Sometimes bad things happen.
And sometimes bad things happen with such relentless force and brutality that you have to think that the Great Whatever who controls life and the universe is on steroids. During God’s ‘roid rages, the things that come to pass are often tragic: a pet falling ill, the death of a parent, Freaks and Geeks getting cancelled. But sometimes these crapstorms are funny. There are either so many shitty occurrences at once, or they arrive with such aggression that you just have to laugh. It can be comedy gold, even if your maniacal laughter inevitably turns to tears.
A few weeks ago Simon and I decided to throw in the relationship towel, while still happily clinging to the professional and friendship towels. (We have never been to a Steelers game, otherwise we would be holding onto the Terrible Towel, too.) Breakups are hard. After three years of being pinned, and ten years of knowing one another, it’s a weird decision to make. Our split would be enough fodder for several blog posts, a Morrissey tune, and a spiral notebook filled with journal entries, but that wasn’t enough. Nope. The great UFC fan in the sky didn’t deem that one issue was sufficient for our lives. (Not to mention that I was grappling with bank fraud simultaneously. But whatevs.)
Around the same time that our relationship went kerplooie, I discovered that we have booklice. How do I know that they are booklice? Because I am friends with a former library employee and because of the Internet. Booklice, for the uninitiated, are tiny. They are as big as this here hyphen: – They are clear, and they move very quickly. You can kind of pretend that when they’re running away from your enormous face they’re screaming, "Nooooo!" in a really high-pitched cartoon voice. It’s kind of cute. Booklice eat dust and mold, both of which came to our new apartment in several boxes of old books. Am I sure that they are booklice? No. But I am sure enough. Now.
Let me explain. I saw them in the bedroom. Because they were bugs in my bedroom, and because I didn’t know what they were, I called the superintendent. I didn’t know that an apartment on the other side of the street (but still somehow connected to our building) had bedbugs. I had no idea. I probably wouldn’t have called and bothered the super if I had known, since a) we had no bites, b) the bugs weren’t in the bed, and c) hindsight is always clearer.
But I called. And, in an abundance of caution, the super called in a bedbug specialist, just to check. Two days later, I stood outside of my apartment while Buddy, the bedbug detecting dog, surveyed the place. Apparently Buddy, who is certified by the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association, or NESDCA, smelled something he liked in Simon’s laundry bag and on one corner of my bedframe. He got two biscuits, I get to live out of plastic bags for two weeks. During these two weeks my boyfriend of three years is moving out and I have a birthday that is dangerously close to thirty.
The thing about actually having bedbugs is this: you know you have fucking bedbugs. Why? Because you have bites. Because there are tiny bloodstains on your sheets. And because you can see bugs that look like the sick and sadistic sisters to ladybugs. They suck your blood. They are vampiric little assholes who ruin the best part of your night next to nookie. I’m pretty sure they ruin that, too.
Are you suddenly feeling itchy? Relax. Here’s Ainsley’s probably-not-foolproof-but-certainly-close one-step guide to seeing if you have bedbugs. Well, two step. Step one is ask yourself, "Do I have bites?" If you answer no, you’re probably okay. I say probably because 30% of the population doesn’t react to bedbug bites. If you’re still nervous, or if you have bites, go to your bed. Strip the sheets. Check that little piece of piping that runs around the edge of your mattress. Peel it back and take a peek. Go on now, don’t be scared to get in there. If you see nothing, chances are you’re fine. If you see little black dots that look like somebody stashed a ballpoint pen in your bed, you might have a problem. (That’s bedbug poop.) If you see bloodstains unrelated to virginity or shaving incidents on your sheets, you may want to ring up an exterminator. If you see actual bugs, well, now you know.
So what happens next, after you or Lassie find the nasties? Get ready for your life to look like something out of a Trainspotting sequel, or an episode of A&E’s Obsessed. First you have to take everything you own and put it in black contractor bags and/or heavy-duty Ziplocs. For us, this was a pain in the ass, but kind of okay, since Simon had to pack up anyway and it gave us an opportunity to divvy up our shit.
Oh, and in case I wasn’t being clear enough: you MUST pack EVERYTHING YOU OWN into plastic contractor bags. From silverware to underwear. Toothbrushes and tap shoes. Dog toys to sex toys. Bag it up. If anything could be infected with bedbug babies, spray the fuck out of it with a solution that’s 1 part rubbing alcohol to 2 or 3 parts water and, like that Fabolous song goes, just throw it in the bag. Once you’ve finished doing this, you will finally be forced to realize just how much crap you own. You will understand that, if there was a fire, you would probably be screwed. If you have pets, and presumably kids, they will think that you are moving and no amount of convincing will stop them from trembling and eyeing the door with suspicion. Snack has been living in the corner like a canine version of The Blair Witch Project for the past week.
The next step is the first phase of extermination. This is actually kind of cool, though in no way does it make up for the sort of upheaval that you’re experiencing by having to deliberate between whether or not to just throw out everything you own or painstakingly inspect and bag each item. (Take note: if you have a severe infestation and not a make-believe one, you’d be wise to just get Zen, toss everything and move. I’m not being glib. If you have a large amount of bedbugs, the likelihood of their eggs being in your stuff is pretty high. They can live for a year without feeding and a fertilized female bedbug will lay one to five eggs per day, with the male being able to fertilize multiple females in a single day. You do not want to have to go through this again. Trust me.)
Okay, here’s what happened with our extermination. Two guys showed up and, to my dismay, they weren’t outfitted like they were in Ghostbusters. They had a lot of equipment and they explained what it was for. They were going to freeze the mattress and the sofa with Cryonite, then seal the sofa in plastic. It would be my responsibility to buy a mattress casing for the mattress and put that on the bitch when I returned home. Fortunately, I’d already run out and bought one the day before. Mattress casings are expensive. They also prey upon your fear by having massive pictures of bedbugs on the front, as if to say, "Don’t feel like forking over $80 for this? Oh, that’s fine. Enjoy being a buffet for our little poster boy right here."
The exterminators then told us that they would caulk areas where bedbugs could enter my apartment, places like under the sink, around pipes, and the cracks in the baseboard. Then, finally, they would spray the fuck out of the apartment with EPA approved pesticides that included peppermint oil and rosewood oil. That sounded pretty lame to me. I mean, if I really had these bloodsucking bastards, did I simply want to go around spraying essential oils and humming Kumbaya? No. I wanted the pesticides that were not approved by the EPA. The kind that would singe my mattress, pockmark my floor, cause my eyelashes to fall out and make me look like something out of The Hills Have Eyes. But whatever. The company that owns the building was paying for this, the guys had nice uniforms, and I assumed everything was legit other than the seemingly misguided dog. I didn’t complain.
It’s at this juncture that I should tell you what was going on in the other building, the one with the one documented bedbug case. They had Buddy inspect the seventeen other apartments over there. He found ‘bugs in fourteen of them, including one apartment where the tenant had moved in two weeks ago, and one guy whose mattress was literally brand new. It seemed suspicious. The super was perplexed, and probably terrified of the total bill along with whatever other fallout would occur. I had been lucky enough (if I can use that word) to be first in line for treatment, while the rest of the building slowly discovered that they were dealing with more than eccentric neighbors. I’ll also take the opportunity to say that I’m extraordinarily fortunate to live in a building that would cover the cost of this. Many people aren’t so lucky. I have friends who have suffered through actual bedbug infestations and they had to cover it on their own dime while using things like black pepper, eucalyptus oil, and sheer willpower to combat the sons of bug bitches before ultimately deciding to discard their infested furniture and move away.
Simon and I took Snack and vacated the premises while we let the Bedbug Busters go to work. We hung out away from our computers for the day because they were being treated as well. (Bedbugs can nestle inside of electronics.) It was a nice break, if you twist my arm into looking for positive aspects of this ordeal. Snack was fortunate enough to crash at her grandfather’s house for the night, since a pesticide treatment isn’t exactly the healthiest thing for a dog to endure.
After the guys finished, they called us. We had to remain away from the apartment for three hours following the fumigation.
"Fumigation," I snorted. "More like aromatherapy treatment."
When we arrived back at the apartment, the door was sealed off with blue tape. I can only imagine what the neighbors thought this meant, since I’d decided it best not to publicly announce the scourge upon our house. Already among my closest friends I was being regarded as a bit of a buggy pariah. We opened the door and it was as though every stick of Winterfresh gum that had ever been chewed was suddenly lodged in our nostrils and throat. I had visceral flashbacks of making out with a kid named Damian on the floor of the yearbook room in my sophomore year of high-school because he used to chew Winterfresh to cover up the smell of the Parliaments he smoked during his free third period. The minty refreshment permeated every square inch of the place. Still searching for the positive, I figured that this would remedy any scent of Simon that he’d leave behind for me to pine after following the big move. Now I’d only be left with memories and the overpowering scent of Wint-O-Green Lifesavers or gum.
It’s important to wipe down every hard surface after the pesticides have been sprayed, because the oils leave a slight film that you don’t want to ingest. I have to say that for two men traipsing around my apartment, they left it in better condition than they’d found it. It actually looked neater, which may have been from them moving around and rearranging the mammoth contractor bags of crap that had become my new home decor.
Two weeks from the first treatment, you have the second, which is basically only a repeat of the fumigation. Sounds easy enough, until you realize that you have to live out of plastic bags the whole time, just in case any errant surviving eggs hatch. In fact, if you truly have a bedbug infestation, it’s recommended that you live out of Ziplocs for three months. To hammer this point home, remember the apartment in the building next door, the one that did have a serious bedbug problem? They took their kids and haven’t been back for eight weeks. They’re planning on staying away for at least another month, and they’re lobbying to have the building pay for their entire apartment to be stripped down to the sheetrock and rebuilt. This shit is serious.
Serious enough that my super decided to have another dog take a sniff at all of those places where Buddy smelled bugs. The second dog, whose name I didn’t catch, was walked through the same apartments and he found nothing. My super said to me, "I’m damn sure that if we’d taken that dog through your apartment, we wouldn’ta found anything." The exterminators were contacted after that first treatment and they admitted that they’d found no evidence of bedbugs in my apartment. Hey, at least I’ve prophylactically blasted my home with mint, making it bug-free and smelling like fresh breath. It also gives me an opportunity to sort of move in again and to settle into my single life in the apartment that was originally intended to house the two of us. That is, I’ll be able to do that at the end of these two weeks.
So here I sit, writing while surrounded by looming black bags filled with my belongings. Simon’s received the keys to his new place and is moving in tomorrow morning. All of his clothes have been laundered, his stuff packed and sealed. And while we know that this is the right decision, both for ourselves as individuals as well as for our company, it needs to be said that bedbug treatment and breakups are like the bugs themselves: they suck.
(Take note: A woman named Alina, who is a single, self-employed, and expecting her first child in an area far from her family, is dealing with a bedbug infestation. Any change you can toss in her cup would be going to kick some insect ass. Good karma + sound sleeping.)