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From this Perch: The Palmetto Bug Stomper*

Keith Rodli

Traveling through Florida on a solo trip, I stopped for the night and booked a room.

The motel recommended a small, family-operated restaurant nearby. Nothing fancy, just good food.

I went there on the early side and it was easy to get a table.

Four booths lined the wall near my table, and two of those booths were occupied —a couple in one and a woman-on-her-own in the next.

The man and woman in the booth looked like they were retirement age and they seemed pretty happy, perhaps influenced by the numerous empty beer bottles surrounding the newly supplied beers on their table.

The thing that stood out about the woman in the next booth was her very red lipstick. And lots of it.

So I was looking at the menu and waiting for a server when I noticed that the man in one of the booths, I'll call him "beer-man," was trying to get my attention.

"Hey, you have a big bug on you!" he said. He and his companion were both pointing at the back side of my shoulder.

I looked back, but couldn't see anything.

"Oh! It's running down your back!" the beer-woman shrieked.

I craned my neck around, but apparently only managed to chase the bug down onto the floor. I knew this because the beer-man was loudly covering all of this like an announcer at a baseball game.

Then I saw that the subject of all of this was a cockroach, or what folks down south call a "Palmetto Bug." Nearly 2 inches long (and thus maybe "yuckish" for humans), it just sat there on the floor, probably figuring out its next move.

I mean, how'd you like to be in its "shoes?"

And then, out of nowhere, a foot came into the picture and landed right on top of that Palmetto Bug.

I looked up and it was the lipstick-lady.

"Florida's finest!" she grinned.

Her foot still on the bug, she added "There — I saved you!" For toppers she ground the ball of her foot into that well-dead bug for a few more seconds, just to make sure.

With that, she returned to her booth.

During all of that, the beer-couple had been laughing — loudly and maybe a little too intensely. They were amused for sure, but also maybe relieved to know the bug was no longer a threat.

In the past I have confessed that I have an inner smart-ass. It's not like I make plans to be a smart-ass, but this part of me sometimes just pops up in an unchecked kind of way.

"You know, that was my pet," I volunteered as I turned to the lipstick-lady.

For a few seconds there was uncertainty on the lipstick lady's face but then she realized I was joking.

Smiling and satisfied, she returned to her booth and things got back to normal. Well, for a minute or two. And then I heard the beer-man again.

"Hey, I think that was MY pet!" He wore a big grin on his face and obviously wanted to play with the theme my smart-ass had started.

I went along with it and laughed with him, as did the beer-woman and the lipstick-lady.

Was a bond starting to form around a dead bug? A bug-bond?

It went on.

"He didn't get last rights, did he?" the beer-man persisted. "Didn't you ask him if he wanted last rites?"

More laughter, although I thought — man, this is getting really strung out.

Still, I hung in there and said — through a weary smile — that no, I hadn't had the chance to discuss last rites with my late pet.

"Well how about ashes? Are you going to scatter his ashes?" the beer-man wanted to know.

Maybe he then picked up on my vibe, which was saying something like "OK, we're pretty much done with this, aren't we?" In any event, something prompted him to exit his booth and walk over to me. He stuck out his hand. "What's your name, friend?" he asked.

"Keith."

"I'm Robert, Keith. Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you, Robert."

Then the server arrived and took my order. As he walked toward the kitchen, oblivious of what had previously unfolded, he unknowingly stepped squarely on top of the already-smashed Palmetto Bug.

I looked over at my new buddy Robert and saw his hand over his smiling mouth.

I'll say this for that late Palmetto Bug: aside from what it went through in its dying seconds, it did bring a little amusement to its fellow sentient beings.

And I've never been able to figure out, for sure, if this is a funny story or a sad one.

*Headline borrowed from The Palmetto Bug Stompers, a traditional jazz band in New Orleans

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