Water Bugs: A Story of Absolution, The Southern Review 53.3, Summer 2017
“Katsaridaphobia is the fear of cockroaches. It is umbrellaed by entomophobia, the panic caused by Insecta and the class’s ten quintillion individuals that are alive on the earth at any one time.
There are sound reasons to be wary of roaches, as their feces can cause asthma in children and their feet, like entomological crampons, carry salmonella and other microbial nemeses that can spoil food. But unlike mosquitoes, our world’s deadliest creature, cockroaches do not carry dengue, nor malaria, nor yellow fever, nor West Nile, nor encephalitis. They cannot chew wiring nor ignite fires like squirrels. They do not envenomate ankles. They cannot dump their family of four into steel barrels and leave them to decompose in New Hampshire for fifteen years, as one human did. And if you’re alive, they will not eat you.
There is little that is life threatening, actually, about a scurrying, bark-colored insect—unless you should enter an invertebrate-eating contest as Edward Archbold did. Archbold, a thirty-two-year-old father of two, competed in the bug-munching marathon at a Miami-area reptile store. He sported a ponytail, a yellow tied-dyed T-shirt, and a rocker sweatband, and was required to munch sixty grams of mealworms, thirty-five three-inch-long “super worms,” and a bucketful of live, giant, Central American cockroaches, all in hopes of winning an $850 python.
He swallowed many roaches whole. Witnesses say he crammed the bugs into his mouth even as the insects crawled out, desperate for light, their antennae twitching at his lips.
Many of the thirty participants bowed out long before the contest’s finish. Archbold gorged on the buggy feast and became the “life of the party.” He raised his arms in a V, hooting like a football fan. Shortly after winning, Archbold walked out of the store, vomited, and collapsed. An ambulance was phoned for. The paramedics watched Archbold die en route to the hospital.
Doctors examined his stomach and found “airway obstruction by the arthropod body parts.” Archbold, the champion devourer of insects, lover of snakes and tie-dye, had been fighting for life even as his last meal had been, too.”