What is shocking about bedbug veterans is the sense of inevitable defeat they have. I have now spoken with three people who had bedbugs at some point. The first said: "don't listen to anything but fumigation. There is no solution but to poison everything." The second: "I think people will eventually get used to bedbugs as something you live with. You pretty much just end up calling the exterminator twice a year and then accepting some bites for the rest of the time." The third moved to Colorado after she found them in her apartment.
We were prepared for a pitched battle with our landlord over bedbugs. And by 'we' I mean 'I.' Somewhere in my youth 'landlord' became synonymous with 'evil.' I am not sure how this happened. My father is himself a landlord and I have never thought of him as evil. Still, my image of a 'landlord' is of a shadowy, cartoonish figure with malicious red eyes and a long dark cape. The last place I lived -- a nineteenth century gothic manor with stained-glass windows on Chicago's far north side -- actually had a landlord who nearly fit this description, which probably reinforced my stereotype.
My impression of a management company is, if anything, worse. A company of landlords, I theorize, is probably more evil than just one: some combination of big tobacco executives, diamond barons, and former SS men.
I expected the management company that owns my building to either deny the existence of my bedbugs or refuse an exterminator, so I came to their office prepared with evidence. I captured 12 bugs in a Ziploc bag. I don't know why I thought this would help. Somehow, I got the impression that I would need actual physical evidence of an infestation. I imagined a slightly overweight attorney with a Southern accent and suspenders denying my claim in a full-fledged court room battle. All would seem lost, but then I would say "all right, but if I don't have bedbugs, then what are these!" and pull out my bag of critters. The courtroom would gasp and my family and supporters -- seated in the front row -- would let out a cheer. The judge would bang his gavel and yell 'Order! Order!' and then rule that I did indeed have bedbugs and an exterminator would have to be called. Justice would be served.
In the event, my expectations were disappointed. I walked in and a polite woman at the front counter called the exterminator as soon as I told her about the bugs. I had my Ziploc bag of bugs clenched in my hand and I was ready to push it into her face at the slightest sign of resistance. But she was helpful and friendly despite confronting a man with wild eyes, unkempt hair, and a small bag of insects.
A Googling of bedbugs reveals that they are defined as any one of the roughly 75 species of Cimicidae that nocturnally feed on humans or other warm-blooded creatures. As far as we in the United States are concerned the major relevant species is Cimex Lectularius. Generally speaking they are somewhere between 1/4" to 3/8" long at their adult size and can last somewhere between three months and a year without being fed.
I am glad to know this, but I am being slowly consumed by blood-sucking parasites that look like space monsters, so their scientific name is of only passing concern.
I have resorted to Google because the single page handout that the management company gave me to prepare for spraying is somewhat vague. The sheet contains 17 sets of instructions which are frequently poorly worded (#7: "CHILDREN AND PET TOYS SHOULD BE PUT AWAY"); arranged in no particular order; and have instructions ranging from the simple (#2: "ALL FOOD SHOULD BE PUT AWAY") to the absurdly difficult (#5: ALL BEDDING AND CLOTHING MUST BE WASHING IN HOT WATER AND DETERGENT OR SENT OUT TO A COMMERCIAL OR DRY CLEANED"). The sheet contains no information about the bedbugs themselves and, apart from being poorly worded, is as personable and friendly as the DMV.
Sadly, information about bedbugs on the internet is like information about anything on the internet: unreliable and hugely varying in quality.
The first search results are the big-name exterminators and Wikipedia. Next are the bed-bug equivalents of penis-enlargement advertisements: a site that sells a spray to kill all bedbugs without hassle and another that promises same day elimination of the creatures. From my, admittedly vague, understanding the only same-day solution to bedbugs is a flame thrower and a will for arson, so I am skeptical.
Next come the overenthusiastic university entomology departments (a typical entry, from Cornell: "under ideal conditions bedbugs feed regularly when temperatures are above 70 degrees." The 'ideal conditions' in question are, of course, unlivable.) Finally there are the blogs, including bedbugger.com, which I am willing to say is overwhelmingly the absolute no-holds-barred best bedbug website ever invented ever. Of course, they were the only ones to reference my last post, so my objectivity is not absolute.
The Lion King, Aladdin, and numerous other Disney films all suggest that it is probably a bad idea to run from your problems. I watched a lot of Disney flicks as a kid, but the lesson didn't sink in. The exterminator won't come for four days and I am planning a retreat to my parents house in D.C. until the day arrives.
My parents are, of course, thrilled to hear that their potentially contaminated son is coming home to infect their apartment with New York's latest scourge. I don't entirely blame them for being less than cheery or for my mother's assertion that I can come, but no luggage is coming with me. They are their own landlords, so I suppose they have reason to fear. And at least one option is off the table for them: they just left Colorado.