Bedbugged! My apartment becomes a dust bowl

By Theresa Braine  | February 24, 2011 - 11:00AM

Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.

As Bobby’s extermination day  approached, I tried desperately to get Rocco, the landlord, to use someone else. And I tried to get the neighbors to do the talking for me.

Since Rocco’s objection seemed to be the cost, I again hit up Absolute Death, another firm that had given me advice early on, and asked them what they would charge for the building. They were guys from Coney Island, the Brooklyn counterparts to my Queens landlord, and I thought maybe they could relate.

Rocco said he was paying Bobby, $1,200 or so for the whole building. Absolute Death said they could do it for $1,500.

Knowing Rocco wouldn’t listen to me—he had yet to recognize my bed bug expertise—I asked Ron to suggest it to him. But he and Lena didn’t want to rock the boat. It was New York real estate after all: Their rent was relatively cheap, and moving was not easy.

Meanwhile the bites were coming faster and furiouser, as if the vampires knew their days were numbered. I was trying to be Zen about it, knowing the things didn’t transmit disease (though they have been found to carry it, their apparatus is not built to inject whatever is in their bodies into their next victim). 

I would wake nightly writhing with itching, feeling as if a thousand feathers were tickling my right anklebone. I’d wake with bites on various parts of my body, but for some reason the ankle itch was the one that plagued my slumber—but perhaps because it was just skin over bone. Every morning I stumbled into class a complete zombie, struggling to keep awake, making sure my sleeves were rolled down to hide the bites that were cropping up on my arms, and trying to scratch my legs unobtrusively while gleaning as much wisdom as I could from a series of speakers whose words I could barely absorb.

Getting out of the house in the morning was a major project in itself, given the lengths I went (successfully, as it turned out) to avoid transporting any unwanted visitors. It was unlikely, as the things were not all over my house this time, given that the infestation had been knocked back the previous summer and I had caught this one relatively early—it usually radiates out from the bed, so they hadn’t had time to migrate elsewhere in the apartment--and I kept everything in plastic in the kitchen and living room, as far from the bedroom as possible. Nonetheless bed bugs are known to wander, so there was the remote possiblity that one or two pregnant females had meandered into the living room. It was just impossible to know, so I was dreadfully afraid that somehow a straggler would hitch a ride. On top of that was the paranoia that they engender, the inescapable feeling that they were everywhere.

Finally the day arrived, and Bobby came. And proceeded to treat me like a hysterical female.

“You’re not sensitive to chemicals, right?” he asked. I remembered the discreet, barely discernible bed bug death dust that I’d seen hints of around my apartment after John Furman had finished.

“No, of course not,” I said.

“Oh good,” he said. “Sometimes people get all upset about a few chemicals.”

I assured him I was not one of those people—heck, we were on the same side here, and I was no sissy.

He wasn’t done, though. All but patting me on the head, he said, “Well, that other exterminator didn’t do his job.”

I was dumbfounded. John Furman? The best bed bug guy in New York? I looked at him quizzically.

“They came back, didn’t they?” Bobby said. I wanted to punch him, but we had work to do.

Bobby had a decidedly different style than Furman. Instead of kicking me out of my apartment during treatment as Furman had done according to law, Bobby expected me to stay and help him flip the bed. For my part I wanted to oversee his work. 

So there I stood at the foot of my bed with the clueless exterminator who, it was rumored, wanted to date me. We each grabbed a corner of the wooden platform and upended the thing against the wall. Bobby, masterfully wielding his pesticide hose, started spraying.

And out they came. Bed bug after bed bug, large and small, crawling out from the rectangular leg supports and the bed, and from under these wooden slats that were attached flush (or so I’d thought) to the bottom of the platform. I don’t think I could even have gotten a metrocard between those pieces of wood, but the bugs had settled in quite comfortably. 

I stood there, transfixed. They were plump with my blood. I had given them life. I took a perverse pleasure in that. In fact I was almost swooning, like Isabella Rossellini in the Green Porno video depicting bed bug reproduction. 

Then I ran for a zip lock bag and started collecting them. Now it was Bobby’s turn to be quizzical. “Wow, you are really into this,” he said, as he helped me scoop an especially fat one into the bag with the aid of a long butter knife.

I could not explain this, other than to think that my Zen acceptance of these things under my bed had gone a bit too far. In addition I was in shock: I had not expected to find this many. I mean, it wasn’t like the scarabs flooding out of the tomb in The Mummy or anything, but several more came out even after I stopped capturing bugs, and who knows how many simply died inside the frame.

I stopped collecting at about a dozen. They were samples of all five life stages, ranging from newly hatched nymphs the size of a poppy seed, to mini bed bugs in the mid-range, to the fully grown, lentil-sized adults. I slid them into the bag and sealed it. Then I slid them into a second bag, and sealed that.

Bobby sprayed the rest of the bedroom while I sealed the bugs up. Then he took out the bottle of drione, a dessicant dust that’s a mixture of silica gel that dries out the bug's exoskeleton and a potent, fast-acting pesticide that adheres to the bug's body—the stuff that’s supposed to be applied unobtrusively—and upended the bottle.

The dust pouffed out of the narrow, applicator end of the bottle and just kept pouffing. Bobby did not stop until the underside of my bed was covered in the stuff. Since he had already sprayed with liquid pesticide, the dust landed there kind of like Shake & Bake. It is odorless, but you sort of know it’s there. 

He then proceeded to squirt equally copious amounts all around the perimeter of the bedroom. When he was done, it looked like little piles of flour all around the baseboards and on the bottom of my bed.

“This stuff really works,” he said gleefully. “Here, now, this was your problem. These ones in the bed. This is where they all were, hon.”

What was totally lost on him (besides the fact that he shouldn’t call me hon) was the adage of every PCO who knows even remotely what he’s doing: More dust is not better. More is what helps build up pesticide resistance in the bugs. More is what clues them in that there is pesticide around (as opposed to the smaller amounts, which they are likely to walk over unknowingly) so they can steer clear—and they do.

I don’t remember much else of what Bobby’s “process” entailed. After he left, I took a series of photos on my blackberry. I instinctively knew this had to be documented.

Then I packed up my laptop, a change of clothes and took off to my sister’s, as prearranged, to stay the night. As it turned out, I wouldn’t be back for a week.

Next week: Life as a Nomad

See all Bedbugged!

Theresa Braine is a NYC-based journalist and bed bug survivor whose work has appeared in the NY Daily NewsPeopleNewsday and other outlets. Bedbugged! is her weekly column about life in the bed bug trenches and how to climb out with your sanity intact.




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