Marisele Maldonado was just about to turn off the lights and go to bed when she saw it. Brown and ugly, the thumb-size cockroach clung impassively to the wall.
She phoned her brother, offering $5 for him to come over and kill the insect. No deal. Maldonado then called her downstairs neighbor. “She started laughing,” Maldonado said. The neighbor showed up and felled the roach in a single blow, much to Maldonado’s delight.
“I’m petrified of roaches,” she said.
So, it was a little surprising to find the 19-year-old staring at a jar filled with 1,400 dead roaches--2 pounds worth--Thursday at the Pico Aliso Recreation Center in East Los Angeles. She was there, along with a couple hundred of her neighbors, to listen to a seminar on the insects, peruse a bug zoo and bring home a fumigation kit.
Sponsored by the Raid Center for Insect Control and the Pico Aliso Resident Advisory Council, the event was designed to educate and arm residents of nearby housing projects in the battle against the annoying scavenger, a fight man has been losing ever since the first homo sapien picked up a rock to squash a roach. In fact, the cockroach, or la cucaracha, as many of the Spanish-speaking crowd called it, predates man on Earth by about 300 million years.
Its longevity notwithstanding, the Periplaneta americana is most often greeted with a stomp. But the cockroach wants not for company. Entomologist Keith Kennedy said that for every roach that a person sees, there are probably another 100 hidden.
Similar seminars are being held in other large cities to educate homeowners on how to get rid of the No. 1 urban insect pest, which can transmit disease and poison food.
While they prefer sweets, roaches will eat anything. They’ll live anywhere, too, but prefer kitchens. And not just dirty ones.
“Anybody and everyone can have a cockroach problem,” said Kennedy, whom some referred to as “Doctor Roach.” “But you don’t have to live with it.”
To that end, Kennedy demonstrated a state-of-the-art bug bomb. Placed inside a clear plastic house, the bomb bubbled and smoked. The normally light-shy roaches streamed out of a cardboard tube in a paroxysm. Climbing up walls and atop one another, the roaches raced around as though drug-addled. Finally, overcome by the white gas, the insects bellied-up, all six legs kicking wildly in a last spasm of life.
“When they run around and flip over on their backs, you know you got them,” Kennedy said.
For many of the balloon-carrying children, some roaches were objects of fascination. Kennedy held a 4-inch-long Madagascar hissing cockroach, larger then a credit card, for reluctant children to pet. More squeamish children pressed their faces to the plastic cages containing other exotic bugs, including a red-legged tarantula and the giant South American cockroach.
Maldonado said her apartment is fumigated every few months, but scores of roaches still flee for the baseboard whenever a light switch is flicked on late at night. Her mother, Guadalupe Maldonado, suspects that the pesticide, far from eradicating the pests, seems to bring more out.
But Maldonado said that her own fumigation went well Thursday. Her two children watched through the kitchen window as the insects convulsed and died. And there were plenty on the floor when she entered the house after three hours.
“Oh, it was gross,” she said.