Roach Motel by
(354 Stories)

Prompted By My First Apartment

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First couch. It went with us to Acton. I left it in Chicago.

We married after I graduated from Brandeis in Waltham, MA in 1974. I went home to Huntington Woods, MI to prepare for the wedding. Dan lived in the Boston area with his parents, so found our first apartment at 1105 Lexington Street, in Waltham, almost in Lexington. He worked in Waltham and within two months, I would work at the same company, a few miles from our apartment, which was a small complex on a main street across from a strip mall containing a large grocery store and several other smaller stores. Down the street was “Wal-Lex”, a roller-rink, now long gone. The apartment also had good access to Rt. 2, which Dan took to Cambridge, as he started Harvard Grad School that autumn.

On Sunday mornings, Dan walked across the street to the grocery store, picked up the Sunday Boston Globe and two 3 Musketeer Bars for us to savor as we read the paper. Ah, for the days of youthful metabolisms that allowed for such indulgence.

There were several buildings, all alike, around a parking circle, though we had assigned parking behind the squat building and entered from the rear. The trash dumpster was close to our parking, and just beyond was the enclosure to a somewhat grimy pool. I don’t think I ever used it, but it was packed with young families in the summer.

There were four apartments on each of the two floors, and less expensive apartments (tile instead of wood floors; poor window views) and coin-op laundry in the basement. It was a two-bedroom apartment. We bought some furniture (blue and red, Ethan Allen traditional), some was lent by Dan’s parents. My parents even sent a few fine old Baker tables. Bridesmaids provided a large box of kitchen essentials. My wedding gifts filled out the pantry with the dishes, kitchen ware, cooking needs, linens; all the essentials and many decorative items.

We bought shelves for the living room and a large desk (Dan wanted a really big one for his computer print-outs) at the Door Store in Cambridge.

Our pride was a Delft lamp on an end table in the living room. Our bedroom bureaus had been Dan’s grandmother’s. With a large, early first anniversary check from my father, we bought a Queen Anne’s embroidered wing chair and end table. The rest of the money paid for Dan’s grad school.

Of course, the the kitchen and bathroom appliances were pink, which didn’t go well with my blue and red color scheme, but nothing to be done about it. Our dining room table was a round bridge table and chairs, a gift from my parents’ best friends. That was among the most practical gifts given, traveled from home to home and remains in my basement; is still taken out when I have a large number of guests for dinner, as my current dining table does not expand.

We had many guests and visitors during our two years of living in the apartment. I regularly had college friends over for dinner and out-of-town cousins and other friends were welcome to stay in the second bedroom. Other guests were less welcome.

We had no dish washer or disposal. I had a trash bin under the sink, but, after bringing in groceries, at times became lazy and left a bag out for trash. One day, early in our marriage, before I even had a job, I picked up a full bag to take it out back and throw it away. A cockroach crawled out onto my arm. This Jewish girl from the suburbs screamed bloody murder and dropped the bag, spilling contents all over the floor. After I recovered my composure, I cleaned up and quickly threw everything in the dumpster outside. I tried to be more careful with the waste material, but it didn’t matter; we were infested.

During our two years in the apartment, we were fumigated twice. I had to take everything out of all the cabinets in the kitchen and bathroom, placing it all in the second bedroom, while they came in and sprayed. It only helped for a few days. I got so used to seeing bugs that I named them as they climbed the walls when we turned on the lights. “Hi Harry, hi Sam”! Squish! I killed them with my bare fist. This princess toughened up a lot.

But getting up in the middle of the night to go the bathroom once and coming back to bed to find one on my pillow put me over the top. Also, finding one in my underwear drawer…way over the top. Too many bugs for me!

We had one other uninvited visitor. I came home from work one day and found a cat sitting, grooming herself on my prized wing chair. I like cats, but there were no pets allowed in this complex and I had no idea how she got there, as the apartment was locked up tight. “Hello, who are you?” She was friendly and we nuzzled for a while. I went to the bathroom; she was gone when I returned. Houdini. She visited several more times. I couldn’t figure out how she got in or out. I awoke one more morning, quite near-sighted without my glasses. There were Venetian blinds covering the window, which was open. I saw something hanging out, blowing in the breeze. Through my squint, it looked like a pair of stockings. When I put on my glasses, I saw it was the cat’s tail! Too much invasion of privacy. She jumped down and I followed her into our kitchen area and right into one of the low cabinets. There was a hole in the back, which evidently led to the neighbor’s apartment. She scuttled back and forth through that passage. We put our griddle over the hole and had no more intruders.

The bugs finally got to me and, while visiting a friend who lived in a condo complex in Acton, much further west along the Rt 2 corridor, on a whim, we stopped at the last two model units in December, 1975, as President Ford put an initiative in place to “WIN”; “whip inflation now”. There were huge tax incentives to buy real estate before the end of 1975, so we agreed to buy one of the models. We didn’t really have any money, but the brokers knew that Dan would be done with grad school in June and had rosy prospects (he already had a job, but would change to a different one just as he got his degree). We agreed to move in June, 1976, rent for a few months with the rent being applied to our downpayment and still get the tax breaks. It was all too good to pass up, so on June 16, 1976, our 2nd anniversary, we moved into our first condominium, miles away from anywhere I would consider I wanted to live in the future.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: cockroaches, traditional furniture, stray cat
Characterizations: been there, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Terrific story, Betsy. Your recollection of all the details is amazing. As is the fact that you actually have all these great pictures.

    And I think we can all relate to the (modest) furniture and (sometimes ghastly) colors du jour. And, of course, to the bug infestations. However, as to that, we New Yorkers were a fair bit more resigned. We well knew that the roaches really owned our places, and we were just the visitors.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      John, you New Yorkers might be accustomed to roaches. I certainly had never had one crawl out of a trash bag onto my tender little arm at the age of 21! I was horrified! But I guess we can get used to most things with time, since I truly was killing them with my bare hand by the time we moved out. I do love to document my life in photos (as did my father; I come by it naturally). Thanks for noticing.

  2. Suzy says:

    Betsy, this is wonderful! As John says, your ability to remember so many details and your collection of pictures are both amazing! I love the Sunday breakfast of 3 Musketeers bars! Also love that you named the cockroaches before you squished them. Your mention of having no dishwasher or disposal reminds me of the fact that I didn’t have those things either. Can’t imagine living without them now!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, Suzy, amenities like dishwashers and disposals were not common in first apartments, I suspect. We also didn’t have air conditioning, so had a fan set up in the bedroom to move air on hot nights. Can’t even imagine living without A/C these days.

  3. John Zussman says:

    I don’t recall your Waltham apartment, although I do remember Acton. I love your vivid descriptions of the shock of learning what you had to put up with and the facility with which you learned to tolerate it, such as naming your cockroaches and putting up with the pink decor. I also remember how proud we all were to have our own place and be an adult (or at least on the road to adulthood).

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      We visited you in Atherton in 1975, John (our first visit to CA, ever). You and Patti decided we should celebrate our anniversaries together in 1977, so visited us in Acton then. I have a wonderful photo of Patti sitting in that Queen Anne wing chair.

      Yes, we did grow up quickly, as soon as we got our first places, and were proud to decorate and entertain, some admittedly better than others!

  4. Loved your descriptions of flora, fauna, and fumigation, Betsy! Underwear drawer indeed! Roaches will survive a nuclear holocaust but they’ve driven us all mad in the meantime! I had forgotten about the inflation of those days. What a remarkable time that was! Acton brings back memories. I grew up in Littleton, an adjacent town. Acton proved the opening location for one of my Retro stories, ‘The Unrequiteds.’ It has probably changed tremendously but it was a beautiful New England town.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      We moved to Nagog Woods (the condo development), just east of the Littleton line. It was all bucolic and lovely, but I later determined that I like city living, so this was just too far away from civilization for me. I still love visiting Concord and used to have good friends in Acton, but determined that I don’t want to live in those parts. While living in that first apartment in Waltham, we saw an ad for an apartment in Concord in a “pre-Revolutionary War” building, next to Old Orchard House (the Louisa May Alcott homestead). Well, this really appealed to my sense of history, so we drove out to look at it and discovered that history and comfort do not mix. Low ceilings, no walls plumb, creaky everything. I was cured of any further romantic notions of living in a historic home site.

  5. Yeah, Betsy, I know those old Yankee houses, especially with the low ceilings. Drafty as hell and the hearty farmers used to close off whole rooms and even floors in the winter. No thanks.

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