The next time I saw the fat cockroach I was coming back from the bar. I’d managed to stick with one job for an entire week and I needed relief. The job was doing grunt work for a professional landscaper in Scottsdale: digging up perfectly good lawn to plant bushes, trees, and flowers; hauling rocks and dirt in wheel barrows; pruning trees and weed wacking for condominium communities where the guy had contracts. He basically hired me because I was first guy who spoke English that applied for a job for as long as he could remember. (He inherited the business from his dad, he told me, and Mexicans always did the grunt work.) It did his heart good, he said, to give a job to someone he knew was from America. Not that the guys he had weren’t good guys, he said. He was SURE they were all legal. “I sure am glad though,” he winked and smiled, “that I don’t have to worry about that with YOU.”
His name was Zack. He let me ride in the truck with him to the first job site. Along the way he told me to keep an eye on the guys in my crew.
“So I can get the hang of it?” I asked. I didn’t remember there being anything complicated about back breaking work.
“Naw,” he nodded. “I hire all of ‘em TEMPORARY – until I hear back about their status.” He lowered his voice, like there was somebody else in the cab listening. “I think one or two of those boys may be border jumpers.”
“So when you find out,” I asked, “you let them go? Or do you turn them in?”
“You don’t call the cops?”
“Ahhhh,” he winked again. “Naw. I get them ‘special status.’ They stay so long as they work for me. But if they cause one bit of trouble, it’s back to Mex-ee-co they go!” He laughed at his bad rhyme.
Uh-huh. How much of their checks do you keep? “Nice truck,” I commented.
“Yeah. Thanks. You know,” he said, looking at me very earnestly, “landscaping is a good job. It’s hard work sometimes, but it keeps you strong. A smart fella can make a good living at it.”
Really Mr. Man? Geez, even ME? “I can see that.”
“Yep,” he said. “You work hard,” he said. “A guy like you can make a life out something like this.”
“Yeah. So, just WATCH ‘em. Let me know if they’re goofing off or getting lazy. If they’re not doing what they’re s’posed to be doin’, you let me know. Okay, brother?”
Brother. I puked a little in my mouth and swallowed it. I wanted to ask him if those white hoods and sheets got hot in the summer. Instead, I stuck it out a week and ignored the other guys on my crew. At the end of the week, I collected my pay (he paid in cash) and I never went back. Suck my left nut, brother.
So by the time I got to the Dutchman, I was feeling pretty good. Better than I’d felt in a long time. I was a week ahead on rent. I had a little cash in my pocket. Adelle hadn’t been at the bar (Dino was looking for her) and it had been Suzy’s night to work. She told me she was going to name her baby Isabella. I told I thought that was a pretty name.
And when I opened the door, there he was. It? He? Anyway, there the LITTLE FUCKER was – gimping his way towards the bathroom from the edge of the bed. I walked in and turned on the light, and he (it) didn’t even slow down. He kept on at his half dead pace.
“WHAT THE FUCK?!” I roared. What was there about this place that kept squished cockroaches from dying? After I started seeing them, I made more of an effort to keep the room clean. I picked up. Made sure there wasn’t any food left lying around. I took out the garbage more often. I mean, I didn’t go NUTS about it; but I did TRY. Really.
Apparently, it hadn’t worked. I stood there watching it (him?) make his way. I was at a loss. Stomping didn’t work. Swatting him with a rolled up paper didn’t work. Cleaning didn’t work. I’d managed to take out more than two dozen of his minions; they went down easy, the way bugs are supposed to.
Frustrated and losing my buzz, I walked up to him and stepped on him again. I heard the crunch and I thought, surely THAT will do it. Then I lifted my foot. He (it?) didn’t move. I watched for a second, holding my breath. No movement. Satisfaction washed over me and I breathed a sigh of relief. I looked around for something to sweep him up with; I considered taking him down to the office and showing whoever was working what I had been contending with. I wanted to say, You see this? THIS roach had to get stepped on three times before it died. You think maybe you should put out for somebody to come here and SPRAY? I found a copy of the local free alternative weekly paper – The New Times. The cover had some band on it. They all looked twelve, and the lead singer, a girl, looked like a hooker.
I turned back to scoop him (it?) up. God damn if he wasn’t moving! I swatted at him with the paper. He stopped for a heartbeat and then kept moving. I swatted him again. Again, he tried to fake me out. I screamed and swatted him again. That time he didn’t even pretend to be dead; he just kept on his pilgrim’s path.
“You’re being so fucking unreasonable,” I said to him. “Why don’t you just fucking die?”
I needed to get out of the room; I couldn’t stand there and watch the roach mock me. Even though it was still hot (even though the sun had been down for hours), I stepped out of the room and lit a cigarette. Loyce was leaning on her door frame smoking.
“What’s your problem honey?” she smiled lazily.
“Fucking roaches,” I muttered, lighting my cigarette. “I think they’re out to get me.”
She laughed and shook her head. “You funny.”
I nodded towards her room. “You got roaches?”
“No,” she said. “but I had crabs once.” She roared, laughing at her own joke. Then she stopped. “No, honey. When I see a bug, I don’t DANCE wit ‘em. I spray the SHIT outta them.”
She nodded towards the rolled up newspaper under my arm. “Is THAT what you usin’?”
“Yeah.” Come to think of it, a rolled up newspaper is pretty fucking stupid.
“Go buy some of that Raid shit,” she said. “Spray the fuck outta them.”
“I don’t suppose they ever spray for bugs here?”
Loyce laughed. “See? I told you. You funny. Why don’ you go ask?”
“What they say?”
“That’s because,” Loyce said as she dropped her spent but and smashed it with her bare foot, “if they sprayed they’d end up killing most of the residents.” She laughed.
I shook my head. “I need a drink.”
Loyce cocked her head at me. “I got a little gin,” she smiled. “An’ a little weed.”
“What about your prospective suitors? Won’t I scare them off?”
“She-e-e-e-it.” she said. “Come on. Even whores get a holiday.”
I turned to close my door. The roach finally made it from the carpet to the bathroom tile. I shook my head, closed the door, and walked over to Loyce’s room. She welcomed me in and poured me a gin and tonic in a plastic tumbler. I guess the finer glassware was reserved for paying customers. “No ice,” she said. Not apologetically. Just matter of factly. Then she rolled a joint, lit it up, and passed it over. We drank and smoked and talked. I felt myself start to relax a little more and the week started to take a positive spin again.
I was surprised to find out that Loyce and I were the same age. Her voice had the sound of an older woman. And she looked older too – especially around the eyes. Even when she laughed there was a deadness to her eyes that made me a little sad. We drank more gin and smoked more weed. She told me she had crack, too, if I wanted some – but she’d have to charge me for that. I said no thanks.
When the gin bottle was almost empty, she asked if I wanted to stay over. “I like you,” she said, running her long nailed fingers through my hair. “I think if I had an old man like you, maybe I’d be okay.”
I thanked her again, but said I should be getting back to my room. “Besides,” I joked, “I’m probably too drunk for anything too aerobic.”
She laughed. “Well, okay honey. Whatever you say.” She stood up slowly, making sure I got a full view of her in her silky night gown and sheer robe. Very little was left to my imagination, and all in all she wasn’t a bad looking woman. She was kind of attractive, really. I briefly reconsidered her offer; but then I remembered her joke about have crabs. Better safe than sorry. When I stood up, she wiggled her finger at my crotch. “If you little thingie needs some exercise, you let me know.” She kissed my cheek. “I’ll have to charge you, though.”
I left Loyce’s room and went back to mine. When I opened the door, two cockroaches were scurrying across the carpet. I stepped on them both. “I’m getting some spray TOMORROW, motherfucker,” I warned the empty room. “Then we’ll see what happens.”
I turned on the radio. It was set to a classic station. Bach was playing. I sat on the bed and passed out before my head hit the pillow.