Roaches are ancient, likely older than dinosaurs. I read there are over 300 species of roaches out of about 4,600 types that associate with people, and each individual roach can live a year, during which they reproduce…and reproduce…and reproduce.
Did you know they can fly? They hide during the day, preferring dark, damp spaces. Then they appear as a scuttle sound..or worse, you feel them on you. And they’re really hard to kill, surviving my shoe stompings, over and over. It has been verified that a roach can live for three days without its head. Really.
Unfortunately, animal shelters are one of their favorite haunts. I knew we were feeding more roaches than animals. It was impossible to keep them out as we had open kennels, water and food. Ideal, really, for roaches. The city provided relief, however, in the person of Mr. Farmer, the local pest control man who had a contract with the city. He would appear once a month in his straw hat and worn overalls stretched over a large stomach, toting the cannister of pesticide in one hand, a spraying wand in the other. Each time he left, there never seemed to be a difference in the roach population. Okay…sometimes we would find a single dead roach, feet up.
My dad told me one day that there had been a “miracle” in his basement. What? He said a young man was selling a kind of insecticide chalk and there were no longer any roaches in the house, that he had found dozens of dead ones after using the chalk. He told me I should try it at the shelter. So, one day the young man showed up with his small boxes. They weren’t very dangerous looking, just small boxes printed in orange and yellow with Chinese writing, saying “Miraculous Roach Chalk.” (Thus the “miracle” in the basement.) In my office, he opened one of the boxes. Inside, were two sticks of what looked like ordinary white blackboard chalk. He said he was selling them for $5 a box, 3 boxes for $10. I asked him if the chalk was hazardous to animals (a big consideration, after all). He said absolutely not and broke off a piece of chalk and ate it. What??? I asked if he had eaten any before. He said yes, many times. Well, he looked healthy enough so I asked about the best way to apply the chalk and would he show me. He opened a box, removed one of the chalks and began drawing a line at the top of the walls around the ceiling. Animal Control Officer Annie and I were sitting watching him when suddenly small and large roaches began falling on our heads and coming out of any available crack. Running up our legs and landing on our clothes. We ducked out of the office and the roaches were still falling, where they speedily died.
At this point, I knew something phenomenal was happening. Maybe I should buy a gross?
Annie grabbed a chalk and started drawing in the reception room. The customers, however, were beginning to react to the dying roach assault. So we decided to close the shelter until the situation was somehow controlled. The roach chalk man left, waving and laughing. Meanwhile, other employees were drawing in the hallways and washroom and cat room. The situation was not controllable at all. We were sweeping up piles of dead roaches. How in the world could there be so many roaches?? Then there was a knock on the door.
The agent with the Texas Department of Health was there to do her monthly inspection. Oh my god.
The agent, Jan, was familiar with all of us as the city and I had sent all the employees to training courses at her facility in Arlington. It’s a good thing she knew us because she stepped into chaos. She, however, was also amazed at what was happening. It was like a mass extermination with people sweeping up bodies and brushing dying roaches off them. Well..you would just have to have been there.
About a month later, Mr. Farmer came in again. I heard the employee at the front desk speaking to him. “We don’t need you no more, Mr. Farmer. We don’t got no roaches.”
Mr. Farmer was upset and wanted to know what was going on. I came out of the office and told him we didn’t need his services anymore because we truly didn’t have any bugs. He was not happy and left with a somewhat loud door slam.
Some weeks later a man came to the shelter and presented me his card. He was from the Texas Department of Agriculture in Austin. He said it had been reported that we were using “dangerous and illegal” chemicals in our shelter to kill insects. Oh, thanks, Mr. Farmer.
He took a scraping of some of the chalk and I asked him to let me know what the chemical was because if it was dangerous or illegal I needed to know.
Two months later, I called the guy in Austin, who hadn’t called me back. He said it was a common chemical and wasn’t dangerous to animals or people. I asked him if it works so well, why don’t more people know about it. He just said he didn’t know.
So, that’s the story of the roaches. We did discover, however, that after about two years of using the chalk the roaches got used to it and were beginning to come back. Damn those roaches.
As a postscript, I was in Los Angeles about six months later when the Whittier earthquake hit. Our hotel was a mess. (So was I, as I had run down the 14 flights of stairs in my pajamas.) All I wanted was to get out of the hotel and to buildings that were one story tall, without glass. I ran back up, put on shoes and grabbed my purse. Then I walked until I came to one-story buildings. (It was rather a long way.) The one-story buildings I found happened to be in a Chinese section of Los Angeles. One of the stores was open. I wanted a drink so I went in. The proprietor, who didn’t speak much English…and I certainly didn’t know Chinese, was behind the counter. Behind him was a large display. In it were bulk wrapped packages of Miraculous Roach Chalk. I pointed and asked, “How much?” He held up his hand, “Five dollah.” Okay, that’s the same as the guy at home. I asked how much for the entire package (it looked to be about10 boxes.) He again held up his hand…”Five dollah.” (His look said, what are you stupid or something?) I said, “For all of them?” He nodded. So in Los Angeles, in an earthquake, the going rate was 50 cents a box.