Palmetto Bugs

When I was about 18 years old, I decided to move from Wisconsin to Florida. My best friend and his family had moved there a couple years before so I had a place to stay. I really needed to get away from some of the bad influences in Wisconsin that I had become entangled with. Florida seemed like a good place to run.

I landed a job as a stock boy within a week at a department store called Maas Brothers. I was assigned to the bedding and linen department and I learned more about bedding than any 18-year-old boy should. I did this job for about 2 months when an opportunity presented itself without me being aware. I was pushing a cart filled with linens when I saw a salesman in the electronics department trying to communicate with a deaf couple. Since I know sign language, I decided to step in and help.

I didn’t realize at the time that the department store manager was watching from a short distance. I translated for the salesman and we managed to sell them a television set. Then I went back to my cart of linens. About an hour later, I was summoned to the department managers office. He offered me a position as a salesman in electronics. All I needed to do was cut my hair and wear a tie. Easy enough.

Somehow, word spread amongst the deaf community that I was at the store. Pretty soon I found myself doing a lot of translating both in my department and the rest of the store. I didn’t mind. If you have a skill or talent, you need to use it.

One day I was translating in the jewelry department when the saleslady suddenly smacked something on the counter with a rolled-up paper bag. I could see clearly that it was a cockroach and it barely slowed down as it scurried away. After we made the sale, I had to ask her about it.

ME: Are there a lot of cockroaches here?

SALESLADY: That wasn’t a cockroach, it was a Palmetto Bug.

Now, I grew up in the inner-city of Milwaukee and I’ve seen a few cockroaches. I most definitely knew this belonged in the same family. I found out later that in Florida, they liked to call them Palmetto Bugs to keep people from being grossed out because there were a lot of them. Ok then…

After working as a salesman for a few months, I made my plans to return to Wisconsin to try college again. There was an opening at the condos where I lived for an outdoor maintenance guy. I was tired of wearing a tie, so I applied and got it. I really wanted to get a good tan before I returned to the great white north. It was a great job and my uniform consisted of a pair of shorts and some ratty sneakers.

It was at this job that I discovered another curious bug. While cleaning the pool filters one day, I pulled out a couple bugs that looked like they belonged in a Robert Heinlein “Starship Troopers” book. They were long and strange. I later identified them to be Mole Crickets. They were easily the most interesting bugs I had ever seen up until that point. Of course, they were outdone by some of the bugs I saw in the Mideast later, but at the time, they were about as sci-fi of a bug as I’ve ever seen. I never did get to see one alive, but I sure pulled quite a few out of the pool filters for the next few weeks.

I had quite a few other adventures in Florida, but they will have to wait for other blog posts. My trip to Florida kept me out of trouble (for the most part) and definitely got me away from the bad influences I had faced back in Wisconsin.


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