My father is a collector. He makes jewelry, as do I. It is an obsession for him (and becoming one for me), but when I was a child I didn’t get it. He has vast row after row of baby food jars filled with beads, broken jewelry, semi-precious stones.
He also collects records. He has over 5,000. They are stacked in boxes all over the downstairs of the church where he lives. He also has between 10 and 15 turntables to play the records on. Only two or three are functional.
And he collects plants. I know you may be thinking: How can you collect plants? Aren’t they alive?
Yes. They are. We moved many, many times in my childhood. And each move involved packing up all his plants and taking them with us. House to house. All over Florida.
He has a particular fondness for bromeliads. So do I, as it turns out. I’d rather get a bromeliad than flowers. It must have been all those years helping him in the yard. Digging plants up, transplanting them, watering them. We had a compost bin that had to be turned and sifted through.
Even now I love the smell of rich fertile soil, the sound of a sprinkler spinning, the smell of fish emulsions (basically, ground up, concentrated fish heads, yum!), earthworms.
But for some reason, bromeliads seem to attract palmetto bugs. Which is basically a polite way of saying; giant flying roaches.
When we were kids, my brother, sister and I found a way to amuse ourselves with them. My brother was in charge of catching the disgusting creatures. I could never stomach that. As you all now know.
My brother never had that issue. He still doesn’t. He can crush them with a bare hand. In fact, when he was very little, family legend has it that he used to eat them. That’s right. Roaches. They could never tell if he was eating dead ones he’d found or catching live ones and eating them. Either way, it’s horrific. My mother used to see him chewing and reach into his mouth only to pull out roach parts. *SHUDDER*
Anyway. On one side of our house there was a brick paved walkway with bromeliads on both sides. And tons of lizards.
We would catch the roaches and run over to the walkway with the roach squirming around in my brother’s cupped hands. I like to imagine us digging through the trash bags of aluminum cans in our yard and overturning rocks, trying to find roaches to use in our sick game. I don’t even know where we got them all from.
My brother would throw the roach down onto the center of the brick walkway. Not hard enough to kill it, but hard enough to daze it a bit. It made a very specific and particular sound when it hit.
The roach would sit for a second and then go crazy, trying to get back to the safety of some dark corner. But it was too late. The hungry eager eyes of the lizards would have already locked on to the defenseless roach. We eventually trained the lizards, Pavlovian style, to come running when they heard the sound of the roach hitting the bricks.
Three or four lizards would come running up. And they would tear the roach apart, fighting each other in some kind of tug of war. It was fascinating. Like a microcosm of the Serengeti. The roach was a zebra and the lizards a pack of lions.
We were bloodthirsty. We watched, riveted by the spectacle. We couldn’t get enough. My sister and I would beg my brother to do it again and again. Over and over. Till he got bored and would refuse to continue. But we were thrilled.
We would have done that to the exclusion of all other activities if we could have convinced him. Catching them ourselves was not an option.
Honestly, I still kind of want to see it again. Even now. Twenty-three years later. The thought of it is so compelling to me. And not just because I fucking hate roaches.