty-nest syndrome.