Chance meeting with the enemy

October 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

I lived in Kingston, Ontario when I was in grad school. It was a big year for me. I learned that what I’m capable of and what I want to do aren’t necessarily the same thing. I lived the student life I missed as a commuting undergrad. And I became sworn blood enemy of house centipedes.

For reasons that I don’t really understand, Kingston’s oldest houses, which tend to be the ones you wind up living in if you’re attending Queen’s University, are crawling with house centipedes*. In Toronto you might occasionally find these guys in your basement or laundry room. In Kingston you’d find them on the ceiling on the 3rd floor or crawling up the legs of your bed at night.

Out of sheer primal disgust I started killing them all on sight. Pick up a shoe and whack, even on carpet; they’re frail enough animals that that usually does the trick, sending twitching legs in all directions and splatting the striped thumb of a body. A magazine is always sufficient to take them out on the wall. The trick in any case is being quick enough without startling them into fleeing, because when they want to they can move as fast across the floor as a man walking briskly. It’s the speed that I’d always catch in the corner of my eye; a small invertebrate moving faster than it had any right to.

By the end of my year in Kingston I was twitchy. I saw them everywhere. Sometimes they were actually there. I interpreted smudges on the walls of the hallways of my building as marks of battle between man and centipede. Usually there was a leg still attached to tip me off, but often it was just the direction of the smear that told the story. I’d be working at my desk and a wisp of my own hair would drift into my field of vision and I’d spin around with a rolled-up Esquire in my hand that I couldn”t remember picking up.

We see them not infrequently in our place now. Addie’s kooky enough about shadows that she’ll often paw one of these running bandits into a corner and keep them there until I can find a suitable weapon (I still favour Esquire for the purpose). Wifey saw one last week but I couldn’t get downstairs in time to make the kill, so I’m still on guard whenever I go down to bed.

This fellow Addie I happened upon in the Distillery District really caught me by surprise. He’s quite large, just about as big as they come**, and in perfect physical shape. The only thing apparently wrong with him is he seems to be having wandered out of doors on a particularly brisk autumn day and found his tiny muscles chilled nearly to halting. As you can see from the video I broke my rule of killing on sight, though that probably won’t do him much good as he lolls about in the middle of a sidewalk.

As I crouched next to him checking on his vitals I think I was taken for an art installation by passers by. This was Distillery, after all. That bodes well for the centipede if he can crawl up a parking meter and pick up some decorative frost overnight.

*They’re predators, so presumably there’s an abundance of some other bug that isn’t as visible that supports house centipede populations. Though they eat spiders, somehow I’ve never lived anywhere that felt overrun with arachnids.
**The biggest I ever saw was about twice the size of this one and stampeding across the floor at work. I ran after it, launched into a grand jeté, planting my toe right on it and finishing it off with a quick pirouette. True story.

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