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Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
Well I did end up moving after all, and on New Year’s Eve, to boot. And, despite all my exhortations on how to avoid contracting bed bugs from the moving van, I found myself unable to take any of those precautions.
So, despite all my bed bug wisdom, I provide you here with yet another cautionary tale—this one on how not to move.
It being New York, I was both under pressure to leave by January 1 and unable to get the keys to my new apartment until two days before New Year’s Eve. Not wanting to schedule a move without keys and a signed lease in hand, I was forced to do it last minute.
What ensued was a completely disorganized move—not conducive to avoiding bed bugs.
For starters, the moving company I called sent someone else without informing me that they were subcontracting. So instead of the business recommended to me, I got another, unknown outfit.
I was so frazzled from moving stress that I did not connect the dots until they called me from near the Verrazano Bridge, where a missing “S” from my street name was on the verge of sending them to Staten Island.
If I had had more flexibility, I would have told them not to bother showing up. But I really needed to be out of my apartment, and that’s what the company, regardless of its name, offered. So I took the plunge.
The receptionist, Tanya, had said they understood my need for a quick getaway and would airlift me out of there for not very much money. When I called to demand an answer about the change in company, she told me that they were a “sister company” of the one I’d called.
“What are your bed bug protocols?” I asked. Tanya assured me that everything would be wrapped in plastic if I requested it. I also ascertained that any moving boxes would be new, not used by previous clients. “We’ve been doing this for years, and we’ve never had a problem,” she said.
Such a statement, of course, can only be delivered by someone who doesn’t know jack-all about bed bugs and their transmission. One can pick up a hitchhiker on the truck at any time. A lack of past exposure has nothing to do with it.
Soon after that, my buzzer sounded. There was no going back now. The second I opened the door I could tell I was dealing with some real yokels. The potbellied foreman was not going to carry much, or make the stairs. The lanky guy and his sidekick were chain smoking, not all of it regular cigarettes.
Mind you, it was New Year’s Eve. There’s a limit to what one can expect. I tested their bed bug savvy.
“Our last job was on 27th Street,” the foreman said. “She had us wrap it all in plastic. In fact it’s sitting on the truck now, going to storage.” “What?!” I said. “I don't want my stuff sharing a truck with someone else’s.” “Oh, the trucks do that all the time,” he said. “It’s ok, it’s divided from your stuff.”
I started getting phobic. “What else do you do?” I asked, with trepidation. Clearly he was merely telling me what I wanted to hear. “Well, we fumigate regularly,” the foreman said, adding of the most recent fumigation, “It was last week.”
How many dozens of people had they moved since then, any one of whom could potentially have had bed bug–infested possessions and been oblivious? I started to cry.
Granted, the chances of any one truck having bed bugs on it are not astronomical. Further, a bug that was sitting on the truck would have to have the inclination to crawl. Of course, these things could happen. But it would take a confluence of very specific factors.
Getting bed bugs from a moving truck was not a given, even if the truck had them. My eyes watered up anyway. “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you,” said the foreman. "See? New boxes," he added, gesturing to a bunch of flattened, clearly new boxes nestled in an already-assembled (i.e. probably not new) box.
One of the assistants said of the beat-up box, "Oh it's new too. It was just raining a little bit outside, so it's wet."
The other helper was a bit more opportunistic.
“I’m James,” the most junior guy said when we had a moment alone. He leaned into the front door of the apartment, cigarette dangling from his mouth, and exhaled a cloud of smoke into the living room. “I’m here for you.”
When I saw their definition of shrink-wrap—basically a roll of cellophane only about twice as wide as what you’d buy in the grocery aisle, and with what looked like the same consistency—all remaining delusions were stripped away. I was basically moving unprotected.
Thus it was not surprising that they “ran out of shrink wrap” by the time they got to my bed frame. That went naked onto the truck. Upon inspecting the truck I saw that the other person’s stuff was divided from mine by just a partition—easy for a bed bug to get around, if it were so inclined.
Even the hardier plastic with which the movers wrapped the mattress didn’t help. “See? New plastic,” the foreman displayed to me, unfurling a thick sheet of it. Trouble was, they later carried the entire thing up to my apartment, still wrapped. One could see the efficacy of doing so. But bed bugs, if they were on the truck, could certainly have crawled between the folds.
I followed the guys as they started to carry the “shrink-wrapped” desk upstairs (only the top was done, not the legs). “Wait, shrink wrap off,” I said. “No, it has to be once it’s inside the building, to protect the walls,” the foreman said. “But … oh never mind,” I said, looking at the array of unprotected items in the truck.
At least the so-called shrink wrap had gotten them not to use the blankets—though those were still on the truck as well. Later the foreman asked me to take my stuff out of the wardrobe box they had provided—he insisted it was new, even though it too looked pretty beat up—because they needed it back.
“I thought you said you didn’t reuse the boxes,” I said. “Oh, we don’t,” the foreman said. “We put the cardboard around TVs and stereos, that kind of thing.” In other words, they reused the boxes. Just not for clothes.
Some of this was my bad because I moved in a hurry and had run out of boxes. I did not have everything packed.
But the fact remains that there was a distinct lack of bed bug education among this crew, and I suspect they were not atypical. And they too, like the rest of us, are foot soldiers in the war against bed bugs.
Two weeks later, there appears to have been no bed bug bullet in this Russian roulette of a moving chamber. But the fact remains that such a lack of protocol will only keep the bed bugs spreading. If I do find any…. I will not tell you until they are gone.
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 bi-weekly column about life in the trenches and climbing out with your sanity intact.