Yeah, sorry, not really travel-related, but this has consumed my life and thoughts for the past week-and-a-half, so I figured I’d write it out.
I’ve lived in New York for over 11 years, in 8 apartments, in 7 different neighborhoods. I’ve lived with all manner of pests: mice, roaches, crazy roommates, ex-boyfriends, weird neighbors. I’ve bought furniture at thrift and antique stores, even picked up a few pieces off the street. But until recently, I never dreamed of having bedbugs.
My apartment building had recently suffered an infestation on the 7th floor, but on the 2nd floor, I figured I was safe. On June 13, they did an inspection of all the apartments and an adorable beagle came in to sniff around my apartment. I was told to wait in the kitchen so as not to distract him, but after his sniffing, I was allowed to pet and say hello to the bug-sniffing dog. After enjoying the pleasures that only an excited beagle can provide, I assumed all was fine, but the inspector casually mentioned that he found an “alert” in my bedroom and that “the management company will be in touch” on his way out. Silence. Panic. Terror. Super told me I would probably have to wash and bag everything I own. (This is the part of the story where I should admit that I am a Horrible Housekeeper. The women in my family lack the girly clean gene, when we squeal over an untidy bathroom or re-clean a husband’s attempts at cleaning. We are sentimental pack rats. The thought of ironing a napkin makes me want to slit my wrists, and I abhor vacuuming.) Husband is still in Tokyo (due back in one week!), but all of his clothes remain in Brooklyn. We have a ridiculous amount of shit. The first weekend, I did ten loads of laundry and took $140 of dry cleaning in. The dry cleaner actually clapped his hands in excitement seeing me come in with several shopping bags.
Monday and Tuesday go by with no word from management company, I start to believe that I have somehow dreamed the whole incident and that perhaps I misheard, perhaps I needed a second beagle opinion. I’ve had no bites and only vague potential evidence of any bugs in storage. Then Wednesday, I got an email with the subject line: Bed Bugs Positive. I apparently don’t have full-blown bedbugs, just tested positive. Management company informs me I have to launder and clear out the ENTIRE APARTMENT. More silence. Greater panic. Heightened terror. I spend a few nights obsessing and feeling overwhelmed, nervous breakdown looming. I imagine having to go through hundreds of books, heaps of clothes and shoes, piles of papers. My mother effing wedding dress!
Finally, I reach the exterminator lady on Friday and she turns out to be a total doll. First she said I only have to worry about the bedroom, as the cute bedbug-sniffing dog would have noticed if they were elsewhere, so I don’t have to worry about the living room or other closets. She also said that anything in a storage container that was unopened would be fine, so all the summer clothes I hadn’t yet taken out of storage are okay (finally a justification for the crappy June weather!). She also said that all the things I can’t wash can be just put in the dryer for 15 minutes, the heat will kill the bugs, so I didn’t have to dry clean everything that’s already clean! Suddenly all the papers I have yet to file and the shoes left in the living room are a source of vindication. Sometimes procrastination pays off.
Yet I spent my weekend laundering, sorting, chucking. I find all sorts of odd items: a fighting Amish puppet, silver lamè leggings, a folder of primate genetics journal papers with titles like “X-chromosomal window into the evolutionary history of the guenons” (all thrown out). Other odd items I treasure: my original passport, itinerary and tickets for the 1988 trip to New Zealand my mother took me on (FYI, fare was about $800 from Boston to Auckland over Christmas); a sketch I wrote in improv/comedy writing class called “crack whore fantasy camp” (no idea where that came from, but I apparently played a character named Crystal Vial); a card from my late father for my ten-years-in-the-making college graduation reading “You can now write incomplete sentences w/o embarassment.” The experience proved to be nightmarish yet cathartic.
It also reminded me of an unusual but kind of awesome first date I had years ago. I met a guy at a poetry reading (seriously) who was a full-time poet and novelist (yes, really, it was the late ’90s) and we hit it off. We exchanged numbers, had several marathon phone conversations, agreed to a proper date on a Saturday night. Due to an usual work situation, I found myself in his neighborhood (East Village, natch) on a Friday afternoon with nothing to do, and invited myself over. The poet was helping out a neighbor, who had recently been moved to a nursing home, but had lived next door for about 40 years. For some reason, I decided it would be fun to help the poet clean out this apartment, which was heaped with junk and 30-year-old appliances. It turned out to be a cool experience, and I came out of it with lots of random items like a NYC taxi manual from the 1970s and novelty vintage ashtrays. The relationship didn’t last long (yes, 15 years is too much of an age difference when one of you is 19) but it was a fascinating anthropological/archaelogical view into a different New York and a complete stranger’s life.
Awaiting the exterminators in the morning, I’m ready for my bedroom to be torched with chemicals but haven’t exactly changed my ways. I still have piles of books, several dozen garbage bags full of assorted Banana Republic and vintage outfits, and an untouched steamer trunk that belonged to my father in his Navy days, full of VHS tapes of my old dance recitals and junior high passed notes. Let alone the file drawers in my living room containing all the ticket stubs, museum brochures, and copious notes from each year’s vacations. But my almost-bare bedroom is inspiring me to be a slightly better (or at least cleaner) person, ready to flee the city, or at least not feel sheer horror at the prospect of anyone coming into my apartment and sorting through the last 11.5 years of city living. Don’t judge my bad teen angsty poetry lest ye be judged.