The elevator cab had drawn up to the sixth floor of Coles Tower with a shudder and was at rest. Its doors slid aside, ready to accept me, but I did not enter. I only knelt at the threshold, just barely tripping the sensor, and unceremoniously dumped my two captives down the dark steel chasm between cab and shaft. They made no sound.
It started with those two. I've since realized that my room had ill-fitting window frames, and, last semester, those two were the first to seize the opportunity provided by the opening. Bugs, bodies an inch long, brown, six legs that moved as if with minds of their own. Winged, but lethargic and usually grounded. When you go after them, they don't stand a chance.
But they had a natural defense: they appeared to be some sort of stink bug. I needed to modify my strategy; I had to capture, not kill. A few days later, on the Saturday of fall break, I found another. This time it was on my pillow, waiting for me. I was alone in my suite for the long weekend. Maybe it knew. I trapped it under a glass and left it on a table.
The next day, the weather unseasonably warm, the invasion began in force. The bugs were the true 99 percent, the downtrodden underfoot, and they intended to occupy Bowdoin. Glass after glass I took from the kitchen, clamped over a window or wall, pinched a spindly leg. I slipped a scrap of cardboard underneath, and set each glass down on the table in rows. I scrawled a sign in blue Sharpie: "Samsa Internment Camp." Blue—the color of insect blood.
I could not feel guilty. In the words of Cicero (whose name suddenly sounded insectile), "inter arma enim silent leges"—in times of war, the law falls mute. I remembered that from my "Pursuit of Peace" first year seminar with Professor Springer.
I banged up one bug slightly too much, and, sure enough, it let off a stink. I'd have to be more careful.
Soon I ran out of glasses, and turned to digging empty plastic bottles out of the trash. "XXX," read the label on the (açai-blueberry-pomegranate) vitaminwater, like the kill tallies painted on the fuselages of World War II fighter planes.
They were coming as fast as I could capture them, and I could see more flying around outside. I sent a quick, desperate email to Facilities to "humbly request reinforcements."
But that would take time. I had to stanch the flow. But it was hard to catch the bugs in the act of breaking through; I'd just suddenly notice another inside. The integrity of nearly every inch of window perimeter was suspect. Even the dark recesses of the radiator housing could be providing cover.
I broke into my neighbor's room, fetched a roll of Gorilla Tape, and began furiously lining the windows and patching cracked plaster molding. I love the smell of Gorilla Tape. That day, it smelled like victory.
The tide turned. As the tape went on, the bugs stopped coming. I snagged one or two final stragglers, and then there was not one free stink bug body to be found. The final tally was about a dozen captured. It felt like scores.
The day was won, and I retired to the Quad. With the sun beginning to set over Walker, the warm weather nearly spent, I sat and read Erwin Schrödinger's "What is Life?" to the accompaniment of Peter Glass' "Metamorphosis."
Returning to my room, I remembered that my business was not quite finished. The prisoners still sat in their cells. Upon close examination, all appeared shock still, but most roused with a gentle jostling. They were still well.
I realized that my thoughts had turned, unbidden, to execution. But I recognized that the rules of the game had changed. These were no longer enemy combatants; they were prisoners of war. They presented no clear and present danger. My thoughts turned to the words of George Kennan as he surveyed the devastation at Hamburg in 1947:
"If the Western world really was going to make a valid pretense of a higher moral departure point... then it had to learn to fight its wars morally as well as militarily, or not fight them at all; for moral principles were a part of its strength. Shorn of this strength, it was no longer itself; its victories were not real victories....
"There rests upon Western civilization, bitter as this may be, the obligation to be militarily stronger than its adversaries by a margin sufficient to enable it to dispense with those means which can stave off defeat only at the cost of undermining victory."
And so, one by one, I took the critters down the same elevator shaft down which their brothers had plummeted—this time, safely in the cab.
Amidst the sounds of scattered fall break debauchery, I took each bug into the woods, said a few words, and released him.
Before the last hobbled off, it looked up at me one last time with what I'm sure was a hint of somber respect toward a fellow soldier caught up in a war he'd never signed up for.
The Febreeze® Set & Refresh has masked the stink, but I can never fully wash my hands of some of the things I did that day. I still hear the buzzing at night. It sounds close—too close—but as far as I can tell, the perimeter remains secure; what I hear is but the desperation of those lowly beasts still barred from this not-quite-ivory tower.