Tuesday, October 20, 2009

20 OCT 09: Survivor, Kitchen

There's nothing like an autumn cold wave to get all sorts of unwanted visitors away from my home. And no, I'm NOT talking about beggars at the door asking for bus fare to some cooler northern city.

When the autumn chill comes, the cockroaches in my kitchen tend to vanish. I'm not sure where all of them go, but some of them seem to seek warmth around the pilot lights of the oven. When I bake brownies, they prove an old cliche -- they can't stand the heat, so they get out through the burners.

Truth be told, the number of cockroaches running around the kitchen seemed to be down this past summer. I'm not sure that was completely due to the wet weather. It may have been due to one or two small salamanders, which somehow snuck inside - and apparently don't consider licking dinner plates to be much of a meal.

Shortly before my latest vacation, I was faster than one moderately-sized cockroach. I found it crawling inside one of those plastic cookie boxes from a supermarket bakery. By closing and locking down the lid, it was trapped - and it was mine, all mine. And some of you get silly cheap thrills spending money on fantasy football leagues....

Many people do not realize how many interesting experiments you can conduct with cockroaches. By dropping one in a half-full cup of water, you can watch a battle for survival. Roaches can't really swim, so they have to scramble to the edge of the cup to climb out - except their long feelers can keep their legs from climbing out of the water.

(The going gets even rougher if the roach is tossed in "polluted" water - for instance, if you fill a used casserole dish with water to let it soak. Tell your children about this stunt, and they could be the hit of the school science fair this winter. Or then again, animal rights groups might stage a protest.)

The trapped cockroach in the cookie box was an experiment I'd tried before, but not in detail. With no apparent way of escape, what would the insect do? Could it survive - and if so, how long? Would I suddenly find three more roaches in the box, telling me the original was female? Would the number then go down, to tell me they're really cannibals?

In the first couple of days, the cockroach walked around the box like nothing unusual was happening. Then at about Day 6, I walked into the kitchen and found its feelers sticking through a tiny gap where the box lid is sealed. The roach certainly didn't have strength in its feelers to pry open the box -- so maybe it found some fresh air, after running around the box in frustration.

From there, things seemed to go downhill for the experiment. I'd find the roach resting motionless in the box - but after shaking the box a bit, the insect moved around with signs of life. That probably made me seem like a physical therapist walking through an intensive care unit.

At Day 11 of the experiment, it was time to leave for Florida. I thought about opening the box outside my door, and letting the cockroach out into nature. After all, my apartment lease has a "no pets" clause....

But I decided to leave the roach in the box - and on Day 21, I came home from Florida to this result. Sometime during the ten-day getaway, our subject ran out of energy and life. It died all alone - which actually is different from roaches I crush on the kitchen floor. Those tragic victims insects tend to attract other roaches, almost as if they're holding a memorial service.

I've learned over the years that cockroaches can be very resourceful creatures. But this one couldn't figure out a way of escape - and when I was watching, it didn't even have "visits" from other passing roaches watching its plight. There's probably a broad lesson about the human condition here. If this experiment shows up in Valley Rescue Mission commercials, you'll know the staff agrees.

If this experiment is our main topic of the day, you can probably guess not much news thrilled us Monday. But here's what we noticed....

+ The Muscogee County School Board held its first formal meeting in its new building. WRBL reports the board voted to name the building the Muscogee County Public Education Center. We can shorten that to the McPEC - which sounds it should be the name of a chicken dancing with Ronald McDonald.

(One man at the meeting claims Bert Coker and Paul Olson showed up, and openly challenged the integrity of Superintendent Susan Andrews. Don't we all appreciate gracious losers?)

+ Troup County teacher Elizabeth Gaddy pleaded guilty to child molestation of a student, and was sentenced to 20 years. This is sobering and sad, of course - but isn't there a lesson here for Muscogee County Schools? Students might need cell phones during the school day after all - at least until security cameras are pointed toward classrooms as well as hallways.

+ WLTZ's web site reported the River Road Pharmacy fire has been blamed on an electrical problem. So much for the "try meth ingredients before you buy them" theory....

+ WLTZ also showed some of the items pulled from the Chattahoochee River during "Help the Hooch" weekend. The usual collection of old tires was removed -- but why would someone throw a couch in the river? I don't think the cleaners for dog messes really are THAT expensive.

+ Georgia head coach Mark Richt spoke before the Columbus Quarterback Club. The Bulldogs have an off week before the annual showdown with Florida - when Richt takes on the college football equivalent of an "Urban legend."

+ The Atlanta Falcons announced cornerback Brian Williams is out for the season, due to a torn A.C.L. But at least he'll have more time to focus on his other job, anchoring the NBC Nightly News.

+ Instant Message to the Ledger-Enquirer: When you put Alabama's top ranking in the football poll on page one of the Monday morning paper, I know it was a slow Sunday for news in Columbus.

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