By Mary Jane Wilkie

I moved into Fort Tryon Gardens in 2012 as a renter, and purchased my unit last summer. The purchase price included renovation, and the management offered me the use of a vacant apartment for the duration. I gratefully accepted, and moved into a space that will remain unnamed.

image1My temporary apartment was on the Broadway side, and close to the street, thus noisy. But worse than the noise were the previous tenants’ leavings: cockroaches! For people like me, who come to New York in their twenties, learning to live cockroach-free is a rite of passage. I did this earlier in life, and didn’t expect to do it again, but there they were, crawling out from behind cabinets and counters late at night. I was aghast, but remembered grandmother’s words: “there’s nothing shameful about having bugs; it’s shameful to keep them!” Grandma would be proud to know how I became an expert exterminator.



The thought of cockroaches is disgusting to everyone, but if you’re determined to rid your unit, you can adopt a certain attitude. First, when you see a cockroach, you must never recoil, lest you give them the advantage. You must freeze, so they do not sense you. You must feel rage at their presence—not fear—and the conviction that it is them or you. They have changed your relationship with your home, and they deserve to die. I apologize to those of you who love all animals, but I am a truthful woman.

Next, you must know your enemy. Aware that some insects breathe through the carapace, I researched and found that this is true of cockroaches. This detail interested me because it provided an easy, inexpensive way to annihilate them. It’s too difficult to simply smash them with, e.g., a shoe (they move too quickly, and into cracks and corners). Keep at the ready a spritzer filled with alcohol (you can use your best vodka, but I prefer cheap rubbing alcohol). A quick spritz stuns the little buggers, allowing you to move in and spray them multiple times, causing them to suffocate. It is unpleasant to watch them die (they take their time), and I didn’t enjoy the many executions I conducted. But you don’t have to clean up the remains of bugs on your counter, and the smell of alcohol is clean.



Keeping them away is a different task. They don’t like paint, so I bought the cheapest I could find, and slathered the interior of the kitchen cabinets, and spaces around bathroom fixtures (my temporary apartment was slated for renovation, so I was ruining nothing). The building’s exterminator service helped somewhat in the apartment, but I waged my own campaign.

You must never make available anything they want. Most of us in the City learned years ago to remove wet garbage every night (it’s a cockroach banquet). My cats leave not a crumb in their feeding dishes, so cat food remains were not a problem.

image2More important is water. Cockroaches can live a long time without food, and eat almost anything (e.g., paper bags), but they need water regularly. They can’t dip into, for example, a pet’s water dish, or the toilet bowl (otherwise we’d never get rid of them). They access standing beads of water. The water most people leave in the dish drain is enough for a cockroach orgy. Even a damp sponge on the counter will attract them. In my temporary apartment, I regularly wiped down sinks and bathtub, and before my head hit the pillow, my kitchen and bathroom were bone-dry, a desert, no oasis in sight. Damp sponges went into the refrigerator. As I had no dishwasher (nor do I have one now), I can’t comment on that aspect. Perhaps a reader has a method …


A friend advised me that cockroaches don’t like certain smells, e.g., eucalyptus or tea tree, so I left cotton impregnated with those oils in their haunts. She also told me to spread diatomaceous earth in corners, which causes damage to their shells, and they die a horrible, painful death. I did that in the temporary and in the newly renovated apartment, and now in the latter, I wipe down sinks and bathtubs every night. It’s an annoyance, but constancy is crucial, and remember: it’s you or them.


It takes unstinting effort, over weeks, even months, but the cockroach community gradually gets the message that Godzilla reigns in your home, and they go elsewhere. It’s not that you wish bugs on your neighbors, but if they aren’t as diligent as you, then…

One thought on “The Oldest Insects

  1. Thanks Mary Jane. I’ve always had luck with those Combat bai traps. The roaches take the poison back to their hiding places and feed it to their children, i think. Cruel but effective!