“Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite!”

I would rather live alone in a tarpaper shack than live with a roommate.  Other than Steph and Susie–spouse and daughter, respectively–I have not shared living quarters with anyone since 1989, when I had a bedroom in a small one-story house (since razed) on the edge of the Ohio University campus.

Despite that, I have never taken extreme measures to get rid of roommates, until this fall.  There have been many stories in The Columbus Dispatch and the local TV stations about bedbug infestations in Columbus and surrounding areas, and I ended up sharing the house with a horde of them.  (I don’t know if a group of bedbugs has a collective noun, such as a murder of crows, a school of fish, a crash of rhinoceroses, etc.)

Susie and I both suffered persistent itching which often meant little or no sleep at night.  When I did sleep, I often awoke with bites up and down my arms that felt almost like Braille.  (They would go down within an hour or two.)  I finally had to sleep fully clothed in order to make the night bearable.

I replaced both our mattresses, and nightly washed and dried all linen in temperatures as hot as the washer and dryer could go.  But, whenever I killed bedbugs, more came to take their place.  (Bedbugs tend to travel in packs, as this article from the Entomological Society of America’s online newsletter says.)

Landlord-bashing is a popular sport everywhere, especially in rentals around college campuses.  I have to dissent here.  My landlord stepped up to the plate and, even though he was under no legal obligation to do so, paid for an exterminator to take care of both my place and my neighbor’s (I live in a half double.)

I had used some remedies, like Dead Bed Bugs, Raid, and four thieves (an essential oil said to have prevented users from bubonic plague), but it never lasted.  Whenever I saw bedbugs, I would go after them like Robert Duvall in the “Ride of the Valkyries” scene in Apocalypse Now (1979), although I resisted the urge to play that track from my CD set Best of the Millennium–Top 40 Classical Hits.

A friend asked me why I didn’t take off the entire Friday the exterminators came to spray.  One reason was I’m trying to be as stingy with paid leave as possible, for my Christmas trip to Florida next month to see Steph and Susie.  The other is because I had to stay out of my place for five hours following the spraying, so I figured I might as well go in to work.

When I saw the exterminators arrive with massive tanks and hoses, and put on firefighter gear and gas masks, I knew it was truly “Game on!”  The place still smelled of pesticide when I came home, but I have not had a bite since.  (It was a reward for the nearly round-the-clock work I did preparing for the treatment: washing all clothes, emptying drawers, eliminating clutter.)  A friend visited me this past week, and he slept in Susie’s room, and awoke with no complaints of bites or itching.

“Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite!” is something parents have said to their children at bedtime for ages, my own parents included.  (I was an adult before I learned the reply was, “See you in the morning light.”)

Insect non grata.

Insect non grata.

Bedbug infestation has nothing to do with cleanliness or hygiene.  Leaving food out is an invitation for roaches, and elementary school-aged children are notorious for bringing home lice.  (A co-worker told me about a daycare where her two daughters went with they were preschoolers.  All the kids played, took naps, and gathered on a big rug in the basement of a church that housed the daycare.  Her daughters, and most of the kids in the class, came home with lice.  My co-workers daughters are grown now, but to this day, whenever they drive past that church, one of them will inevitably say, “There’s the head lice school!”

When Susie had her travails with head lice in elementary school, Steph and I were tempted to just move the three of us out of the house for a month.  Deprived of a host, any lice in the house would die.  (A bedbug’s life expectancy, however, is from six months to a year, and they can go months without eating.  So moving out was not practical in my case.)

I have never missed a roommate after we’ve parted ways, but I have never missed roommates less than I have the Cimus lectularius club.


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