I am no stranger to insects. Growing up in Michigan, I encountered my fair share of creepy-crawlers. I can’t say I’ve ever been into insects, but I’ve managed to peacefully coexist with them for much of my life. It helps that Michigan insects are small and unremarkable. The biggest insect I saw growing up was a grasshopper, and who doesn’t love grasshoppers? Earwigs are pretty nasty-looking, but still not enough to make me run screaming.
When I moved to New York, cockroaches became a daily part of my life. We didn’t have cockroaches in Michigan, at least none that I ever saw. The cockroach segment of Creepshow had prepared me to be terrified of cockroaches, but I didn’t have much of a problem with them once they actually became part of my life. They’re disgusting beasts, no question, but at least they’re still relatively small. And they’re polite, too: as soon as you see one, it scurries away and hides.
That’s what I thought, anyway, until the night I first encountered the Palmetto Bug. I remember the night vividly; Don and I were hanging out in the living room of 21-20, watching a movie, when we heard the flap of wings and saw a big, ominous shadow darting across the ceiling. We immediately leapt to our feet in terror. When we finally found the cause of the shadow, we flipped out. A Palmetto Bug, for those of you who have never seen one, is a giant, flying cockroach. They’re about 3 inches long and smarter than kittens and they’re horrible and ugly and pretty much the worst thing God has ever put on the earth. When we first saw it, we assumed it was the result of some kind of industrial accident. Like imagine you’re sitting around watching television and a fish walks through your living room. That’s how strange this thing seemed to us.
Don and I scurried to put our shoes on for fear that the hideous thing graze our bare feet. We each got a weapon – he grabbed a hammer and I grabbed a broomstick – and gathered up our courage to rid our lives of this menace. We knew there was no way we were going to sleep until it was dead. It was us or the bug.
For most of the battle, the bug was firmly in the lead. Palmetto Bugs can fly, but only in short bursts; their preferred method of movement is the speedy run. Seconds after we saw the shadow, the beast dropped behind the television. I stamped my broomstick around behind the TV maniacally while Don waited with his hammer poised. We finally got the creature to abandon its post, but it was too fast for us … it tore ass across the carpet and under the couch.
Neither of us was about to get down on his hands and knees with that thing poised to attack, so we decided to lift the couch and try to flush it out. This was a dangerous business, because the chances of it scurrying out and jumping on one of us were strong. I could only hope it wouldn’t be me, A) because I had no interest in being attacked by a giant cockroach and B) because the beast was so terrifying I have no doubt Don would have smashed my skull in with the hammer and called me collateral damage.
We eventually managed to get the creature out in the open and get a good crack at him. Before we flushed him down the toilet, we took some pictures to send to the cryptozoology magazines. We put him next to a Lando Calrissian figure so you could get the perspective. Like most pictures of mysterious, possibly mythical animals, our picture was quite blurry.
When I learned that Palmetto Bugs were an explained phenomenon and relatively common in New York, I felt no comfort. I still encounter them from time to time in LA, and they continue to be hideous and terrifying. In fact, I would say they were the most hideous and terrifying insects in the world, if I hadn’t encountered something even more hideous and terrifying just two nights ago.
It’s called a Potato Bug, and it looks like this:
How horrible is that thing? I stepped out onto my porch to see that awful, murderous beast crawling slowly down the wall, a mere six inches from my head. The only way I can describe the texture of its skin is “gelatinous.” If that information makes you want to vomit, you’re not the only one. I got a pit in my stomach looking at it, as if I was seeing something man was not meant to see. It was like looking into the face of Hell.
I quietly closed the door so as not to alarm it and ran to the Internet. In this case, the Internet did its job, giving me the context I so desperately needed. If I hadn’t been able to track down the Potato Bug, I would have surely gone to bed thinking the Apocalypse was coming. Luckily, a simple search of “hideous giant ant California” led me to pages of information about the Potato Bug. According to potatobugs.com, this is the “most universally feared, hated, and disgusting creatures on the planet.” So at least I’m not alone.
The Potato Bug, I learned, lives in gardens and dark places and does not come out during the day. Which explains why I have not seen one until now; I don’t often garden at midnight. And now that I know this thing exists, I will likely never garden again. To be honest, the chances of me going outside again, period, are about 50/50.