Monday, April 5, 2010

On Cockroaches (Or, When It’s Appropriate to Get Foul-Mouthed in front of Your Students)

The other morning, as I was trying to administer an exam to my students, an uninvited guest made a mockery of my professionalism.

I had just handed out the exam booklets and asked for quiet when a student in the front row informed me that a cockroach had just run under my rolling backpack.

Now, send me a lizard, a beetle, a garden snake, even a spider, and I’m all right. I can handle it. But not a cockroach.

I ask the student, “Was it a little one (holding my thumb and index finger so close that they’re almost touching) or a giant one?” (I don’t even estimate the size with my fingers since the thought terrifies me.)

“Oh, not that giant,” my charming student says and then holds his fingers about three inches apart.

It’s a Palmetto bug…and they fly. I freak. I lift the backpack quickly hoping the roach will scurry away, but nothing comes out.

“I saw it go under there,” the student swears, and I begin to wonder if this isn’t a ploy to distract me during the exam.

I look up at the class and shout, “Keep your eyes on your own paper!”

Everyone laughs.

“I’d let this go,” I explain to them, “but I absolutely cannot tolerate roaches.”

One student suggests, “Maybe it crawled inside your bag.”

My face contorts like a stroke victim’s as I imagine this, and I reach into my backpack and pull out my pencil case, throwing it feet away from me onto the floor.


“No talking!” I command, knowing how panicked I sound. I pull out folders and let them sift through my fingers haphazardly as they also become strewn on the floor.

Still nothing.

I look up. “Quiet!” I yell, though nobody is saying anything.

They are simply staring at this scene as I dance around on tiptoes, waiting for the roach to show himself or fly into my face, as only Palmetto bugs can do. It’s amazing how silly I look. And I know this because I have temporarily floated out of my body and am watching this scene from above. Consciously, I want to maintain control and just let my students take their stupid exam. But my body is restless with fear. My disembodied self shouts to my physical self, Stop moving! Just for one minute, stop moving! But I can’t.

Finally, I kick the backpack over, and sure enough, the roach is clinging to the bottom of my bag.

“There he is!” shouts a female student.

“Is he alive?” I ask and then notice his antennae moving nervously. I grab a dictionary from atop my desk and bravely smash the roach, which runs under my backpack now lying on its side. I kick the backpack away again, and the roach goes running. The student who originally advised me about the roach’s existence sucks in his breath excitedly. Again, I smash the roach with the dictionary, and he begins to quiver and spasm (the roach - not the student).

“He’s still alive!” yells Female Student.

At this point, I lose all decency. I stand over the already injured roach and smash it repeatedly with the dictionary, shouting through clenched jaw, “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

I hear myself saying this, knowing that impropriety is not what has endeared me to my students. Still, I cannot stop myself from muttering the “F” word repeatedly…and I hear them laughing.

With the roach finally dead as a doornail (what do live doornails look like?), I start to breathe again. I hear my heart pounding in my ears and remember I have a class of students in front of me. I stand up straight, point my index finger and waggle it at them, saying, “Now get to work.”

Diligently, they lower their eyes to their papers and commence their exam. They look frightened, and I’m not sure if it’s due to the challenging nature of the test or the knowledge that their professor is a lunatic who will be assigning their grades and determining their fate for the next semester.

But I don’t care. That roach made me lose face with my students (I surely had nothing to do with it), and I hate him. I take no responsibility for what transpired in that classroom. But just in case that roach was the embodied spirit of a yogi guru, I will meditate with full dedication this evening and ask for forgiveness. Maybe I’ll even record myself doing so and post it on You Tube so my students can see the serene side of me.

Or maybe I’ll just start carrying bug repellent inside my backpack.


  1. Go ahead and post that meditation session on youtube, and maybe your student will link it up with the video of you smashing the fuck out of the cockroach that he caught on his smartphone.

    Freakin' cockroaches.

  2. It never occurred to me to search that. What key words should I use...professor goes mad?

  3. That. Rocks.

    Again, I fully and completely endorse using Fuck as long as it is used appropriately and with meaning. This was one of those times. I bet those students respect you more now than they did before. I sure do. And you will NOT see my scurrying under your bag!

  4. Monica Ann KrachmanApril 5, 2010 at 9:01 PM

    Wendy - this is growing up in South Florida to a "T". Those who have not experienced Palmetto Bugs cannot understand the sheer horror that those crunchy flying giants can evoke in adult females. I literally shuddered and gritted my teeth reading your recount of the roach that ran under your bag. Had it been mine, the bag, and the entire classroom, would have been quarantined and the space under the dor sealed with duct tape until someone showed up that would kill the "fuck"ing thing!

  5. You see? We need books! You could never have killed that fucking roach with an online dictionary.

  6. And I'd like to note how freely most of my commenters used the word fuck. It seems that once one of your peers loses all decency, it's a license to run off at the mouth. Isn't it fucking great?

  7. Okay first of all - I am completely honored by the sidebar listing. Thank you so much for the recognition and for enjoying the post.

    Now - as for the story. Tears are running down my cheeks from laughing so hard. I laugh not because it is funny that a roach was anywhere NEAR you but because it is me. I have had a sadly similar experience where I climbed onto a desk at work and proceeded to shout for someone to kill the "f-ing thing" that was crawling below my desk. I then proceeded to JUMP from the desk to a filing cabinet almost knocking the whole thing over...yes...I feel your pain.

    My coworkers had only ever heard sweet Courtney, calm, sweet never really angry or overly terrified Courtney. Now they know - you can tick me off = Courtney is okay; let me near the current dinosaur/freaky/can scoot anywhere cockroach = loco-bat-sh*t-crazy-Courtney appears....

    Carry the bug spray, but keep the dictionary close by.

    Visit My Kingdom Anytime

  8. Oh Wendy, Wendy, Wendy... this was hysterical, snot-bubble funny (because it was you , not me:) but, don't you know that where there is one, there are thousands more? It would have been a emergency exit, quarantine sitch, where the entire school would have had to be sprayed before I went back. I would have stripped naked and abandoned the bag and papers before getting in my car so that I didn't bring any eggs or castaways home with me. *shudder*

    I'm from coastal SC (Charleston area--but living in NJ for husband's work right now) and we call them the state bird. THEY FREAK ME OUT HARD! Palmetto bugs are just the southern polite way of saying BIG, FREAKING, FLYING, BITING COCKROACH. Yeah, they bite!

    You're brave. I would have offered up an A to the first person to kill it.

    La Cucaracha, la cucaracha, da da da da da-da da da!

    I'm laughing with you. WITH you. :o)

  9. *deadly silence* I had no idea they could bite.

  10. OMG. I was laughing so hard my eyes were tearing up. That sounds like something I would have done. HATE roaches. And the whole palmetto bug thing. Give me a break. Don't try to put a cute name on it and make it less gross. It's still a big old roach.

  11. Who knew that roaches, in addition to being skeevy and gross, were also capable of causing social embarrassment?

    Last year this flying bug landed on my window screen and I was like, heck, man, that looks like a roach. But it can't be. Roaches don't fly. Do they? (Off to Google it....) Jeez, they freaking do fly! Is that a new thing? I was convinced that damned things had evolved the ability to fly just to freak me out.

  12. I'm with you. Roaches are about the only bug I can't handle. Ick, ick, ick! And now we learn that they bite?! Are you fucking kidding???

  13. Ha ha! I lived in S. Florida for a little while, and I was an expert roach killer. You know those cans of Raid roach killing chemicals? Totally useless against Palmetto bugs.

  14. I would have run screaming from the room - I applaude your bravery.

  15. Susan~Thanks, and welcome to my world.

  16. Hi! I popped over from Nicole's blog to say hi and congrats on your award. I see quite a few familiar faces, too. I love the look of your blog!! :-)

  17. Hi again, Wendy! I left an award for you on my blog today :))

  18. Hi Wendy!
    So happy to see you over at my blog and thank you so much for the kind words!
    Oh I love Seville, it is gorgeous and all the history... aaah can walk around that city for day exploring cozy cafes and restaurants. Happy to have met you!

    I can not stand roaches either, they are so unpredictable! And have this creepy shine to them... urrrgh!

  19. Thank you for a most amusing post!
    I laughed and laughed.
    I must say bugs don't bother me,
    but once I was lifting bulbs in the garden. I must say "fuck" and a few other expletives escaped me when I realised one of the "bulbs" I had picked up was a deadly funnelweb spider.


    Publish or Perish

  20. *Hysterical laughter*

    We don't get cockroaches over here but I'm just as terrified of crane flies (flying daddy-long-legs). I really felt for you, once I'd stopped laughing long enough to think again.

    Oh, and because I've only worked in primary (elementary) schools, I've drawn raised eyebrows for using the word "bugger" even when the children weren't around. I have no idea what would have happened if I'd have said "fuck", although as a counsellor I heard it from the children often enough.

  21. Oh, Wendy, you are my new best friend! I don't do bugs either--especially roaches!

    I wrote a paper for class almost 20 years ago about finding one in the microwave (yes, IN the microwave--imagine!). I will have to go digging through my folders/boxes to see if I can find it.