That morning, cursed as he was to search for and find meaning in life, in anything for that matter, like so many of his wayward, errant generation, instead he encountered a cockroach in the kitchen. Periplaneta americana. The lady at the rental office called it a waterbug, “You know a Palmetto bug” she said in a smiling affected drawl when he first reported them a few months back but she forgot or he didn’t tell her that he was an associate professor of Biology at the community college and couldn’t be fooled by semantics? (Why would he? What was she like in bed?) When he had turned on the hood light over the stove it scurried out from behind the knife block, circled the coffee press and starting heading toward the open sugar bowl, a miniature ceramic teapot painted bone-white with fading delicate roses on the side whose lid had been lost years ago in one of many moves. It had belonged to his grandmother on his mother’s side. Bought at the Ben Franklin just before the war. The thought of the roach climbing into it, into the sugar as much as the bowl, raised his hand high and it struck the sharp, peeling corner of the range hood with a ringing knell and the bug froze as if accepting its imminent fate. However, as the man realized that every day presents us an opportunity to practice compassion he quickly grabbed a large, blue plastic cup from the dollar store and turned it over on the resigned insect. He’d deposit it outside after breakfast.
He kept a clean house. Or apartment as the case may be. He thought of the Mexicans next door. Not because they were Mexicans (Ecuadorans? Guatemalans?) but there were a lot of them for a two-bedroom place. The parents and three kids, visible kids, and a wailing baby and people coming and going on Sundays from the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe or at least that’s what the van said. Three or four generations at least dressed well and carrying food. The aroma of food always attracted him as he passed their door and he tried not to look in when it was open. With all that food and all those people…not that they were Mexican or whatever. He meant to ask the young boy he spoke with occasionally but never did, wanted to ask him about the Mexican candles for sale in Food Lion and which one he should get for good luck but only gave him things like old Nerf footballs his kids no longer used or one time a bike pump because there were forks and rims scattered about their patio and the kid seemed industrious and he wanted to help him without being patronizing. He was a good kid, sensed him smart enough to know when he was being patronized. He wondered if they ever got any of his mail by mistake and never returned it.
He turned on the TV to check the weather forecast so there’d be some conversational fodder for later at the office. You would think in the hallowed halls of academia there’d be more to talk about than the polarization of anything and everything. Weather. Now that was walking the line. No concern for being “PC” or respectful. Partly cloudy with a high of 28. He ripped a paper towel off the roll and placed it under the lip of the kitchen counter then dragged the cup toward it and closed his hand on the rim, walked carefully to the door and moved the napkin and shook the cup. Periplaneta americana landed with a small click-clack on the cold, coarse concrete and he went back inside, feeling a little better about himself.