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La Cucaracha

Malerie Yolen-Cohen

The little jig you do at two a.m.

Evening was time for the “cockroach dance.” If you were the least bit queasy about scurrying insects, you’d just have to pack up, turn around and say goodbye to Texas. But I stayed. I never had a problem with bugs.

A born and bred New England girl, I was fine with night crawlers, June Bugs, Silverfish and the ubiquitous roaches that would share my digs as surely as sunup followed sundown. So I stayed - for five years; first in the piney woods of Deep East Texas, then to the more built up cowtown of Houston. Either way, though, I was a DamnYankee. No getting around that. Even when I proved I could stomach the nocturnal massing of hard-shelled arthropods.

The Roach Dance, as everyone who’s ever lived in Texas knows, is the little jig you do at 2am when it’s pitch dark outside and the munchies drive you into the kitchen for a snack. Turn on the light, and the counters and floors came alive with waves of scratchy things running to hide in holes and cabinets. To accelerate their exodus, you’d jump up and down, stomp your foot on the floor, and make as much noise as you could to clear the place - in effect, doing your own, home-brewed La Cucaracha.

The thing about roaches is that they are an equal opportunity insect. Black, white, yellow, orange, they don’t care about the color of your skin or place of origin. Roaches are happy in every home. It doesn’t even matter how clean you keep your countertops -they could be spotless. The creatures always seem to find a way to join their fellow squatters. And of course, at night, they congregate like sweaty men at a Promisekeepers convention.

In Texas, you had to be prepared to share your home or apartment with uninvited guests of the two, four or eight legged variety. Casual drop-ins were common. Friends and friends of friends would bring cats, dogs, iguanas, even goats if a bar-b-Q for cowboys was in the offing. Flying and crawling critters just came along for the ride. I got used to this kind of free-for-all when it came to visitors and missed it when I moved back North after getting married. There was something comforting about people who felt that they could just barge in on you at any hour - night or day - expecting a meal or at least a beer. Down in Texas, we called this “dropping by”.

Up North, though, there’s no such thing as dropping by. You make plans, you schedule dinners, you pencil in play dates, but you don’t drop by. Everything is done with such exactitude and nit-picky contrivance, it leaves no room for messy, wild-haired, stained pajama moments. We see each other at our made-up best; perfectly coiffed, meticulously groomed, ridiculously ordered. A droning bore.

It’s enough to send me screaming back to the scattershot nights in the Southwest - to those moments right before turning on the light in the kitchen. You know what’s going to happen, but there’s a hesitation, a heart-quickening anticipation of the instant to come when all hell will break loose. Thousands of roaches running for their lives. Then silence. Gross but really quite beautiful.

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