Is it bad luck to break a leg — and a leg, and a leg ... ?

While I discussed etymology, he was usually scrunched up as if I might not notice him if he got very small. Or maybe he was covering his ears.

Where did my centipede come from? How did he get up to the third floor of a century-old building?

"Chances are good he came up along the outside of the plumbing," said Phil Nixon, extension entomologist at the University of Illinois, when I called.

Centipedes like moist places, he explained, including mulch piles, sweaty pipes, kitchen sinks and bathtubs. But woe to the centipede who lands in a tub, unable to climb the slick sides.

I had read that house centipedes eat other bugs, but I had seen no other bugs in my bathtub. How was mine getting nourished?

"In a moist situation," Nixon said, "you get some microscopic mold going on. Little mites will feed on the molds and mildews. These are all prime prey for centipedes."

I, on the other hand, was not good prey for a centipede, he promised. A house centipede's little fangs have trouble getting a grip on human skin, so I was probably safe, unless I stepped on my bathtub pet.

Which, in my pacifist mode, I was not about to do.

The last time I saw my centipede was Monday morning. I left home, nicely showered, and it didn't occur to me until late in the day that the woman who cleans my place once every two weeks comes on Mondays.

The minute I got home, I made a beeline for the bathtub. It sparkled. Not a bug in sight.

Farewell, my centipede. But, hey, my conscience is as clean as my tub.

mschmich@tribune.com

CHICAGO

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