This really happened. Well, most of it.
"What the hell is THIS?" exclaimed Judy as she pointed to a cockroach-looking critter on the bathroom counter. Cleverly and courageously, she had trapped the little bastard under a handy water glass in the middle of the night. She waited graciously till the break of day to exclaim to me about her exploit.
"Well, if it weren't 3 inches long and didn't have really long legs, my sweet, I would say it was a cockroach." You have no idea how hard it is to conjure up witty repartee while standing bleary-eyed in the common company of a woman in nightclothes and a cockroach-looking critter under glass. "Looks a bit like a cockroach on stilts."
Slipping a piece of cardboard under the inverted glass, I rendered the critter-prison portable and I ported it to the driveway, from whence the critter quickly skittered under the house. Judy threw a perfectly good $2 glass away, and I made coffee and talked about something else. I knew that I had to get to the bottom of this or we pretty soon weren't going to have anything in the house to drink out of.
"Neighbor," said I later that morning, "we're new to these parts, and wondered about a big old cockroach-looking thing that my wife captured last night." Neighbor - let's call him Paul, originally from Arkansas - everyone down here is originally from elsewhere - so Paul says to me, "Oh, them's palmetto bugs. They're all over the place. Harmless though. And did you see how fast they can run?"
I asked others in the park - we like to tell folks we live in an ungated community - about palmetto bugs, and they all said about the same thing as Paul. "But," I said, "they really look like cockroaches, except bigger." "Nope," they all said, "them's palmetto bugs." I felt better, and I explained to Judy as to how she should feel better as well.
Over the next few months, we saw 2 or 3 more of the little bastards - I call them "little" because it makes me feel a little better - I call them "bastards" because that makes me feel a lot better - anyway, we spotted some more of them around the house, but follow-up searches that Judy recommended I make of all the hidey places in which one might expect to find cockroach-looking critters, well, those searches routinely turned up empty. That was sort of uncockroach-like. You know how they say if you see one of the little bastards, there's a thousand more hiding under the kitchen sink? Well, thankfully this wasn't true of these particular little bastards. But I did see some of them lurking outside in the hibiscus bushes - this was back before I had to cut down all the hibiscus bushes, but that's another story - and i saw a few parading down the driveway in broad daylight like it was Palmetto Bug Pride Day.
That broad daylight thing made me nervous because if they really were cockroaches - well you never see cockroaches out in the sunshine, so any of the little bastards that you find in the sunshine are probably rabid. I did not like the idea of rabid cockroaches lurking near the house. Palmetto bugs, I suppose, were OK with daylight because I didn't really know if palmetto bugs were supposed to be nocturnal in their habits.
The more people I asked about the cockroach-looking little bastards, the more I was assured that they were palmetto bugs and harmless. This reassured me no end and helped to placate the wife as well. After all, we came to Florida in the first place to enjoy a life of placation, so we began to revel in the feeling we got from knowing that them were palmetto bugs.
I suppose I should have left well enough alone, but my insatiable thirst for knowledge sent me to the ultimate expert on palmetto bugs, just to inquire as to their personal habits. Right there in Wikipedia, I learned that the common name for the palmetto bug is - damn, this was hard to accept and it still makes me sore about all those neighbors from other places - anyway, the real name for palmetto bug according to Wikipedia is "American cockroach."
I haven't explained this yet to Judy, and she remains in a fair state of placation not knowing what I know. Now, it is of some consolation to me that the palmetto bug of Florida has adopted different habits from its Connecticut brethren in that - well, all cockroaches like it where its warm and wet and there is lots of food all the time - but here in Florida those cockroach-friendly conditions occur mostly out-of-doors, which is where these little bastards belong - assuming, that is, they belong anywhere. In fact, conditions in Florida are so cockroach-friendly - I'm not sure I like those two words linked together like that - but the conditions are so good that Florida cockroaches grow up to be pretty damn big. And they grow legs like stilts so they can motor along through the cockroach-friendly underbrush at a sprightly clip. Contrarily, when the little bastards come indoors here in Florida, they find that it's cold and dry all the time - everything is air-conditioned all to hell here - and they hate that. It dries the little bastards out and freezes their little cockroach asses off. So they stay outside. In the cold, dry North, of course, the little bastards have to go indoors where it's warm and wet. So Connecticut is sort of an inside-out Florida if you're a cockroach.
Anyway, you can see why folks here call them palmetto bugs. I'm still not sure about the rabies thing though, so I generally keep my distance.
I could be wrong about this, I suppose, but I don't think so.