Column: Watch your step at the Rec

The squeaky clean MizzouRec may not be so shiny after all.

What if I told you the Rec had ’roaches?

What if I told you that palace, that pantheon of student recreation, with its saunas and its swimming pools, may just not be as squeaky clean as you think?

Would you believe me?

Would you think I’m crazy?

Of course you’d think I’m crazy. And you do. That place is spotless and shiny, innovative and engaging. The architecture is jaw-dropping, the facilities so sparkling that sometimes I bounce a basketball and feel bad for the floor. Students and members are privileged to use it.

Somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000 students do use it, each day. That’s a staggering number, the type of traffic that would make the Missouri Department of Transportation buzz like it’s Game 7 at the Arch. And that’s why I need to tell you all this because of the sheer number of you that there are.

I saw a cockroach there last week. It was an accident. I wasn’t looking for one, but I saw one. I couldn’t have been mistaken, either. The thing’s long brown antennae wagged above the light floor like gross, shadowy spaghetti. Pretty unmistakable.

It all started when I left the Jungle Gym with water on my mind. I was tired, but not delirious, not hallucinatory, not drunk or high or without those glasses I’m prescribed.

But my head was hanging, just because it was easier, and so my eyes stayed on the floor. I almost bumped into a custodian while walking down the few steps that lead to the bathrooms and water fountain at the foot of the long, quiet study hallway. As I avoided the custodian I looked down at what she was scooping up.

Laura Salerno, an associate director at the Student Recreation Complex, said she had not heard of any cockroach allegations until mine.

The Rec has a preventive maintenance service that sprays insecticide on the property once per month. The building has had water bugs before, Salerno said, but never cockroaches.

“It surprises me,” she said.

It surprised me too. One person it didn’t, though, was Dr. Jim Carrel, professor emeritus of biology and expert on cockroaches.

“Tucker Hall, where my office is, was built in 1967,” Carrel said. “I moved in in 1973. It was only five years old, and there were cockroaches there. They can hide and settle in a newish building that is dry and sided off.”

Carrel once bred six different species of cockroach, simultaneously, in his lab for research purposes. Based on habitat and approximate size, he assumes the Rec critters are Australian cockroaches, an invasive species brought to America decades ago that thrives inside dry structures.

It doesn’t matter that food isn’t served in the Rec. A stray crumb is the equivalent of an entire loaf of bread for bugs. They don’t need much.

“It’s uncommon, but it’s not rare,” Carrel said. “I think if you checked out a bunch of the newer buildings on campus at night, you would probably find some. They are not a major problem. They are just there. And they are not a health hazard. There is nothing about them that can be detrimental to humans at all.”

Still.

I’m a little disappointed in the Rec. It had never let me down before.

What about you? Will you find another place to work out?

Or the next time you walk into the gym, will you just watch your step?

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