Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
I spent the better part of March deciding whether to exit before or after I got a job. With no funds, I didn’t have many options. I contemplated moving in with my parents. But I felt that would be admitting defeat, officially putting the stamp of failure on my return from a seven-year stint in Mexico.
Through all this I was still getting bitten occasionally. Less so than before Bobby the dust-slinging exterminator had come, but given all the poison in my bed I’d thought the things would have died by now as they crossed it to drink. Of course, the rule of thumb is that you can only consider your apartment bed bug free when you’ve been bite-free for 55 or 60 days, so I was well within the window.
I pondered. And obsessed. And scratched. The triple-Ziplocked eggs that had been laid by my captives hatched, and a set of translucent, poppyseed-sized nymphs emerged. No wonder bed bugs were so hard to eradicate. How on earth could anyone detect and get rid of something so insidious?
Meanwhile Arnold, the neighbor on my two-apartment floor whose place appeared to be the epicenter of the current bed bug plague, was fixing to move. It had been his initial revelation about six weeks earlier that seemed to have put this whole thing in motion. He was in stasis, without a move-in date for the new place or a move-out date for this one. He was too clueless and slovenly to do the preparation, and there was no way to make or help him do it.
I actually tried. Besides offering to lend him my Packtite (thank god he’d turned me down), I called 311 to ask about getting help with bedbug prep for someone who was unable to do it themselves. They had referred me to a church group around the corner that might do things for the elderly, but it did not sound viable, and what with one thing and another, I did not contact them. There was no way to get Arnold on board, and the city had no mechanism to deal with people like him. They are the bane of any bed bugged building.
In early April 2010, I heard noises and unfamiliar voices coming from Arnold’s apartment. I stuck my head out the door to see what was happening. Arnold was standing in his doorway with a guy and two kids.
“These are my movers,” he said. “I will be out of here by mid-April.”
My birthday is in mid-April, and I thought there couldn’t be a nicer gift.
“How are you going to avoid bringing bed bugs with you?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m not bringing much stuff,” Arnold said. He added, pointing to his friends, “They had bed bugs.”
“How are you going to move him without bringing bed bugs?” I asked the friend.
“Oh, we had them, but we got rid of them,” the guy said. I asked how.
“Alcohol,” he replied.
Hmmm, I wondered, by drinking it? Rubbing alcohol kills bedbugs on contact, but only the 91 percent does, not the 70 percent that is usually displayed in drugstores (you have to ask for the higher strength). It does not leave any residual substance for the bugs to walk over, and it does not kill eggs. So it was doubtful that by throwing around a bunch of rubbing alcohol this family would have gotten rid of the bugs. Such is the way of bed bug spread.
Arnold handed some things to the kids, who looked about 10 years old. A boy played with a wicker side table, shaking it and putting it on his head in the building hallway. The father and the girl and Arnold dragged unbagged things downstairs, bumping as they went.
Who knew how many bed bugs were still alive in Arnold’s place. All I could see was the building being re-seeded with a new infestation.
The next morning, which was the day before Easter, Lena called to say she’d woken up with bites. “I was wondering if he was going to shake his bed bugs out all through the hallways,” she said, irritated.
I got so freaked that I baked everything I was bringing to my brother’s for Easter in the Packtite, including, unfortunately, the antibiotics I’d been taking for a chest/respiratory infection (I got two or three in the months after Bobby’s handiwork.)
Arnold and Rocco had been known to get into fights, and my brother had warned me that Arnold was prone to tirades, but I had not yet been treated to one.
“What’re you trying to do, rat me out?” he screamed that day. “Did you rat me out to the landlord?”
A few choice words of what we euphemistically call French issued in my direction as well. I was dumfounded and a little amused. I didn’t know what Arnold was talking about. I later learned that Lena had called Rocco when she was bitten. Apparently, Arnold had been trying to make a stealth getaway.
I didn’t see how my living situation was going to improve after Arnold moved. If merely joggling his stuff in the hallway was going to generate bites, it was obvious that the bugs were finding a non-poisonous way in. And it seemed to me that if he had dragged his stuff down the stairs, unsealed, a new infestation was inevitable.
The following morning, Easter, I woke with two bites on my arm. I photographed them and texted them to Lena with the words, “Something’s been resurrected....”
It was the last of many straws. I could not live like this any more, knowing the pests were still thriving somewhere in the building. Getting out had just become my priority.
Next Week: Apartment hunting in earnest, and not a moment too soon.