My wife and I recently dined at her favorite bistro in a fashionable part of town not far from where we live. After being seated, I placed my napkin on my lap. When it dropped to the floor, I bent down to retrieve it and noticed a dead cockroach under our table. I’m not particularly squeamish—little over the years has prompted me to lose my appetite—but the sight of that cockroach conjured up another incident in another restaurant years ago.
In 1976, Sue and I had only been married two years when we decided to backpack our way through Europe. We’d just landed in Athens. With a copy of Frommer’s Europe on Ten Dollars a Day in hand, we sought a place to sample the local cuisine. We gambled on a bistro that looked clean and was jammed with fellow tourists having a good time. Our table was at the back of the restaurant. Sue’s chair backed up to a wall with a black and white photograph of Colonel Popadopo#*%?—Greece’s former dictator/president.
We were enjoying wine and waiting for our meal when something caught my eye on the wall behind Sue. Inching down from behind the Colonel’s portrait was a cockroach. Sue has a sensitive stomach along with a terror of bugs, so I tactfully said nothing. I was hungry; if I’d told her she would have screamed and bolted for the door.
Before long, another cockroach appeared from behind the picture, and then another, followed by two more. I was amazed that no one else appeared to notice them. Everyone chattered and downed their licorice-flavored ouzo and grape leaf wrapped food without giving thought to the cluster of disgusting bugs that seemed to be participating in a cockroach gang-bang on a wall inches behind my wife’s head.
I’m no expert on bug mating habits, but foreplay must not carry much weight in the world of cockroaches. Their trysting was over almost as soon as it had begun. One by one, the bugs returned to their hiding place behind the Colonel’s portrait. I’d been doing my best to avoid staring at them, but just as the last hairy leg vanished behind the picture frame, Sue, who I hadn’t noticed turning blotchy with anger, snapped, “We come all this way to Greece and you ignore me?”
She’d been talking. I hadn’t heard a word.
She spun around in her chair to see what was drawing my attention. “You’ve got to be kidding! A faded photograph of some old tyrant?”
I shrugged, and when our meal arrived we ate in silence. Later, when we were ready to go, she pushed back her chair, bumping the wall behind her. I held my breath, but, thankfully, cockroaches didn’t rain down from behind the picture.
Years later I shared this incident with Sue, and I couldn’t believe how angry she got that I’d withheld it from her.
So on a warm evening thirty-five years later, while glancing at a dead cockroach in her favorite restaurant, I quickly weighed my options.
I decided not to tell her.