Travels with Jim, Act Two: Cockroach hunt

Hunt for the daytime cockroach, Chicago suburban Northeastern Illinois, a few days past the middle of April:

The older brother, a four-footer, spotted the black insect hustling along the locker room floor, hugging the base, passing the row of lockers, heading for the pool area.

“It’s a cockroach,” he yelled, causing the elderly man (Jim, freshly arrived from Pennsylvania, preparing for a short dip in yonder pool) to leap into action, ripping paper towels from the wall dispenser and bending down to the scampering insect.

A man half Jim’s age stood and watched, declaring that he was not in the cockroach-hunting business at the moment.

A third boy rounded out the crowd, a three-footer or so. He was not attached to the taller pair, the alarm-sounding four-footer and his three-and-a-half-foot brother. This third boy figures in this account, but later. Now it was all Jim and the roach.

Pow! One swat with his fistful of paper. The roach kept scampering. Pow! Pow! Two more swipes. Ah! He’s wounded, Jim realized, pouncing a fourth time on the now struggling creature, pow! He raised a hand, paper surrounding the captured roach, much like the Iroquois chief in “The Last of the Mohicans,” holding aloft the still beating heart of the white general which he had just extracted with a cut of his knife. (We saw the white man’s lower body lurch while his heart was scooped out.)

Jim gave a punching movement to his prize. The four-footer, startled, flinched, then returned Jim’s triumphant smile. It had been no time for the faint of heart, and Jim had not failed, even bending down with no apparent slippage of disc or wrenching of knee.

Into the nearby waste basket went the roach, by now scrunched beyond recognition within the ball of paper in Jim’s hand. Later the four-footer, arriving in the pool area, was heard announcing to his adult minder and all others the news: “We saw a cockroach!”

Meanwhile, Jim had gone back to his locker to finish changing into his Speedos, and the boys had gone back to theirs. The three-footer had for some reason chosen a locker next to Jim’s and could be seen now closely examining the lock assembly on the inside of the locker door, as if to verify a hunch. He had a comment at this time, addressed to no one, about cockroaches: “They are usually active at night.”

This kid knew cockroaches, Jim decided, ignoring him as both went about their business. But the three-footer’s business caught Jim’s eye. Having checked out the lock assembly, he entered the locker itself. Kids like to try things out, Jim told himself. But then the boy stepped out briefly to pick up his swim suit and then returned and closed the locker door. Not all the way, but almost. Seeking privacy, he had chosen the inside of his locker.

Jim’s day was complete. He was off to the pool, his mind replenished with marvelous experience. He would be dining out on this story, he was convinced.

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