I come home to a note taped to my door.
In short, the notice from my landlord reads “there may, or may not, be bedbugs in your apartment.” Attached is a glossy, full color pamphlet about bedbugs. Images magnified a thousand times to show their rough textures against the soft fabric they have made their home in. Enlarged, they resemble little more than an invading alien race. This, of course, all figures perfectly since it had only been about 8 weeks since I resolved my last conflict with the pesky lil’ biters.
When the final days bear down upon humanity and we have no choice but to obliterate ourselves with our massive stockpiles of weapons, there will be two survivors: cockroaches and bedbugs.
“Have bed bugs even made it to Denver?” I hear this the other night. Like so many problems – out of sight, out of mind. And bedbugs are incredible at being out of sight. Yes, they’ve made it to Denver. In fact, they’re probably more surprised that you finally made it here.
Bedbugs have been an American way of life since the founding of this country. They lived in your bed, they fed on you while you slept, that’s the way it was. Field hands would travel from farm to farm looking for short term work. At each farm, a bunkhouse. And in any particular season a bunk could see a dozen different tenants. Just as they would carry bedbugs into the bunkhouses with them, they would take them out as well – hitching rides in boots and packs and cuffs of pants.
Then DDT was invented and the bugs became less of a problem. Until DDT was outlawed for a variety of reasons. Now, the bugs are on the rise again. Spreading and infesting just about anything they can get in contact with.
In a world torn between cancer and birth defects or bed bugs, I choose cancer and unique babies.
Not too long ago a Denver Library patron had a serious problem with bedbugs. Every book he returned was infested with them. Rare and valuable books had to be burned because of the infestation in his own building. The library system revoked his privileges because of the threat he posed to the welfare of the community and the public space.
Just imagine the cycle – Check out an infested book from the library. Read that book in bed, let the book rest on your bed side table. Bugs crawl their way into your sheets and set up in your bed. Return the book. Share bugs with the rest of the population.
Yet the patron who had his privileges revoked was going to sue to get them back. Some people, I tell ya.
I’ve seen a lot of horrifying things crushed between the pages of library books. Snot, spiders, receipts for all sorts of jellies and lubricants. Bedbugs, on the other hand, are small enough to live between the pages of a closed book.
Things to know about bedbugs:
- Bedbugs don’t discriminate
These fuckers don’t care who they infest. Rich or poor, young or old, clean or dirty – if they manage to hitch a ride into your home they will set up shop. They’ll feed on you while you sleep no matter what your blood type is.
- Bedbugs are resilient
Which means they will find a way to survive whatever attempts you have to exterminate them. Spray an area with pesticides and they will merely burrow deeper into the carpets or mattress to escape it. They aren’t just in your linens either – they are also probably tucked into a weird crack in your bedside table, or behind the floor boards, inside a picture frame. Wash all of your things and move them into storage and they will find a way to hide out while you attempt to sterilize the place.
- If you think about bedbugs, you will probably get them.
Fact: They’re like the chicken pox, eventually everyone gets it.
Bedbugs became a reality for me when I moved to Boulder. I made the mistake of renting from a kid who was younger than I (his father bought him the place) and assuming that he would do decent landlord things – like make sure the place was clean and suitable for someone to live in.
This was, clearly, not the case. Upon arriving on my arranged move-in day there was still furniture and garbage left from the previous tenants. Dishes still lined the shelves, food remained in the cupboards. A half-full keg of beer was in the corner of the living room. Ashes from a hookah were flowing out of the open fireplace.
In the bathroom the ceiling was carpeted in a thick swath of black mold.
I’ll never understand why I paid a deposit. After a dozen very irritating phone calls I got him to bring the place to a tolerable (but not quite liveable) standard. I should have had the place sterilized, I shouldn’t have even been allowed to think the thoughts “the previous tenants.” As with any place – it is merely a culmination of the history of everyone who has ever set foot in that spot.
A few months later the previous tenants made themselves known again by the bedbugs that had been lingering, invisible, in the carpets.
They quietly moved into my mattress and clothing. Before long I was waking up with bites on my ankles. I called the landlord, he called an exterminator. Exterminator A laid down $40 dollars worth of chemicals that put my mind at ease for a short while.
Then the bugs came back and I demanded the landlord do something he may have never done before: actually handle the problem.
Enter exterminator B with a much more rigorous operation.
“You wont need to launder anything or clear anything out. Except candles, and maybe any peanut butter you have.” He tells me as his strapping young son hauls enormous furnaces up the stairs and into my apartment. Four of them, plus a variety of industrial fans. The goal? To heat up the condo to a sprightly 140 degrees for 10 straight hours.
“We are penetrating everything with heat, so nothing will survive. Bacteria, bugs, nothing.” It was already the middle of July. Outside, the temperatures rose to a lofty 95 degrees. Inside? 140. I spent that day in a movie theater watching Transformers and the latest, heart wrenching, gripping installment of Fast and the Furious.
The things one would do for air conditioning.
The operation ended around 7 in the evening. I walked into a dry sauna. The first thing I noticed was a pile of dead yellowjackets on the floor of my living room.
“Guess you had a nest in here somewhere” Exterminator B says as he looks up into the lofted ceiling. Yellowjackets, inside. A chilling and horrifying idea.
As I moved out of that apartment several weeks later I came to a chilling realization of how bad the infestation had been. As I boxed up my belongings I was shaking out dozens of bug carcasses from the bottoms of drawers, the tops of books, inside folded towels.
So when I get a notice on my next apartment only a few weeks after I moved I was a little surprised. Also, I wasn’t surprised at all. While touring the streets of Denver looking for a place to live I had seen more than enough posters stapled to telephone poles chastising certain property management companies for their inability to control bedbugs.
My surprise ends when I see people digging through the dumpsters throughout Denver. In addition to the homeless vagrants picking out recycle-able materials, I see other people dragging furniture from alleyways to the inside of their apartments with the look on their face that reads “can you believe someone wanted to throw this out?” TV stands so withered and beat that their ability to hold a television upright is contested. Armchairs and recliners that had been sat in for millions of hours and covered in a sheen of oils from a strangers skin and hair.
All I can think is: someone, who you do not know, probably fucked in that chair.
My hope is that a place is just clean enough when I move in where I don’t need to worry about how many living things exist in the cracks.
I hear horror stories from renters who wind up in conflicts with their landlord over the extermination fees. The heat-treatment the Boulder apartment received probably cost upwards of two grand. Who’se fault is it? Landlords of large complexes who are responsible for controlling the spread? Or tenants who find alleyway furniture they confuse for “vintage”?
Leaving a window open, visiting a friend’s house, going to a movie theater – all are likely ways to pick up these bugs. The more we move about, the farther they spread. In breifcases, suitcase and car seats. In packages from your grandmother.
Either we are in isolation and remain clean, or we value the idea of community and risk bugs.
- In 1968, D.T.P. was the most popular of all pesticides on the commercial agrarian market. It was outlawed shortly after when studies proved it was the cause of thousands of babies born with three breasts. Twenty years later, these tri-breasted children would grow up, face ridicule, and open a niche strip club catering to a very special market – men who like ladies with three boobs.
You can follow D.T. Pennington on Twitter. @Courier_New
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