Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Andy and the Roaches

Back when I was living in New Haven and knocking on doors for Greenpeace (Clinton hadn't even been elected back then), I knew this guy named Andrew, Andy the Greek. He wasn't from Greece. He was from 3 miles away in Branford. He was on the slender side, medium weight, with long hair pulled back in a tight ponytail and a warm toothy smile that usually managed to mask the seething rage that boiled inside him. I was 22, I think he was about 30. He smoked unfiltered cigarettes: Lucky Strikes, Camels, Pall Malls, you name it. "Filters," he explained to me once, smiling as he crushed out one smoke and lit up another, "are made of polyester fiber and are bad not only for the environment, but for your lungs."

Andy lived on Chapel Street a block or so from Mamoun's Middle Eastern (which today is nowhere near as great as it was in 1992) in a one- (or two-) bedroom apartment with a similarly smiley-but-angry guy named simply Gabor. I learned later that Gabor's given name was "Rob"; Gabor spelled backwards was Rob, plus the first two letters of Rob's last name. He had decided to unofficially change it after some run-in with the law or some personal embarrassment from years past. I never got the story straight. Neither did he.

Anyway, their apartment was a mess. Clothes and newspapers covered everything. The stove was covered with grease, and the whole place stank like their cigarettes.

I say I'm not sure if their apartment was a one- or two-bedroom because it was impossible to tell where Gabor's stuff ended and Andrew's began, and vice-versa. The bedroom they seemed to share had hammocks suspended from the ceiling. "I store all my clothes in one of them," Andrew explained to me, grinning. "Or at least the clothes I don't throw on the floor. Same with my books."

"And I sleep in one of them," added Gabor with a smile. "It's great for my back!"

The worst part about the place was the roaches, which were everywhere. Unmolested, they freely roamed the walls, the sinks, the drawers. They frolicked and supped in the grease on the stove. They sat on the rim of the toilet, daring you to piss on them. They hung out in the cabinets in little cockroach conferences. They had lost all fear of humans. Turning on a light in the middle of the night didn't faze them at all. When you watched TV, they would drink your beer, take over the remote, and turn on the game.

There was a reason for this.

"I decided a long time ago that I didn't want to deal with poisons anymore," Andy said with a shrug one day while making lunch. "I'd wipe 'em out and they'd just come back. Finally I decided to make an agreement with the roaches. If they left me alone, I'd leave them alone. If they left my stuff alone, I wouldn't try to kill them. Shoo!" he said with a sheepish grin, as he shook off a couple of little brown ones crawling up his spoon, and dug into his bowl of ramen noodles. "Besides, roaches are actually really clean little animals, and they're very closely related to lobsters," he continued, slurping soup out of the spoon that had just been used as a see-saw by the swarming vermin. "Want some noodles?"

Sometime later that year, Andy the Greek moved out of his apartment and moved in with Tracy, who also worked at Greenpeace. She was renting a bedroom from another canvasser named Brian, and had far more stringent standards of cleanliness. Andy's smile grew tighter in those days. When they moved out of the room, heading for New Mexico to get married, I took their room. They stuck me with a $75.00 phone bill.

So far as I know, the roaches may still living in Andrew's old apartment. There may be some old waterbug still existing quietly under the vanity in the bathroom telling the young bucks "You'll never know what it was like, those years living with Andy the Greek. You'll never know that good life."


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