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Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
I’ve been writing Bedbugged! for just over a year now, and as I close out my first full calendar year I’d like to look back on how far we have come in bed bug awareness, by highlighting the most telling columns of 2011 (in hopes that they’ll help anyone dealing with bed bugs).
My personal saga was merely the setup for coverage of the issues surrounding the bed bug epidemic as a whole, so I’ll keep that to a minimum.
However I do want to include one, and what better than the column representing the height of the ludicrousness: The visit of the exterminator who was moonlighting from his job as a subway rat-killer and couldn’t decide if he were my pest-control professional or my boyfriend?
“Bobby Inspects and Assesses—and Comes Up Wanting” had many friends cringing even as they admitted they couldn’t stop reading. “It’s like a Steven King novel,” one friend said of the saga. It was the height of infestation number two, and I was starting to realize I needed to move. Meanwhile I had to contend with Bobby’s overzealous attempts to get rid of the bugs, at the expense of my lungs.
Bobby notwithstanding, I got through it and managed to extract myself, bed bug free, to another abode.
I then proceeded to try and calm everybody else down. When one friend asked for a column on the “worried well” who did not face an infestation but who freaked out at every bug bite, and another mentioned that she had stopped going to the movies for fear of contracting bed bugs, I felt compelled to address the paranoid, fearful unafflicted.
This I did in “Why You Should Keep Going to the Movies,” on May 19. It really bugged me (so to speak) that people’s fears on this score were being fueled by media hysteria with a dearth of concrete, straightforward information.
Just as I sat down to write the column/rant, the headlines burst out screaming about MRSA bacteria that had been found on bed bugs in a run-down part of Vancouver, Canada. Few stories reported that although bed bugs have been found to carry a number of microbes, they do not have the mechanism to transmit it the way a mosquito transmits dengue or malaria.
Also getting under my skin (sorry, readers, can’t help it) were the same misconceptions manifesting as stigma. Dispelling the shame of an affliction dubbed “house herpes” can be as difficult as, well, getting rid of bed bugs themselves. And the first step is purging one’s own brain of the shame. I gave pointers for doing so in “The Stigma Has to Go” on June 16.
For one thing, it’s not clutter or filth that attracts bed bugs, although that enables them to hide more easily. It is, plain and simple, our particular mix of carbon dioxide and body heat that attracts them. Now, do you really want to get rid of those two things? And are you ashamed of emitting carbon dioxide? You shouldn’t be.
A favorite of BrickUnderground’s editors was the June 23 column on “10 Myths and Misconceptions,” which laid out many of the false ideas that surround the bed bug phenomenon.
A quick rundown: There’s the idea that one has to throw everything out; the false notion that a bed bug-proof mattress encasement will deter bed bugs; that sticking the bugs in your freezer, or in the garage, will kill them; the same belief about the opposite — heat, and leaving them in a sunny car; the misconception that all dry cleaning processes kill bed bugs; the fear that the bugs can live in one’s hair or person; that any bug bite you wake up with inevitably is a sign of bed bugs.
Read the full column for the debunking.
Moving on, one of the more interesting facets of the bed bug epidemic is the ways in which it’s making us, Consumerist America, confront the very materialism that supposedly fuels our economy and — dare I say it? — our well-being.
As bed bugs encroach, we are growing more and more horrified by the mounds of possessions we have accumulated. Could the bed bug epidemic be pushing us toward psychologist Erich Fromm’s predicted evolution away from materialism? I explored this question in “Dark Days for Materialsim, and a Cure for Shopaholics” on August 4.
Before you even think about throwing anything out, you should call a professional. But not just any professional. A lot of them are, for lack of a better term, bozos. On October 20 I doled out “11 Signs of a Bad Exterminator” for the unsuspecting who do not know what questions to ask.
An exterminator should make you go “Hmmm,” as the hip-hop song says, if he or she: pronounces a bed bug infestation based on your bites and the pattern, without other evidence; doesn’t ask to see a bug sample, or agrees to treat based on what you’ve said, without evidence; relies solely on a canine, without verifying that the dog actually alerted to a live bed bug; tells you that putting things into your freezer for a few days will take care of the bugs; wants to saturate your abode with noxious chemicals; and is not listed as an exterminator with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
My other favorite column from this year was my latest one. It explores a giant leap forward that I hope to see other management companies and landlords take in the very near future: An advertisement for a dreamy Greenwich Village apartment that mentioned a remediated bed bug problem.
This was in sharp contrast to my own recent apartment hunt, in which I’d been subjected to several apartments whose buildings turned up on the Bedbug Registry, some of them with dire reports.
The broker’s e-mailed answer to my admiring inquiry on what had possessed him to do such a thing — "Being upfront in the listing saves time and energy by weeding out tenants for which this information would be a deal breaker. It would be wise for other landlords to follow suit” — made me swoon. So I wrote “Rental Ad Takes Big Leap Forward, into Full Disclosure.”
And it is on such an upbeat note that I end the year’s columns. Here’s wishing everyone out there a merry, bed bug–free holiday and a New Year filled with peace and critter-less happiness.
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 trenches and climbing out with your sanity intact.