Some decades back when I was in the fifth grade, there was a kid, Jerry, who sat in the row of desks next to the big south-facing windows. Jerry, trapped there in the full-sun zone, found a way to entertain himself. He caught flies. It wasn’t that he had fast hands, an agile mind or any special tricks. Truth is, he was slow, dumb and trickless. He was able to catch flies because they were plentiful around the windows. He just scooped them out of the air.Once Jerry caught a fly, he’d get busy removing its wings and legs, then he’d line the immobile bugs up in the pencil slot at the top of his desk. For his big finish, he’d whip out his magnifying glass, focus the afternoon sunlight at the left end of the pencil slot, then move the beam slowly to the right, cremating the crippled flies one by one. The bug sacrifices would go on until our teacher, the grouchy old baggy-stockinged Mrs. Wise, smelled the burning flies and made Jerry go out and sit in the hall.Jerry grew up to be a chicken-raising man. I figure he took to that work because the average chicken, like a wingless and legless fly, is pretty darn compliant. Last I heard, Jerry was being investigated for his alleged role in a string of suspicious fires. Sounds just about right to me.But now I wonder: Was Jerry just a cruel knucklehead or a visionary? Because, it turns out, right now in Japan, serious scientists with whopping-big government grants are catching cockroaches, pulling the wings and antennae off them and rigging the bugs up with bionic parts.Why would anybody do this? I'm sure Jerry would say, “Just for the pure crazy hell of it.” But scientists at central Japan’s Tsukuba University see legitimate possibilities for improving the lot of mankind. Here’s what they do: They raise their very own brood of big-ass American cockroaches. Once they get the bugs corralled, they gas them with carbon dioxide to make them hold still. Then they get down to the serious business of surgically removing the bugs’ antennae and wings, sticking some pulse-emitting diodes over the antennae stumps and attaching a little electronic backpack where the wings used to be.Put them together and what have you got? Well, remote-control roaches. Living gizmos that'll go where you tell them to go and do what you want done. Diddle the joystick on the roach remote, and you can make the bug go forward and back, right and left, or even vertical.The folks studying the robo-roaches see big money potential. Put tiny cameras on the bugs, and they could find earthquake victims, not to mention loose change in sofa cushions, rocks up kids’ noses and bedbugs in New York City hotels and subway stations.Meanwhile, Israelis and Belgians are getting in on the roach-training act. Frederic Libersat, a neurobiologist at Ben-Gurion University, has learned that a particular shiny wasp—Ampulex compressa—can sting a roach right in its brain, injecting venom that turns the roach into a zombie. I am not making this up. Once the roach is stung, it just lies there quivering until the wasp grabs it by its antennae and pulls it like a Western Flyer wagon into the wasp nest. Amazingly, the roach cheerfully complies. Though later, the wasp lays an egg on the zombie roach’s belly, the egg hatches and the resulting bug eats the roach from the inside out.I know, that’s weird. But this is even weirder: Libersat has found an antidote drug for the zombie roaches. He, like the wasp, injects his potion straight into the roach’s brain, and the bug is instantly de-zombified—back in business, ready for action. Libersat is the Roach God, putting roaches to sleep, waking them up and zapping them with electronic signals that’ll make them crump dance, if that’s what he wants to happen.In Belgium, roach researchers have built a matchbook-size rolling gizmo that looks like a discarded piece of a wah-wah pedal. Well, that’s what it looks like to a guitar player. To a roach, it looks like another roach. When the gizmo is dispatched to a den of real roaches, the roaches follow it around and accept is as their leader. That’s because the Belgian researchers swab the thing with alpha-roach funk before they set it loose among real roaches. Apparently, if you’re a roach, anything that smells like a roach is a roach.Clearly, mankind is on the verge of controlling the minds and bodies of roaches. Looking back, I think Jerry was an early adopter. Somehow, he knew that once a man can catch nasty bugs, modify and repurpose them, he can get some work done cheap and have some fun besides. Roaches are plentiful. They could be fitted with tiny dust mops on their bellies and sent out to clean houses. Stick some miniature jackhammers on their backs, and they could clear out clogged pipes.The possibilities, like the bugs, are endless.