Be afraid, they tell us. Be very afraid.
I read the Timeses, the Newses, the AM New Yorks. I watch the Ernie Anostoses, listen to the Brian Lehrers, check out the NY1s, peruse the Gothamists, and call the 311s, only to end up hearing the same message, the ongoing drumbeat pounding in my brain in 12-8 time.
I can't see them, but I know they're everywhere. A WPIX headline screamed bed bugs have reached an "epidemic scale!" And that was based on a survey of pest control companies. Who knows the bed bug scourge better than those paid to remove bed bugs?
Uh-oh. Kevin. That guy I play basketball with on Sunday. He had marks all over his legs. Were those nocturnal nibbles? Were they embedded in his skin? Was it contagious when I brushed by him off a baseline pick? Is it too late? Has our mattress been infiltrated? My wife can't sleep, has her blissful slumber shield been penetrated? Why am I so itchy? Won't those little bastards be attracted to their own kind? Must the Moses bed be set on fire like the burning bush that MADE HIS VERY NAME!
I need to settle down. I sit on the couch and thumb through a newspaper.
Wait, the possums aren't coming. They're already here. Years ago, the city let them loose in Coney Island to eat the vermin. And yet the rats still rule, so soon, possums will overrun Brooklyn.
Where I eat, and sleep, and wake up in a sweaty possum-induced panic attack where the wily beasts gnaw on all available wooden rails. These possums have a mouth full of 50 sharp teeth, tend to exude a foul odor, and can occasionally contract rabies. It's true. It has to be true, it says so right there in the New York Post. Tiny creatures that prey on tiny creatures in the night. And since the rats are clearly onto the possums that can only mean we're also breeding super-rats with a taste for blood and discarded Nathan's wieners!
I throw down the Post and pick up New York magazine, sweet arch too-cool-for-school New York. You'll calm my frayed nerves while pointing me to the hippest spot for fried risotto balls with oxtail... Wait, what!?! "A whole mess of COYOTES are already living in the city!" Coyotes are carnivorous and dine on small mammals, lock the door and holster the deadbolts!
Needing to clear the cobwebs, I go out to breathe fresh air. I take a walk downtown. Well, what do we have here? Police barricades, a handful of gawkers, a decrepit building. Sweet mother of mercy, it's the jihad mosque! The crumbling shell of a cut-rate coat outfit soon to be home to an evil gang of super villains hell-bent on blowing up our very way of life! On a quiet street where I may soon want to enjoy a four-wheeled stroll no less!
Sure, the terror mosque doesn't look scary right now. In fact, the only noise being raised is by an old man in a white linen suit with a handwritten sign that clearly states what we're all thinking:
Thank You New York Police Department You protect and serve us and keep us safe and the NYPD is the real heroes and the police and the firefighters should never be forgotten on 9/11 God bless the NYPD for all of your dedicated service and for keeping us safe and we our honored and not worthy that you protect and serve us.
The sign says it all, or it would if a bored-off-his-ass cop didn't ask the dangerous septuagenarian to take his righteous cause to the designated city "protest pens" down the block. "I'm on your side," rages the man. "That's the rules. Whaddya gonna' do?" says one of Gotham's finest. Things are getting ugly, voices may or may not be raised, blood may or may not be shed, and what is that falling from the sky? Is that? Is THAT!?!
Oh. It's a D'Agostinos bag.
Holing up in my apartment seems to be the only solution. Stay vigilant by staring out the window. My oh my, it's getting dark awfully early. Why is the sky green? Is that tree blowing sideways?
MAYDAY! Water, water, water, everywhere. Batten down the hatches! Or at least shut the windows. All the sudden, I'm living inside a car wash. Is that an air raid siren? Tornado? Tornado! TORNADO! Mass hysteria. Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together! Tornados scoop up the young and transport them to far away lands populated with trolls, robots, man-eating beasts, scorceresses, and mad geniuses with oversized heads.
What's next? A giant terrorist made of marshmallow? Raining down the sweet sticky soot-covered poison to be devoured by all the good little boys and girls. A Stay-Puft Pied Piper, driving children to their sugary demise like so many super-rats, uber-possums, and monster-coyotes escaping this mortal plane in the East River?
Exhale. Exhale. Exhale.
Focus on what's important right here, right now. Ignore the theoretical demons. Get grounded, goddamnit. Don't look at the downed trees, that's just Mother Nature messing with you.
Ahh, yes. I will take the hospital tour. Perfect thing to get me out from underneath the covers. Beth Israel seems ideal. Lots of helpful information, clean facility, nice rooms, friendly staff, plenty of watchful eyes so nobody will come in and TAKE WHAT?!?
I never even thought of that. Does that actually happen? Oh my God, that Lindbergh snatcher. He was from the Bronx. Are his offspring still roaming streets and corridors, hidden in the shadows of our look-straight-ahead mind-your-own-business metropolis?
Pull yourself together, man. Funny... Is that the guy that was sleeping in the corner during the introduction? Maybe he got there early after a long day at work, but why is flying solo? Don't let it get the best of you. It's not unreasonable that a slovenly middle-age 300-lb. man with Coke bottle glasses in a dirty maintenance worker shirt who was snoozing in a chair not ten minutes ago is wandering around the happy floor without a female companion.
What's that you say? It's not normal? He had to be removed from outside the nursery when the host asked where his partner was and he loudly responded in his reedy voice, "Oh, my wife has to be with me to take this tour?"
Our guide apologizes, explaining that she was thrown off. Yes, the mystery man was wearing a hospital employee shirt, but not for Beth Israel. He works at the V.A. Hospital in the Bronx.
Scary scary scary things everywhere.
New York City, my home, our home, soon to be someone's hometown can be a terrifying place.
Truth be told, I am afraid.
Pleasantly, excitedly, childishly, the-only-fear-is-fear-itselfedly, infantilely, deliriously, crazily, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-itedly, sublimely afraid.
But it's got nothing to do with rodents, Muslims, funnel clouds, infant-filchers, or any other phantom menace lurking throughout our great city.
Hey, bedbugs! Listen up!
You can all go get fucked.
I ain't afraid of no ghosts.
(*This story originally appeared on the great stories of New York City site Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, which you should totally check out if you dig this kind of thing.)
Follow Patrick Sauer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pjsauer