Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
So there I was, starting out the New Year in 2010 by watching a bed bug crawl across my desk. I trapped it and then started an action plan. This time, I was determined not to go through it alone. As luck would have it (mine, not theirs), both the guy next door and the couple downstairs seemed to have them in their apartments too. The former was too clueless to realize it, and the latter reacted to bites worse than I did—at least the woman, my friend Lena, did—so I suggested we all meet.
Rocco, the landlord, was still out of town on his long weekend; it had been an eventful five days in his building but he wouldn’t know it for another day or two, because we figured it wasn’t worth bothering him. Besides, I thought, if we strategized while he was away, we could present him with a list of researched options when he returned so that he would be greeted with a solution rather than a problem upon stepping off the plane.
Of course, I also felt that Rocco’s failure to have continuous inspections by someone who knew what they were doing and thus keep on top of the potential for more infestation was at least partly at fault for the present boondoggle.
There was only one other tenant in the building besides Arnold, Lena and Rana, and that was Mauricio, who lived below me and owned the ground-floor restaurant—which was handy, since we could simply convene at the bar. Mauricio was willing to talk strategy.
So on a chilly winter night, Lena, Ron and I went downstairs and plopped down at the bar, and Mauricio plied us with wine. I brought my specimen in its little jar to show them what a bed bug actually looked like. We didn’t bother corralling Arnold, since he was clueless and defensive.
We talked various options and agreed we would each plumb our various connections—Mauricio would talk to his restaurant pest guy, I would contact my sources and find out what they recommended for building-wide measures—then present Rocco with information that he could use to get on it right away.
Lena, Ron and I decided that we would rent storage space together, putting treated and sealed stuff in there—I would lend them my heat-treating Packtite machine—and thus if the building eradication efforts were not successful, at least much of our stuff would be clean and out of the fray. (We were aware of the possibility/danger of contracting new bed bugs from storage, since oodles of people are stashing untreated stuff these days under the mistaken assumption that this will somehow rid their things of the bugs, which is why we planned to seal everything.)
The stuff we couldn’t put through the Packtite (there is some question about electronics, for example) we would store in sealed contractor and Ziploc bags with Hotshot No-Pest Strips.These are not labeled for use with bed bugs, but anyone who has ever dealt with an infestation knows about them: They are insecticide strips made for hanging in uninhabited storage spaces to keep insects away, but bed bug sufferers and experts have discovered that, used correctly and safely (i.e. sealed airtight with a bag of infested stuff), the insecticide kills the little bastards.
I invited Lena and Ron to an upcoming lecture at the Museum of Natural History by Lou Sorkin, one of the world’s premier bed bug entomologists. We even planned shopping trips for fun items like packing tape, giant plastic tubs and endless boxes of giant Ziplocs. Each outing, of course, would be followed by a meal and heavy drinking.
So I felt overall fairly “good” (within this new, awful context, of course) about where we stood. We would lick this.
On that Thursday I called Rocco to tell him what had happened and assure him that with the expertise I had gained the previous year, I was the perfect resource and could provide him with the best names in the business.
To my surprise he started yelling. Granted, I had partly rallied the neighbors so that I wouldn’t have to deal with this second infestation alone. But the flip side of that was, I wasn’t alone. This was a group situation that required uniting the building in cooperation.
“This all came from you!” he yelled. “You started this! And if they’re back, it’s your fault because your guy didn’t do his job.”
I tried to explain that they had probably made their way over to Arnold’s apartment before John Furman of Boot-a-Pest came, that they could have run over there when the guys removing the bed had leaned the frame outside Arnold’s door. Or that they could simply have gone through the walls initially from my place (or come from Arnold’s, for all we knew), and that getting rid of them in my apartment would never get rid of them in the adjoining one.
In the if-I-had-to-do-it-all-again department, I would never have assumed that the bugs started with my apartment. The more research I did, the more I realized it probably hadn’t happened that way. But I never got that through Rocco’s head.
“They travel through cracks in the walls,” I said.
“But the guys sealed all the cracks in the walls,” Rocco said irritably, as if I were insulting their work.
Not these cracks, I tried to explain, but Rocco, a 40-something guy from Queens who had inherited the building from his father (who had initially rented it to my brother in the early ’90s), kept interrupting.
He was at least willing to meet with the others, though he characterized it as “being faced with four tenants, all looking to me for answers.” My explanation that no, it was four tenants looking to work together with him as a team against a common enemy, fell on the proverbial deaf ears.
We hung up, but he called back a few minutes later and accused me of lying about what Arnold said. He had apparently gotten on the horn with my neighbors.
“You said Arnold told you that he was being bitten by bugs,” Rocco snapped. I had said no such thing.
Rocco added that he had spoken to Mauricio and left messages with Lena and then accused me of “stirring things up,” putting ideas into people’s heads and imposing on them by even inviting them to the bed bug lecture.
“Don’t you know how busy people are?” he said.
For entirely different reasons, this was going to be a longer haul than I thought.
Next week: Landlords and the bed bug blame game.
Theresa Braine is a NYC-based journalist and bed bug survivor whose work has appeared in the NY Daily News, People, Newsday and other outlets. Bedbugged! is her weekly column about life in the bed bug trenches and how to climb out with your sanity intact.