Versace and Vermin

I arrived in Guam for my summer research internship on June 1st, 6:00 p.m. local time.  That’s 2:00 a.m. mountain time, so as you might have guessed, I was tired.  As soon as I walked out of the air-conditioned airport, I noticed one thing: it was hot. Really hot.  The air was thick with humidity, and I almost instantly broke a sweat.

The house I was staying at was in the village of Yona (Joan-ya).  A field technician for the research project, Tony, was house-sitting for a university professor that was out of town, so that’s how I began my one-week stint sleeping on a tiny couch in the corner of the guest bedroom.  There was air conditioning, though, so I wasn’t complaining too much.

After a week at Tony’s, we were transferred to a tiny apartment in the village of Mangilao (Man-ill-ow), closer to the University of Guam.  This apartment was tiny, dirty and smelled perpetually of sweaty man.  For the next week and a half, I slept on a slightly larger futon that smelled of mildew and was covered in Spiderman stickers.

It was in the Mangilao apartment that I encountered my first live cockroach.  I had seen cockroaches before–I encountered several that had been crushed underfoot in the Honolulu airport–but I never actually made the connection between the emaciated insect bodies and their name, cockroach, a word that was foreign to my tongue.

I was up early on a Monday morning, as per usual due to my lingering jet lag. I hopped off the futon and slid into my flip flops, trying to create at least some distance between the soles of my feet and the stained, smelly carpet.  I debated putting in my contacts, but decided it would be a better idea to wash my hands first.

It happened when I was sitting in the bathroom, taking care of business.  I saw something on the wall out of the corner of my eye, but I assumed that it was just a doorstop.  All of a sudden, the doorstop’s leg twitched. I squinted.  The doorstop twitched again.

In the following moments, I did my best to remain calm.  I timidly washed my hands and gently opened and shut the bathroom door.  I was safe.

I also felt violated–how dare the doorstop enter my bathroom in my very few moments of morning blindness? Before further investigating, I quickly put in my contacts and glanced over to the bathroom door.  It was in that precise moment that Doorstop decided to scuttle out from under the bathroom door and make a mad dash for the closest small, dark space available–underneath the toe of my hiking boots sitting by the door.

I yelped.  My research adviser, Dr. Haldre (Hall-druh) Rogers, came running in from the other room.  “What is it? Are you okay?” she asked with concern.

I pointed.  “I don’t know what it is…”

Dr. Haldre rolled her eyes.  “It’s probably a cockroach.  We’re living in the tropics…cockroaches are everywhere.  Go ahead and kill it–it’ll be a learning experience for you.”

It took me a solid five minutes to gather up my courage and make my way over to where my boots were sitting.  I could see Doorstop’s serrated hind legs sticking out from under the toe of my prized Vasque leather boots.  One of the legs rested on the end of my boot’s lime green laces that I had so carefully selected from the Bob Ward’s Sports Supply back home.  The sight of the ugly red-brown leg juxtaposed against my brightly colored laces lit a fire within me–I was ready.

I used a circular approach, trying to stay out of the cockroach’s limited sight.  Just before grabbing the boot that it was using as a temporary hiding place, I hesitated.

Dr. Haldre noticed.  “We have to go out in the jungle to work soon.  If you don’t kill it now, I’m just going to let it go.”

“NOO!”  My complete and utter opposition to the thought of sharing my smelly futon with a cockroach was relayed by yet another yelp.  “I CAN DO THIS.”

In the next few seconds, I grabbed my boot and proceeded to smash the cockroach’s body with the sole.  BAM. The roach’s body went crunch. BAM. Its guts flew out and to my left.  BAM. Its left hind leg splayed and detached from its body.  BA– in the middle of what was to be my fourth strike, Haldre grabbed my arm.  “I think that’s good….”

In the days following my encounter with Doorstop, cockroach populations in the bathrro seemed to increase exponentially.  It seemed as though every time I killed a cockroach, another would emerge to take its place.  It finally got to the point where I would hold my bladder before I absolutely couldn’t take it anymore.  When I reached that point, I would take a hiking boot into the bathroom with me in order to be prepared for the epic battle that I could almost guarantee would ensue.

Epic battles did ensue–epic battles galore.  I was victorious against some roaches, and others escaped down the drain.  One thing was for certain–by the time the weekend hit, I was absolutely sick of cockroaches.

That Saturday, I decided to explore the part of downtown Tumon (Too-mon) known as Hotel Row.  Hotel Row was lined with not only five star hotels, but also designer shops and fine dining.  After about an hour of walking up and down the streets and in and out of shops, one particular store sign caught my eye.  Seven glitzy copper letters.  V-E-R-S-A-C-E.

Japanese tourists bustled around me as I stood staring at the storefront, mouth agape.  I couldn’t possibly.  Anything Versace would probably cost my entire college fund.  But I wouldn’t necessarily have to buy anything…..

All of a sudden, the voice from that kid in A Christmas Story popped into my head.  I double dog dare you. Challenge accepted. I reached for the door handle.

Versace itself was a typical designer store–I’ve come to learn that the less merchandise a store has, the more expensive that merchandise is. This particular designer store was impressive–I couldn’t count more that ten items, all of which were spotlighted atop pedestals with mirror backing.  I stopped to stare at an ugly green purse, wondering who would pay $3,000 for a stiff square of leather that looked like it belonged to Barbie’s grandma.  The security guard looked at me funny.

I suddenly realized how much I stuck out in the store–my legs were bruised and bug-bitten from my long days of field work in the jungle, and my skater dress was covered in sand from the beach.  All of the other patrons in the store were well-dressed Japanese and Korean tourists wearing over-the-top sun hats and wedge heels. Even with my fresh sunburn I got from snorkeling earlier in the day, I’d never felt more white.

I met the security guard’s gaze with raised eyebrows and gave him my best “I-have-a-rich-father-who-does-business-in-Guam-and-the-greater-part-of-East-Asia-and-that-is-why-I-am-here” glance.  The guard looked away.  Success.

Even with my new found persona, I decided that my time in Versace was coming to a close.  I was tired, and I had to pee. Time to go home and fight some more cockroaches.  

I paused. I wonder….

I turned around and looked carefully around the store, finding the brightly lit sign indicating the location of the restroom.  I bet Versace doesn’t have vermin. I marched past the security guard, to the back of the store, and through the marble door frame of the women’s restroom.

After taking care of business, I pressed a stainless steel button on the wall that flushed the toilet.  I basked in the shiny glow of the clean marble floors as I washed my hands in the automatic sink using the lavender-scented hand soap.  The well-lit mirrors highlighted my crimson sunburn.  Roach-free at last. 

I suddenly had the urge to document this moment, this first and perhaps last time I would use a roach-free bathroom in Guam.  I pretended to fiddle with my hair as several Japanese women washed their hands.  When they left, I quickly pulled out my iPhone and documented what was perhaps the most joy-inducing moment of my Versace experience:



Stay tuned, more to come from here in the Mariana Islands.


1 thought on “Versace and Vermin

  1. I’m excited to read more of your Guam adventures!! My father’s family is from Guam (I’m half Chamorro), and I’ve never been 🙂

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