In the fall of 2004 I moved out of the tiniest studio and into the basement of the same building. It was a two bedroom unit. It had very low ceilings and odd carpeting that seemed to have just been laid right over dirt. There was a creepy closet next to my bedroom that we used for storage, but it was unfinished. I think if I had crawled deep enough inside, I would have found a hole that led directly to the sewer. I don’t know what the hell was going on there, all I know is that occasionally I would find these cockroaches lying around the apartment that were about the size of the palm of my hand. They were always dead. I vaguely remember someone saying that every so often certain buildings would get gassed for bugs and then the cockroaches would all be dying and trying to run away from wherever they were. So these cockroaches would come out of that hole, and breathe their last breaths on my rug. A few times they even made it to the steps outside the apartment door. Roaches are tenacious little fuckers. I’ll give them that.
The apartment was an upgrade for me in many ways. I hadn’t had an actual bedroom in a long time. We also had a living room and a kitchen. What luxury! Oh and when I say we, I am talking about myself and my friend Angel. We had decided to finally live together after having talked about it over the years on several occasions. The basement apartment was cheap and I knew we’d be good roommates. Angel is incredibly easy to live with. Angel is polite and neat and one of the most non-judgmental people I have ever known. So when she would come home and find me with Fuckhead, or FH for short, drinking forties and smoking meth with creepy neighbors, she totally didn’t freak out. Or when I would come home wasted with random friends and do a bunch of coke. Or when I would just be alone and tweak out and make music mixes on my old ass Windows 95 computer till five in the morning. What I’m saying is she never made me feel bad about the fact that I was going through what appeared to be a rough patch.
I want to let you know that I am one of those people who hate bugs. I don’t find them fascinating or interesting. I mostly find them annoying and repulsive. I have a particularly hard time with anything that stings or bites. I will freak out if a bee is anywhere near me. And don’t even get me started on a goddam wasp. What purpose does a wasp even serve? Someone please tell me what good they provide in the grand scheme of things. Anyway, bugs are gross and I hate them. So really, this is a tale of great personal triumph. Not like triumph over you know, meth addiction or depression, but a triumph nonetheless.
Angel’s bedroom was the smaller of the two. It had two doors, one of which led outside, to the side of the building. The side of the building her room was on was also where the dumpster was. We’d been living there maybe a month and this hadn’t presented a problem. In fact, I think she liked having the door to the outside right there, so she could get a breath of fresh dumpster air whenever she felt like it.
One night I was trying to sleep instead of doing drugs and drinking. I think I had even gone to bed at a reasonable hour instead of staying up to watch marathons of Six Feet Under on DVD. Just as I was falling asleep I heard Angel come home. About one minute later I heard Angel screaming. Or maybe it was more like screeching. It was loud and scary and I thought for sure she’d found a homeless person in her room or possibly someone was trying to murder her. I ran out of my room in a panic. I found her bouncing around the living room, flailing her arms and shrieking. It’s hard to remember exactly what she said to me. I don’t recall any words. Maybe she just pointed to her bedroom with a horrified expression on her face. I only remember looking in her room to see that maggots had infiltrated and were covering her entire carpet. They had made their way under the door to outside and had inched their way across her bedroom and were now trying to get to the living room.
This is one of the very few times in my life that I was able to completely take control of the situation. Angel was too frightened and traumatized to function. I sat her down on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, like some victim of a violent crime. I made sure she had cigarettes. I told her not to worry about it; I would take care of it. I think in some way I felt like it was my fault. I was the one who had convinced her to move into this shady apartment building and now look, maggots!
I went to work. I took everything out of her room after shaking off all the bugs. I figured I would be able to sweep them up. But maggots are sticky. Did you know that? They are sticky and the carpet in this place seemed to work for them. I really hadn’t prepared for the lengths I was about to go to get rid of these things. After failing with the broom there was only one option left. There wasn’t a lot of time for hesitation. Maggots are really goal oriented and I noticed a couple had nearly made their way out to the living room. I could not have Angel see that. She was so frightened and shaken, curled up on the couch, nearly catatonic. There was only one option. I grabbed the waste basket in her room, got down on my hands and knees, and began to pluck the maggots off the carpet. With my bare hands. One by one, I dropped them in. I went over as much of the carpet as I could. It took a while. I tried not to think much about what I was doing. I just knew it had to be done and no one else was going to do it.
When I thought I had gotten most of them up, I tied up the bag and took it out to the dumpster. I saw the trail outside her door and tried my best to sweep all those away and disperse them. I wasn’t really sure what else I could do to deter them. I decided it might be best to tape up the door so they couldn’t get back in. Once I had everything sealed up I went out to try to comfort Angel. I’m not sure if she ever went to sleep that night.
In the week after the maggot incident, I would come home to find Angel hanging out on the couch, smoking and playing video games. She would not go back into her bedroom. The door stayed closed. She would sit on the couch, nervously eyeballing her bedroom door. Our landlord was absolutely no comfort. When we reported the incident to her, she told Angel to stop acting like a princess and that she was overreacting. “They’re just maggots, dahling,” she’d say in her smoke damaged British accent. She came over and dumped a bunch of bleach outside, around the dumpster and the stoop outside Angel’s door and that was that. She didn’t want to hear any more about it.
Not long after this happened Angel admitted she would probably not ever sleep in that room again and that maybe this basement apartment wasn’t going to work out. We decided we would part ways and I would go back to a studio. When we finally went back into her room to start packing, there were flies all over the place. We were both completely revolted that these flies had come from those dumpster maggots. But the joke was on them, because they were so weak, they wouldn’t fly. They just hung out on the wall and the carpet, too hungry and retarded to do anything else.
Angel never fully recovered from the night of the maggots. Fortunately I never felt too traumatized by it. Even now, as I write this, I am more amazed than anything else that I hand-picked maggots out of a carpet. But that’s love for you. She needed me to be brave and I was doing my duty. In the end the maggots only made our friendship closer. I moved back upstairs to another studio and Angel ventured off on her own. Two years after the maggot incident Angel got ordained and performed the ceremony at my wedding. She approves of this story.