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DO YOU HAVE A BUG PROBLEM? DO YOU A) SHAKE YOUR SHOES UPSIDE DOWN before you put them on? b) feel the only sure way to dispose of a bug is to wrap it in 40 tissues and flush it down the toilet? c) avoid certain areas of your house at night because you're afraid of what you might find?

Are you a woman? I thought so. I'm convinced that the true difference between the sexes lies in our gut reaction to creepy crawly things. Women are repulsed; men see a challenge to their manhood.

For the most part, we bug-fearing women are independent and intelligent. We have multiple college degrees and high-powered careers. We can assemble a 50-piece microwave cart with instructions written in Japanese; we can change a tire. Men are great, but we don't need them to take care of us.

Except when there's a bug in the kitchen. When confronted with a bug, any bug, I freeze with terror. My heart races and my adrenalin pumps out by the bucketful. Logic has nothing to do with it; the change is chemical. In a second I go from a reasonably self-assured young woman to a cartoonlike ninny, screeching and knocking over furniture in an attempt to flee from an enemy half a centimeter tall.

I want a man, any man. I have no shame. If my boyfriend won't answer his phone, I'll call my neighbor, my mechanic, or my 11-year-old paperboy. This is no time to be picky.

Bugs are clever. They rarely appear at events where eight or 10 hefty men are gathered in the living room, e.g., last year's Super Bowl party. No bug would be that foolhardy. They wait for the moments when you're tired and alone. Why do so many bugs appear in the bathroom? Your defenses are down there, that's why. You're naked or otherwise incapacitated, that's why. Bugs weren't born yesterday.

I do make a feeble attempt to fight back. Throwing a heavy obJect at the bug is my first move. The disadvantage to this technique is that you tend to break an antique vase or soil a leather-bound volume of Shakespeare rather than squelch the enemy.

Bug spray works, but has its drawbacks. (A friend of mine immobilizes bugs with hair spray. I once tried styling mousse for this procedure, and don't recommend it.) When you live in a small, poorly ventilated apartment, spraying can be just as bad for you as for the bug -- assuming you can find your can of spray. Just to be safe, I keep one in every room.

The only tried-and-true way to get rid of bugs is to call in Man the Hunter. Don't think you're imposing on his good nature; men live for these moments. They get some primordial sense of conquest from vanquishing our enemies. Perhaps it assures them that even though women are now doctors and bankers and judges, there will always be a place in the world for men.

A man who normally doesn't swagger does so when called upon to kill. "All right, what seems to be the problem?" he says, loudly. He might be armed with a broom or a baseball bat. Rambo-like, he stands tall, chest inflated and muscles poised for action.

"It's under there," you whisper, pointing to your couch.

He boldly moves the couch away from the wall. "Where?" he thunders. "I don't see anything." He eyes you suspiciously. "What kind of bug was it?"

"It was like a roach," you say. "Only orangy-yellow. Creepy. Lots of legs." In truth, it's hard to remember what it looked like, it moved so quickly.

"Probably just a water bug." All men are experts at identifying bugs.

He circles your couch carefully, like Marlin Perkins closing in on a rattlesnake. "What's that smell?" he says, sniffing the Raid-laden air.

"I tried a little spray," you admit.

His chivalrous attitude rapidly diminishes. "You dragged me away from baseball to kill a bug you already sprayed to death?"

You try to explain that you don't know that the bug is dead; you haven't seen the corpse.

Upon which Man the Hunter reaches down and produces the corpse. He holds it in his bare hands, a little, wispy, dried-up husk.

You bravely take a closer look. It's not a bug at all. It's a dust-ball with bits of last week's Cheddar cheese popcorn stuck in it.

Man the Hunter has a hearty laugh. You feel humiliated but grateful. You sheepishly offer to make hot toddies and let him watch the rest of the game on your TV.

You're in the kitchen stirring the drinks when you hear him yell. Next, you hear what sounds like a bookcase falling over. Alarmed, you run into the living room to see him flailing away with the broom at a tiny black spot on the floor.

You watch for a second, and then leave them alone. After all, you don't want to spoil what is going to be a whopper of a story.

CHARLOTTE LATVALA last wrote for the magazine on idiotic instructions.

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