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♟️Checkmate, Mr. Checkroach
Cockroach Chronicles, continued: Why "success" isn't always the solution
Remember Checkov’s Cockroach?
Turns out Mr. Checkroach (new name) was more resilient than I gave him credit for.
His friends have been hosting a series of picnics among our plateware.
How do I know?
I thought you’d never ask.
The other day as I went to grab a cereal spoon, I screeched as two little cockroach babies scuttled away from where the silverware should have been, back down into the cabinet below.
“So sorry to interrupt you!” I thought, aghast. Crawling under the front door jamb was one thing. Crawling in my drawers?! The absolute nerve!
Mice were the first critters to welcome us to the new apartment when we first moved in on a freezing-cold Saturday in February 2019. Who could blame them for seeking cozy, warm cover? And who could stop them, with the owners long gone as the realtor showed the place off during the preceding months?
Did you know that mice can fit through holes the size of a dime? A DIME!
How they made it past the disclosures, I have no clue. You and I both know the owners must’ve been aware the place wasn’t truly vacant, but “forgot” to tell us.
We learned an important lesson about homeownership early:
One is as an aberration. Two is an infestation.
I didn’t dare open that silverware drawer or unload the dishwasher for the next seven days, long enough for the pet- and people-safe Raid Essentials spray cans to arrive via Amazon.
Sometimes things need to get worse—much worse—before they get better. But you will collect valuable lessons and courage cookies even before they do.
By you, I mean Michael.
I gained no courage as a result of Mr. Checkroach’s baby-making amongst the party platters and leftover wine bottles from the Free Time book launch party a year and a half ago. Maybe I should host more often. People, not cockroaches.
One can only tackle so many fears at once, and mine are squarely focused on the business and household bills right now.
So while Michael, our hero, mustered his courage to spray while Ryder and I were out of the house, my only acquisition was a newfound fear of forks.
Michael killed at least six roaches while we were gone. 🤢
He called me on the phone at one point for moral support. While suppressing his own “strong urge to vomit,” yet forging ahead anyway, I praised his bravery.
“It’s not scary,” he countered, “It’s just disgusting.”
He mostly just felt bad for making them squirm.
That is why I married him.
At 6:30 a.m. the next morning, I pad downstairs, still half-asleep. I was dismayed at seeing the innards of our cabinets covering every surface of the kitchen counters, but relieved knowing Mr. Checkroach and friends were gone for good.
You must’ve never had a cockroach problem, you say.
You are correct.
Previously, I lived in a studio on the ninth floor of a Nolita apartment building. I always felt
smug bad when flyers were posted at the elevator banks each year, asking residents who needed pest control services to note their unit number: 1A, 1B, 2C, 3D. It was never anyone on my floor, and I never needed to sign up—critters aren’t great with elevators.
That’s the thing about home ownership, and it’s a lot like running a business: there is no landlord to call for a bug bailout, or to organize annual prevention measures on your behalf.
You choose what to fix or not, when to do it, and whether to go for vanity or functionality when you do have room for improvements in the budget.
Congratulations, you’re free! But the price of that freedom is that there is no one to pawn responsibility onto unless you hire them as help—plumbers, extinguishers, etc. It pays to become handier and more resourceful.
As I pondered these mundane observations on the parallels of bug and business management, the universe readied herself for another cosmic joke to help me put a finer point on things.
I open the refrigerator to provide my light source, and behind the sink faucet I see . . .
A cockroach in dramatic noir lighting, frozen in place. As if my opening the fridge was the bug body language equivalent of saying, “Freeze! You have the right to remain silent!”
But not the right to stay alive. Nobody comes between me and my coffee.
I grab the can of aerosol, adrenaline pumping, circumventing the need for caffeine.
He tries to make an escape via nearby sponge, scuttling through the eyes and mouth of the smiley-face Scrub Daddy, a kitchen horror movie short in itself.
Finally, when he returns to the wall, I squint my eyes closed and start surrounding him with mist. I spray, and spray again, then spray s’more. He skitters toward the dish rack. I spray over there! He skitters the other way. I spray that way! Finally, I don’t see him any longer.
Did I get him? I don’t know. But I was fired up now, blessed with a tiny surge of courage to handle the situation myself while Michael slept peacefully.
Now only one question remained: How many more are still living here?!
Sometimes courage comes in the smallest, darkest moments, and there is no public payoff or celebration. It’s just you in a chaotic kitchen, with a trepidatious determination to make your coffee.
After I sat down, feeling mildly heroic, I came across an obituary in the morning paper for a fashion designer named Michael Leva. I felt a pang of sadness for his friends and family that he passed so young, due to heart failure. The headline caught my eye:
“Michael Leva, 62, Dies; A Designer Who Found Fame Had a Downside”
I skim down to the pull quote:
“When demand rose, he faced a catch-22: He lacked the money to fill the orders.”
As it currently stands, I would have this precise problem if my book were to suddenly become a bestseller. I went the hybrid publishing route, holding back no bells and whistles from my creative vision, producing an edition replete with gold foil confetti on the cover and a hot coral ribbon hand-sewed into the spine.
Get your collector’s edition hardcover now, folks, because there may not be another one!
Why? Because when I sell through the second half of this inaugural print run of 10,000 copies of Free Time, I will have the privilege of a new $110,000+ invoice to fund the next one. That’s if paper prices haven’t spiked further since 2021, when they jumped by nearly ten percent from the year prior.
We must remember that sometimes success brings problems too. There is no there there, some secure business island where we’ll forever be free from worry.
Freedom from worry must be found from the inside first, then the material wins and losses can come and go without capsizing the business boat.
The obituary explains Leva’s situation further:
Mr. Leva, then 30, announced he was shuttering his business, caught in a Catch-22 that many successful young designers encountered. He had been selling briskly at Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman, among other stores, but did not have the money to fill the orders for the next season.
I thought of the countless Shark Tank pitches trying to solve this very type of inventory problem, before my mind drifted back to my own cash flow woes.
Kevin O’Leary is famous for calling small businesses trying to go up against goliath conglomerates cockroaches. “Celebrate your cockroachness,” he says, “Realize that it’s just the beginning.”
Leva didn’t let shuttering his business, his cockroachness, hold him back:
“I hope to be back very soon,” he said. “I don’t feel beaten. I’m ready to get right back in there.”
He pivoted to consulting, finding greater peace in the process:
“It’s good money for very little headache,” he said. “I literally made no money when I worked on my own. I make good money now.”
Shortly after I finished reading, the guys from the All-In podcast were in my ears talking about a “B2B recession,” as I took Ryder out for a rainy morning walk.
So maybe I’m not crazy, I thought. Again.
The adage to be careful what you wish for is an important one—for a powerful reminder, read’s piece on the perils of audience capture and “succeeding” online (h/t ):
Success, too, can bring disasters, divine and otherwise: bottlenecks, supply chain crises, increased attention and criticism, audience capture, and myriad other vicious cycles.
We1 killed three more cockroaches before putting the pots and pans back.
For a few days, the mist and musty smell from spraying lingered behind.
We were literally choking on the solution.
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Michael did. As per above, I have no business taking any credit 😖