Obviously we are embarrassed. There is no other appropriate attitude to have, though our embarrassment loses it's genuine quality through endless repetition. I declare our plight to anyone with a passing interest like an alcoholic seeking forgiveness.
"My roommates and I discovered bedbugs the other day," I'll say. 'The other day' makes it seem nonchalant; as if I am saying 'we found that old spoon we were looking for' or 'I could really go for a chocolate croissant right now.'
Of course, if I said one of those things, no one would recoil in horror.
"You can see them," I'll explain, "they look like flattened red ticks. So there's no need to avoid me. You would see one if it were on me."
Bedbugs are New York's latest epidemic, and -- like most fads -- we are catching it not too late to miss, but we are hardly trendsetters. Late one night we trapped one of the horrid little creatures and imprisoned it in a Ziplock sandwich bag. I did a Google image search for 'bedbug' and made a positive ID.
It's unclear where they're from. My roommate Katherine and I have lived in this apartment for five months and our new roommate Jihad -- a terribly friendly, not at all holy-war-oriented guy -- moved in just after we discovered the bugs. Katherine and I are clearly the chief suspects.
Jihad walked up the stairs today and our neighbor, Isabella, began -- without provocation -- to discuss the serious issue of bedbugs and how they are affecting New York. Jihad told her that we have bedbugs and her eyes lit up like a child's on Christmas.
"You have bedbugs!" she said aghast, but somehow also terribly excited. "Well they are impossible to get rid of!"
Jihad thanked her for this tidbit but she insisted on coming upstairs and called me out into the hallway. "Yes?" I said.
"I hear you have bedbugs," Isabella said.
Undisguised examples of Schadenfreude are rare in society. Usually, people will tuck it away under a façade of sympathy. When you see one, it's a really special moment.
"They are impossible to get rid of," Isabella said, smiling. "They should have sprayed the apartment before you moved in here, but maybe they didn't."
She looked me up and down and then looked at Jihad. "When did you move in?" she asked.
"A few days ago," he answered.
She mentally filed him as 'probably safe.' Then she turned her gaze back to me and said 'goodnight' in a tone that made it clear I was not to be trusted in or near her apartment.
Several years ago I slept on a couch in New Hampshire and picked up a case of scabies. It took me a full three months to discover them and then another month to eliminate them. They're highly contagious monsters, so I had to call everyone with whom I had been in any sort of contact.
Once your humiliation barrier is broken, it's a very simple matter to describe what some people might consider horrid private matters in lurid public terms. I show now shame discussing bowel problems. I have accidentally brought friends close to nausea with descriptions of things I have found dead in the street. And I have no problem talking about, say, bedbugs or scabies.
Most people I called, though were not so enlightened. There were six phone calls in total, and while five never returned my call, the sixth one actually hung up mid-sentence.