Lonely Planet Woman
I like to think of myself as an Über-Lonely Planet traveler: eager to immerse myself in a different culture and shed the comfort of my middle-class American skin. But deep down, I sometimes get the sinking feeling I might be more of a Frommer-girl. My boyfriend Eric and I decide to go to Akumal, a tiny village on the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. We want a "beach" vacation. I need to be restored. I don't want to backpack, museum-hop, or even carry a map. My Lonely Planet self whispers, "You're going soft." But I ignore her in favor of lying on a beach and not making a decision in my decision-laden life.
We arrive in Akumal near dinnertime. We dance around our rented condo expanding into the space, a vacation in itself considering our cramped one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. I point to the patio with its colorful hammock flapping in the breeze and the water nibbling at the sand not twenty steps from our sliding doors. "We have a yard!"
And then I see it: One steroid-ridden roach darting into the closet. Rugged and resourceful, I do what any Lonely Planet traveler would do: shrug and put my bag and shoes on a shelf. I've slept on the ground of a jungle with cotton in my ears. No roach is going to creep me out. But I don't tell my boyfriend. He hasn't slept on the jungle floor and despite four years together I am unsure of his roach policy. Ten minutes later, I see the invader creep out of the closet, turn over on its back, and die. I tell Eric. "They spray for roaches. Now this is a deluxe place." I pick the roach up with a paper towel and toss it out the door.
Eric goes to the bathroom and flushes the toilet. It works. I go and it doesn't. "Eric, I broke the toilet!" He comes into the bathroom, and tinkers with the plastic thing in the tank. "We just need to fill it." He empties a pot of water into the tank and the toilet flushes. I thank him; we are perfectly matched Lonely Planet travelers.
The bed linens are beautiful, ecru with little blue flowers. I slip between the sheets naked, feeling the soft cotton drape over me. Eric soon falls asleep. I open my new book, excited that I can read all night long and not worry about tomorrow. Who can be too tired to lolly gag by the Caribbean? Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone is sneaking up on some suspicious oaf when I feel a tickle on my left shoulder. I look over and see nothing. Just brown and blue sheets. The pretty print. But then I itch again and I see it. A big brown roach crawling on my shoulder.
"A roach, a roach, Eric get out of bed!" We both leap from the bed. For some reason, I jump up and down. I've somehow reverted to being a first-grader, shaking off cooties. I spy the roach clinging to the edge of the top sheet. My stomach wretches and my shoulder still tingles where the roach touched me. Eric throws on a pair of shorts and puts on his sneakers.
"I don't want to step on anything," he says, as he deserts, seeking sanctuary in the living room.
I stare at the covers where the roach lurks. I grab the only pajamas I bought for the trip, a silky tank and boxers set. Suddenly I wish that I'd brought flannels. I walk into the living room. "We have to get the roach," I say.
"I don't do roaches," Eric says. So now I know his position on roaches. And now I wonder whether he is, in actuality, a Frommer-boy. What would that mean to our relationship? But I have no time to ponder the matter, as it is 2 a.m. after a long day of travel and I am roach hunting. Eric offers me a water glass and stands in the doorway of the bedroom. The roach peeks out of the rumpled top sheet, mocking me. I slam the glass down, miss him, and he scurries under the sheet.
Eric edges into the room for a better view but still maintains a distance from the bed. "We'll call and complain in the morning. We should get a new condo."
But I am a Lonely Planet Traveler, I think. I don't want to force our middle-class luxury-ridden, sterile values on people. My face hurts from being scrunched up in repulsion but I pull the top sheet away from the bed and the roach saunters out. I slam the glass down, screaming as I do. "Got him!"
Eric tears the cardboard back off a legal pad and hands it to me. "Careful. Careful," he warns me as I slide the board under the glass and trap the roach.
I run in my little jammies carrying the roach in a glass to the bathroom. Eric yells from behind me. "Outside! Throw it outside!"
I ignore him. I want this fucker dead. No way is he (or she, but I think it is a he) getting into our bed again. I am his executioner. Death by toilet. I throw the roach in the toilet - and he swims! He paddles up to the edge of the water and scrambles to the lip of the bowl. As he clings to the lip of the toilet, I am sure his atom-sized brain is figuring out how to climb out, but it seems roaches have yet to master walking upside down on a slippery surface. Eric is yelling, "Flush it!" Keeping my body as far away as possible from the throne as if the roach might soar upwards, evolving flight, I reach over and flush.
The damn toilet! I try again and again. Click, click, click. My hysteria peaking, I scream at Eric to get a pot of water to fill the tank. He goes to the kitchen. I fill up the water glass and throw it at the roach. He slips in the water and doggie paddles in circles before climbing right back out. I throw more water on him. I'll tire him to death, that fucker.
"Okay. Fix the toilet. I can't do it," I call to Eric, "Toilet tanks are gross." "And roaches aren't?" he says.
Nothing about being a plumber in Lonely Planet.
He refills the toilet tank and backs out. I flush. Nothing. The roach twitches. I know we have mere minutes before he figures out how to escape. My stomach lurches. We've come too far. "Get me the bug spray." "We don't have any."
"I mean the bug repellent. For our skin."
"That isn't going to kill the roach," Eric says. But he gets it and hands me the spray. I spray, never letting my finger loosen on the trigger. My eyes water and my throat begins to burn. The roach slides back into the toilet bowl and swims around. I keep spraying. DEET glistens all over the toilet rim. He eventually sputters out, drowning in chemicals. At last, he floats in the circular current of the toilet water.
My throat and chest are sore from toxins. I drink some water and spit into the sink. We sit at the dining room table with our feet up, acutely aware of the roach's gruesome death. Exhausted now, the adrenaline rush gone, we talk.
"Do you want to sleep in the hammock?"
"We should lift the mattress to see if there are others."
"He was a country roach, a beach roach even, we shouldn't be so repulsed."
"We wouldn't feel like this if it were an ant."
"Why are people so prejudiced against roaches?"
Two hours later, still holding our pee, we agree to sleep in the bed with the lights on. The next morning we head to breakfast at a local café where we argue about how to approach the problem.
"This isn't the United States. We're in a budget condo. We are going to look like spoiled Americans if we demand a new condo," I say. But my inner Frommer-girl whines, "I want a new condo!" Finally, we agree to just ask someone who lives in town. During breakfast, we strike up a conversation with the owner of the café. He is horrified at our tale and more horrified that we hesitate to complain.
In our new condo a few hours later, I lie in a hammock, too exhausted to walk just a few yards to the beach. I flick an ant off my thigh and wonder what all our hysteria was about. I am, after all, an Über-Lonely Planet traveler.
© Alexandra D'Italia
Alexandra D'Italia is a recovering criminal defense lawyer making a living as a freelance writer. Her fiction has been published in Art Times. Her other publication credits include First Books' Newcomer's Guide to San Francisco, SF Weekly, artwell.com, and the now defunct posthoc.com where she reviewed restaurants.
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