“An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom.”
- Charles Baudelaire
FLASHBACK TO THE FIRST NIGHT in the apartment I had rented across the border in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico - a fifteen unit dump at the end of a trash strewn, blind alley. It was secure and it was centrically located, only four short blocks from the International Bridge. My neighbors consisted mostly of ghostly, ancient American men that lived off their monthly disability checks. Shabby specters who kept to themselves.
Opening the black steel door, the squat, haggish landlady shuffled around in frayed slippers, giving me a grand tour of my new trap.
A small, furnished room with adjacent kitchen and a bathroom. The furnishings were well worn and rickety, the kitchen fell out of the forties, and the tiny bathroom was everything you would have expected - cracked porcelain and dripping toilet.
I inspected everything as a good American queer should - flushing the toilet, checking the tap, bouncing on the bed.
I noticed a small cockroach that skittered across the dusty, green tiled floor.
“Is there a bug problem, Maria?” I asked, watching the critter scamper under the chipped bureau. “You did spray when you cleaned the place, right?
“Aye.” Maria husked as she leaned her titanic, dumpy frame against the bureau that seemed to creak in protest. With a cough and a cackle, she assured me, “Might see a couple of roaches this being Juárez and all.”
She smiled, her mouth a row of stained, rotted teeth. “Poco cucarachas. (A few roaches) Not many, Meester. One…two. Very clean.” She acted as if she was suffocating under her own weight.
I pulled the $120 out of my wallet and handed it to her; where she devoured the bills between her mole-encrusted, ample bosoms. She handed me the keys.
“Thank you, Maria.” I smiled.
She shuffled out of the apartment, leaving me alone in the cool darkness. As I unpacked my duffel bag, I remembered the reason I came to be here.
After literally escaping the ravages of Tijuana, I hopped a bus and headed east to the southwest desert city of El Paso, Texas.
Still glowing off the thrill of living in the border town of Tijuana, I decided to check out Ciudad Juárez, a sprawling, sun baked metropolis that lay across the international border south of El Paso.
It was my first time in Juárez and I was excited to find out what the city offered.
I had brazenly approached a taxi driver and inquired about furnished rooms for rent. Not asking for a dime, he led me around the corner from his station and introduced me to Maria.
That night, content in my humble digs, I retired to my bed naked for a night of peaceful slumber. In the pitch black, that’s when I heard them. Skitter-skitter-skitter.
I flicked on the lamp - the floor and walls and ceiling were covered by a blanket of small, black and shiny cockroaches. Yes, I screamed like a girl.
Shaking out my clothes, I hurriedly dressed and ran down to the corner store that was open 24 hours and purchased two cans of highly toxic Mexican bug spray from the giggling, silver-toothed chola behind the cluttered counter.
With a black bandanna around my mouth and nose, I kicked open the front door with a can of spray in each hand.
“Prepare to meet your Apocalypse, fuckers!” I growled and entered my pad, guns ablazin’.
After spraying every inch of my apartment, woozy and half-blinded by the fumes, I swept up the carnage and dumped them into a large, empty mayonnaise jar.
I placed the jar in front of my landlady’s door – half-filled with suffocated insect carcasses and a scrawled note that read, Here are those one or two bugs that you said I’d encounter. Love, Apt. #12.