Elephant Foot Horan

When I was just a small, one-dog Sled, I had to spend two or three summers in the dormitories of the College of William and Mary, down in the swampy wetlands of Virginia’s Tidewater. My father taught there at a summer band school, and all the instructors’ families were allowed to eat in the college cafeteria and put up for the four-week session in old buildings smelling of dry rot, mildew and freshman apprehension. Air conditioning was still a new thing in those days, reserved for movie houses and drugstores which sported a Kool Penguin on the glass door to let you know it wasn’t sweltering inside. We used to drag down a couple of big double window fans housed in sheet metal which took up half the cargo space in the car.

The buildings, along with despairing and tired aromas, housed entire civilizations of palmetto bugs. These are the tropical relatives of the well known city cockroach, achieving sizes of three inches and faces capable of distinct expressions, given a nutrient-packed diet. Local stores were perpetually devoid of the coveted new Raid insecticide; seasoned regulars at the band school brought their own.

Up one floor a couple of the guys — Frankie Reid and George Horan, a drummer and a trumpeter — shared a room. Picture a building entirely painted an exhausted shade of institutional pea green, the floors a rippling brown linoleum, despite which every door was finished in a six-panel molding style still known as the Arlington. (This is, after all, the Old Dominion.) George and Frankie’s door sported an extra adornment — a trophy display of all the palmetto bugs they had slaughtered in the course of the summer. “‘Elephant Foot’ Horan,” read an adjacent typescript, “prefers to obliterate the invader with a single stroke of his mighty size 13’s, while ‘Jose Greco‘ Reid cancels their contracts beneath his heels to a passionate flamenco beat.” I saw grown men turn faint and pale at the spectacle of this exhibit. People left Frank and George pretty much alone at the end of the hall, which may have suited them fine; those were the days when bandsmen in general enjoyed killing a fifth on a weekend evening.

I got to thinking of them because I am dealing with an invasion of fecking palmetto bugs from my drains, courtesy of the renovations at the dead lady’s house up the street, which her having been a hoarder whose accumulated detritus filled two dumpsters before they could even get to the walls must have been a national sanctuary for the revolting things. Four cats and a knack for bug baits (peanut butter and boric acid; magic stuff) are a mighty defense, and these are nothing like the size of the bastards that occupied the drains of the long-ago Tidewater, but I could wish for Jose or Elephant Foot. Who I find is no longer on this mortal coil; sic transit gloria mundi. I wonder if the people who wrote his obit, or even his missus, knew about his prowess as a roach assassin.

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8 thoughts on “Elephant Foot Horan

  1. Stop calling them palmetto bugs… they are just BIG FUCKING ROACHES. That FLY. And Spain is full of them thanks to the ships that brought back all those goodies from the New World conquests. The ships were also full of what are known as Cucarachas Americanas here.

    Calling them palmetto bugs sounds like people are trying to pretend they aren’t actually BIG FUCKING ROACHES.

    They totally freak me out.

    • I will have you know that they came to the New World from Africa. I don’t know whether we blame the Portuguese, the British or whom.

      It’s worth distinguishing the big fucking ones from the little fucking ones. I fought a war with the little ones in the old college building I worked in at my last straight job. We had offices just over the cafeteria. I never ate there.

      • The little fucking ones are German roaches and I actually think they are worse because they get FUCKING EVERYWHERE. At least the huge flying American cockroaches mostly seem to stick to dark damp places and so don’t end up in your cupboards and cutlery drawers. I only experienced those once when I moved into a very old building in Winnipeg. I moved out a week later.

  2. This idea–that you know something about a person that his wife doesn’t know–occupies me. I’ve thought about it a lot since folks I know (knew) have started to die. And, I think: If my husband died, and some strange woman contacted me with a memory of him, something I knew nothing about, would it please me? And I think it would.

    You should write to his wife. It’s a funny story and you write well. I think she would be pleased, if she’s still around.

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