A toast to Rameses the cat

You had to have guessed that I would be writing about Palmetto bugs again soon.
After my first ordeal with the Palmetto bug, I realized that I had the courage to face my fears but that I certainly didn’t want to do it again.
Well, for my second ordeal, I had a little help in bug-killing.
Rameses is an orange and white cat, who weighs in at nearly 15 pounds even though he is only a year old. He’s not fat. Hardly! He’s just a big-boned cat packed with muscle. He got this way by being the most rambunctious of his litter, bowling over his sisters and climbing anything he can sink his claws into around the house, including my legs. He goes by a lot of names, such as Ram or Rammer Jammer, but most of my friends know him as “Rameses the Destroyer.” This is because, aside from the chinchilla I owed for two years, Rameses has done the most destruction to my house and belongings out of all the other pets I’ve had.

PHOTO BY LEX MENZRameses wreaking havoc on some newspapers.

What Rameses thinks of my work!

At first, I was surprised when we arrived in Florida that Rameses did not seem interested in helping me kill Palmetto bugs. Chasing something small that scurries across the floor seemed right up his alley. However, I soon learned it wasn’t because he wasn’t interested but because he hadn’t noticed.
One morning, I woke and went into the kitchen. I toasted a bagel and sat down to eat. Halfway through, I noticed Rameses having the time of his life with some object on the floor. I froze.
“That’s not a cat toy,” I said with suspicion.
I approached my cat as he continued to bat away at the object. When I got close enough, I jumped back with a gasp. It was a huge Palmetto bug, twice the size of the first one I smacked with a shoe on the wall. It was on its back, legs waving frantically in the air.
“Good boy, Rameses. Good boy!” I cheered and ran off to grab a shoe.
When Rameses noticed I was going to destroy and take away his new “toy,” he grabbed the bug in his mouth and raced across the living room and into the kitchen. In a panic, I started chasing after him, yelling for him to stop. I just knew he’d drop the bug, it’d escape and end up under my bed!
Rameses finally dropped the insect in the bathroom, and as I swung to squash it, he brought his face down next to it. I accidentally bashed him in the nose with my flip flop instead of the Palmetto bug. With a look of horror and betrayal on his whiskered face, Rameses picked up the bug again and dashed behind the bathtub so I couldn’t reach him. As I continued to shout at him, he pawed and played with the Palmetto bug behind the tub.
“Come on, Rameses! I’m sorry. Give me the bug,” I said.
Eventually, it was able to scuttle away from his paws and headed straight for me. Shrieking, I lashed out with my flip flop, flapping it over the bug again and again.
I stood up to fetch the vacuum to once again suck up the remains (I don’t even want to touch the dead carcass through a paper towel). When I returned, I found Rameses munching happily on the freshly killed, crunchy snack. What a good kitty! Sparta, the other cat, was too busy licking the butter off my bagel to assist.
Rameses received an abundance of treats that night in gratitude for saving the household from yet another Palmetto bug. Everyone I spoke with for the next week heard the daring tale of Rameses putting his life at risk for the rest of us by capturing and eating the gigantic insect.
Now, here it is for all of you. Laugh as much as you’d like!

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Please stop ‘buggin’ me

When I was little, before turning off the light at bedtime, my father would say a little rhyme as he tucked me into bed. He’d whisper, “Good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite. But if they do” — and he’d dramatically pause here — “smack ‘em with a shoe!” Possibly due to that little ditty, I’ve chosen crushing an insect with footwear as my go-to execution method. However, when facing off against a Palmetto bug in my new house, I started to get creative. Still, it was a shoe that ultimately saved me from certain death.
When I told my friends in North Carolina that I was moving to Florida, they immediately recounted tales about destructive hurricanes followed by icky stories of how cockroaches will infest every corner of my home no matter what measures I take. Now, somehow, my irrational brain found more to fear from a six-legged insect than the powerful destruction a hurricane can cause.
As a child I once found a cockroach in the family living room and innocently asked my mother, “Mommy, what’s this?” She screamed as if being stabbed and grabbed me, pulling me away from the bug. We weren’t allowed back in the living room until my dad came home several hours later to find and crush the cockroach. Now I blame her for my bizarre fear of something so tiny and seemingly harmless. To be completely honest, I admit that my fear of these bugs is so great I almost turned down this awesome job!
Since my arrival here, I have been schooled in the difference between a cockroach and a Palmetto bug (although if you present both to my mother, her screaming will remain at the same volume and pitch despite the differences). A small cockroach I can handle (as long as there are no more than two at a time). Once an insect gets larger than the size of a dime, I start freaking out.
Just barely a week after moving here, I found a Palmetto bug on my front porch late at night when I went to walk the dog. I politely told Mr. Palmetto Bug that he could happily enjoy the comfort of my front porch, but he was not allowed inside my house. Yes, I talked to the invertebrate. (I know, I know, but it’s the little things that give me mental comfort.) Still, I spent the night tossing and turning, waking every so often because I just knew something was crawling on me.

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From turnerpest.com

The next morning, I sat down for breakfast and noticed a dark spot on my white walls. “That wasn’t there yesterday,” I thought.  Sure enough, it was the dark, fat body of a Palmetto bug.
He was sitting pretty high up on the wall underneath the cat tree. I decided the best thing to do was suck him up with the vacuum cleaner hose and then dump the vacuum canister outside. I wouldn’t have to touch him, and that would be the end of it. So I stood on a chair, placed the vacuum cleaner on top of the cat tree and held up the hose to the wall. Now I’m pretty tall, but I was still a few inches short of the bug. His antennae waved back toward the vacuum hose, but there was something wrong with the suction. Now aware of my method of attack, he lazily crawled out of reach onto the ceiling. I climbed down and checked the vacuum hose. It turns out my boyfriend had put a different attachment inside the hose for storage, limiting the amount of suction and ruining my chances of an easy, mess-free incident.
For the entire day, the invader loitered on the ceiling. When it was time for me to go to bed, I faced a true dilemma: Go to bed and hope the Palmetto bug doesn’t crawl in my ear and lay eggs in my brain; stay up waiting up for it to come down; or go through with some outrageous plan to get close enough to kill it.
I poured myself a bowl of cereal and called my boyfriend, Jonathan, to discuss my options. As I was finishing my late night snack, I noticed the bug making the trek down the wall.
“The bug’s coming down the wall,” I whispered (because obviously the bug has super hearing and understands English).
“Grab a shoe and go kill it,” he said.
I suddenly chickened out. “No, I can’t!”
“Lex, go over there and kill it! Man up!” What a typical response from someone who is hundreds of miles away and doesn’t have to go near the very representation of fear itself.
Slowly, I tip-toed across the living room with my phone in one hand and grabbed one of my tennis shoes by the door. I walked over to the Palmetto bug, which was now at chest level on the wall.
“Ahh, it’s so gross!” I cried. “I don’t want to do this. I hate these things.”
Jonathan was laughing hysterically.
As I was about to squish it, the bug darted a little to the right. I screamed. Jonathan laughed some more.
Taking a quick breath, I leaped forward, slapped my shoe against the bug and screamed again. When I pulled my shoe away, the bug’s exoskeleton fell to the floor, and some gooey juice and a few legs remained on the wall.
“He’s dead!” I cried and then shivered, shuddered and freaked out around the living room before photographing the scene and vacuuming up any evidence of the intruder. There, my first Palmetto bug execution was over.
I had originally thought I would be safe from having to kill these insects because of my two cats, who are avid hunters. After the incident was over I turned around, expecting to see them ready to attack on command. Rameses, the youngest, was nowhere to be found. Sparta had his entire face in my bowl of cereal, lapping up the milk I had abandoned. Thanks, guys.
I am sure this will be just one of my many stories involving bug killing, frog removing or snake relocating I will tell while living in Florida. In North Carolina, almost everyone has a copperhead snake story or, especially in the mountains, a tale about a black bear getting in the garbage. But the gators, tall wading birds, large bugs and plethora of reptiles and amphibians are all new to me. It should make for some very hilarious reading for all of you.

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Making myself at home

Most journalists are notorious for being introverts, so when Arcadian Editor Steve Bauer asked me to write a column introducing myself, it was more daunting than the interview process to get this job as assistant editor. In fact, I was recently interviewed for a local television spotlight at my last job, and the interviewer’s first question was “Tell us about yourself.” I literally replied, “Um,” and stared ahead for a minute before stumbling through an answer.
I’m naturally shy, a trait I have learned to overcome in my roles as editor-in-chief of a college newspaper and the education/small towns reporter at a community newspaper in North Carolina for the past two years. More than likely if you ask me who I am, I will talk your ear off about two things: My pets and my work.
My pets are like my children. Sparta and Rameses are my cats, and Bindi is my Australian cattle dog/German shepherd mix.
Sparta, or Spartacus when he’s in trouble, is an Egyptian Mau mix my mom found under a car on a rainy night at a gas station near our home in Mount Holly, N.C. With his golden lemur eyes and ringed tail, he was too cute not to keep. When I went to college at Western Carolina University, Sparta came with me starting my sophomore year. Since then, we have moved multiple times across North Carolina. This is the first time he’s come with me to another state. So far, he is loving the Sunshine State, with its plethora of sun to bask in and lots of lizards to chase.
Rameses is only a year old but is already close to 15 pounds. Not because he’s overweight; he’s just a big cat with a lot of muscle. He’s also known as “Rameses the Destroyer,” because quite often he will get a glint in his pumpkin orange eyes and will wreak havoc, destroy mankind’s livelihood and run amok. He’s chewed through wires on my Internet router, gone missing inside a dresser and peed (twice) all over the dog’s bed. Somewhere, though, he’s got a good heart, and when he finally decides he likes you, he’ll snuggle and give you kisses with his pink nose.

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Sparta, above, and Rameses

Bindi is a rescue dog I adopted just over a year ago from a kill shelter. She’s got a huge heart of love and loyalty for me. If you see us out and about in town on walks, please stop by and say hi. She will be wearing a black harness across her torso that reads, “Please give me space, do not pet.” Bindi was abused by her former owner, which has damaged her emotionally and mentally. At first, she can be very shy and if she’s frightened, she reacts in a negative way toward strangers. The harness warning helps keep people from running up to her and getting in her face, and allows me to provide instruction on how to approach her safely.

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Bindi in her harness

All three made the 14-hour drive with me to Arcadia on May 29. Looking like a champion navigator, Bindi rode in the passenger seat of the U-Haul truck with my dad as we traveled through heavy flooding in South Carolina, which involved a two-hour detour thanks to the tropical depression in the area, and “Mickey Mouse traffic” in Orlando. Sparta and Rameses rode in my Honda running loose throughout the car. Sparta, as I mentioned earlier, is a seasoned traveler, but Rameses has rarely been in the car. I was expecting him to yowl, scream, cry and throw a fit throughout the entire trip. On a previous trip we took together, Rameses whined and crawled back and forth from the headrest behind my head to the passenger seat headrest for the entire hour ride. I felt it might be appropriate to start writing my obituary of how I was killed by my cat while moving to Florida. Considering the dramatics of my life so far, that somehow felt like a fitting ending. However, it was the rain in South Carolina that caused the biggest drama on the trip rather than the Rameses the Destroyer.

For the past two years, I have worked as the education and small towns reporter for a community newspaper published five days a week. I covered the meetings for six town councils, the local school board and the local community college. I also spent time in the school system as a student in the classroom (yes, I actually took fifth-grade science tests, while in kindergarten learned how to write my name and walked around with sore muscles for a week after eighth-grade gym class); skeet shooting with Junior ROTC students; jumping into creeks with 4-H Club members; and discussing STEM education with teachers from all grade levels. At first, I started out as just a journalist, new to the area with no family or friends. However, it wasn’t long before my insistence on not only observing and reporting, but also participating in local events, made me an active member of the community.
As you can imagine, there are many differences between a small county in North Carolina and Florida. For one, the superintendent in Caldwell County is appointed, not elected. I also come from a place where the school system involves 24 schools, including two alternative schools for students who need special direction and instruction in order to succeed at their education. In Caldwell County, there are police chiefs instead of marshals, and there is a lot more furniture instead of oranges.
But, there are many similarities as well. The elected officials of the community are present at nearly all public events, the community rallies around projects to make their home a better place, and people are overwhelmingly giving in their time and kindness to other people. Already, I’ve scoped out volunteer opportunities I can’t wait to get involved in, met a few of my neighbors, discovered several parks to enjoy with my dog and in less than a week already feel at home.
This is a homecoming for me in a way, because although I’ve lived in North Carolina most of my life, I was actually born in Tampa. The sun, the atmosphere and the people feel familiar to me. I thought I’d be shell-shocked and unbelievably homesick at first. Instead, I’m excited, I’m getting a tan and I’m hoping I find an alligator in my front yard. I’m looking forward to meeting you all through interviews, emails, letters, phone calls and while I’m out and about in the community. While I’m shy, I do enjoy meeting new people and hearing your stories. So, please don’t hesitate to say hi!