Kerth: Speaking of biblical plagues, neighbor…

There are just some things you don’t talk about with the neighbors.

You know how it is – you look out the window and see the outside of their tidy homes, and you can only imagine how tidy they are inside, too. They certainly don’t have the same problems you have in your home with …

Oops. Writing about it would probably count as talking about it. And there are just some things you don’t talk about with the neighbors.

I know things are different on TV commercials, where neighbors get together over a cup of coffee to talk about everything that happens behind their doors, from constipation to feminine hygiene choices. But heck, those are all natural things that happen behind every door on the block, right? The timing may vary from door to door, but there’s no shame in knowing others are facing the same demons that haunt your home.

But when you get up in the middle of the night in your home and head for the kitchen or the bathroom, and you have to face the horror yet again, you know you will never bump into the neighbor when you go out to pick up the morning newspaper on the driveway and tell him about …


Sorry, there are just some things you don’t talk about with the neighbors.

But recently, our neighbor Sharon broke the code. She wrote in an email: “I was wondering if you too are experiencing the millipede invasion.”

And I breathed a sigh of relief it wasn’t only our fetid, festering swamp of a home that was playing host to a many-footed army that seems to have no end.

Because every night for the past several weeks, I would have bet you without even looking you could find a few of those little armored scurriers in our bathroom. Or the kitchen. Or the laundry room. Or pretty much anywhere you chose to look.

Sharon went on to say, “I am just curious to find out how many of us are affected. I’ve had several applications of insecticide around the perimeter, and it doesn’t faze them.”

She guessed we will have them until a hard frost kills them – one more reason to raise a glass and toast Old Man Winter, I say. But then, it doesn’t take much to get me to raise a glass these days.

It turns out it wasn’t only our house or Sharon’s that provided a staging area for this tiny tromping army. Several other neighbors answered her email, admitting they, too, have been plagued by the wee beasties. But they didn’t say anything until now because … well, you know, there are just some things you don’t talk about with the neighbors.

Well, we’re talking now.

All of our homes back up to a nature preserve, so it isn’t unusual for nature sometimes to invite herself inside. But we’ve all lived here for 10 years, and this is something new. There are those who say animals and insects can predict the severity of an upcoming season. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if you’re a believer, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

While we’re on the subject, I must admit this isn’t our home’s first invasion, though it is our first brush with the marching millipede multitudes.

A couple of years ago, I made the mistake of trying to bring in some plants we had kept in pots outdoors on the patio. I thought they might thrive during the winter with the proper care.

The only problem was we spent quite a bit of that winter in Florida, so we had the neighbors come in once in a while to water the plants.

And what they found when they came in to water would send any sensible person scrambling for the hills.

Because inside those planters we had unwittingly brought in a million or two of those little pill bugs, who thanked us for our warm hospitality by breeding a million or two more babies. They didn’t live very long, and they didn’t do any damage, but by the time we got home, you couldn’t take a step without crunching something.

We spent the next year or so moving furniture, lifting storage boxes and peeking deep into the carpet next to the molding to suck up the last of their dead, dried bodies into the vacuum. Every once in a while, we’re still surprised to find yet a few more of them, hidden deep in a closet under an old pair of boots we haven’t worn in years.

Since then, I have been careful to leave the outside plants outside. The pill bugs haven’t come to visit in numbers anywhere near that drastic, though a few of them still get in every October.

It takes only one biblical plague to teach me a lesson.

But this year, it’s the millipedes, and I have no idea how they get in. Or why.

I have been racking my brain, trying to figure out how I might have opened our house to yet another many-legged marching plague. Given my history, I was sure it had to have been my fault.

And then Sharon’s email arrived, and I was perhaps the only neighbor on the block who breathed a sigh of relief to hear that the whole neighborhood is creepy-crawly. Misery, they say, loves company.

Of course, you’ll never catch me telling my neighbors how glad I am their bathrooms are buggy.

If they see me picking up the morning paper and ask me why I’m smiling, I’ll just wave and wish them a nice day.

Because there are just some things you don’t talk about with the neighbors.

• Tom “T. R.” Kerth is a Sun City resident and retired English teacher from Park Ridge. He can be reached at

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