By Hannah Berman

By Hannah Berman

This summer has posed an unusual problem for me. On a Sunday in early July, as I sat in my den watching television, I spotted movement on the floor out of the corner of my eye. Looking down, I saw whatever it was making its way slowly across the room. As an avowed coward who has no tolerance for anything that belongs outdoors and has entered my house, I was grossed out. Suppressing my revulsion, I jumped up and stepped on it. It made a soft crunching sound that nauseated me.

My late husband would not have approved. Hubby, the most gentle of souls, would have slid a sheet of paper underneath it and brought it outside to live another day. Hubby even eschewed fly swatters. If a fly found its way into the house, he would never kill it. He would catch it and then release it outdoors. We argued when he didn’t wait to get outside and instead, while still in the house, would open his loosely closed fist to determine if he had actually caught the little invader. He kept his fist loosely closed so he would not squash the intruder. And, of course, if the fly was there, it would take off and continue buzzing around the house and Hubby would have to catch it again — unless yours truly got to the fly swatter and ended the matter. I didn’t like that he let these things live and he didn’t like that I terminated them.

Now, fighting my disgust, I took a tissue, grabbed up what was left of the creepy crawler, and flushed it down the toilet. So revolted am I by these creatures that I don’t even like to toss them in the garbage. And so unfamiliar am I with bugs that I initially thought this one was a caterpillar. I had visions of it becoming a butterfly and then flying around my house.

Later, I saw another crawler. And then a third. I did the same thing — crushed them and flushed them. My plan was to call Tom, my exterminator, in the morning. But, not seeing any more crawlers, I forgot about it and never made the call. That evening four friends came to play mah-jongg and I told them about the caterpillars. While we were playing, I spotted another one making its way along the floor and pointed it out to my friends. One of my friends looked down at it and then looked at me and said, “That’s not a caterpillar; it’s a centipede. A caterpillar is much larger!”

This illustrates how little I know about any of these things that belong outdoors. I got rid of this one just as I had the others, and we continued to play. Two more showed up that same evening, prompting my friends to say that I had better get the exterminator — and fast. Right then I made the call and left a message for Tom to please get back to me ASAP.

He called the next morning and by noon he was at my house. He immediately went down to the basement. When he came back upstairs, knowing how squeamish I am, he advised me not to go downstairs. According to Tom there were thousands (possibly millions) of them making their way into the basement from the outdoors. He sprayed an odorless and totally safe chemical all around the basement and then went outside and sprayed all around the perimeter of the house. He also left traps on the floor of the basement and acknowledged that there was a likelihood that he would need to return in ten days to do another spraying. He told me to call him if I saw more on the first floor.

His astonishment was not because of the fact that these little crawlers had made their way inside. Nor was it because of the huge number of them. He was surprised only because, despite the fact that he serviced a great many customers, there were only three other houses with the same problem. It was caused by having had an unusually wet spring followed by searing heat. He said I was fortunate; one family whose house he treated had to move out for a while because their house had no basement, which meant that the centipedes were invading their living quarters. The couple moved in with the wife’s parents, as it was just the two of them because their kids were away at camp.

Tom explained that while the chemical would do the job, it would take a little time and it was possible that I would continue to see a few more centipedes each day. I asked him how these little things were getting up to the main floor and he explained that centipedes were great little climbers. Most stay where they are, but a few will climb up the basement walls and find their way to the next floor. His explanation didn’t do much for my nerves but I would have to deal with it.

As he predicted, each day a few would appear and I would go through the same process of getting rid of them. So I called Tom, who returned and sprayed a second time. I never went down to the basement but I knew that Tom was not exaggerating because when my cleaning girl came a few days later she raced up the basement stairs and said, “Mrs. B., there are millions of dead crawlers down there!”

My fear and disgust of all outdoor creatures is as well-known to her as it is to Tom. I am not proud of it, but that’s the way it is.

Fast-forward to early August, long after I had stopped seeing any centipedes. Early one morning, I spotted a very large one on my kitchen floor. Because it was not moving, I assumed that it must have been asleep, as were some of the others that I had previously seen. Sleeping or not, I was nevertheless, repulsed by the size of it. After regaining my composure, I quickly stepped on it. This time the crunching sound was not soft. It was so loud that it sickened me and I literally jumped away from the spot! Grabbing a tissue, I bent down to scoop up the deceased crawler and saw that it was a pretzel stick that had probably fallen on the floor the night before, during yet another mah-jongg game! I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. I think I did both. That’s just the way it is.

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-295-4435.


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