by Molly McAleer
Bed bugs are shameless. They are the pest equivalent of a party guest who comes out of the bathroom and boldly announces that they just snooped through your medicine cabinet and you’re like, “No shit, asshole. You left your fingerprints everywhere.” They have no boundaries. That kind of boldness is not cute in people and it’s even less cute in flesh-eating creatures of the night.
It doesn’t matter if you’re fabulous or young or in need of a body that men want to touch, because things that lack shame don’t understand the importance of all that. If you live in an area where old mattresses line the street and foot traffic is heavy, you can get bed bugs no matter how amazing you are. In fact, here in Koreatown, I would say that the bed bugs are the only residents who don’t actively discriminate against anyone.
The truly fucked up thing about bed bugs settling mainly in densely populated areas is that usually people who live five to a one-bedroom apartment (like every family in my building except for me) are poor. Eliminating the infestation was by far the largest expense I have had while living in Los Angeles.
Here’s that breakdown: My landlord is legally responsible to pay for my extermination (a very good landlord will even put you up in a hotel while they fumigate your place, FYI), but he is dodging the $180 bill and I am too tired to fight about it. The cleaning service was another $200. I will be replacing the mattress and box spring I threw away when I am confident they are gone. Until then, I’m crashing on a reasonably priced and fairly comfortable air mattress. Don’t make that face. I’m fine.
Treatment for my bites has been the easiest part. At first they were shiny little red dots. It looked like my stomach had baby acne. The itching only lasted for a couple of days and was nowhere near as severe as mosquito bites. I’ve gone through a couple boxes of Benadryl to decrease the inflammation. I’ve also been using it as a light sleep aid because I’ll lie awake all night in fear if I don’t. I’ve also sunk a TimeWarner bill’s worth of cash into hydrocortisone, which I use as a moisturizer when I get out of the shower. At the rate they are fading, I will not be going to any pool parties this summer. There was nothing in that Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff song about kickin’ it with a girl who had oblong hot dog-colored marks all over her body, correct?
Then there are the clothes. I did over twenty loads of laundry in a two-day period. I had to figure out what my belongings meant to me because everything I kept was a liability. By the way, that’s completely how the experts need to talk to the wackjobs on Hoarders. Instead of, “Do you really need this?”, they should say, “Do you love this so much that you would keep it even if skin-eating bugs who lay thousands of eggs every time they move lived in it?”
I straight-up tossed out a Marc Jacobs skirt I had never worn and then the next day I saw a homeless man dig it out of my dumpster along with several old pairs of shoes and a fish-print terrycloth jumper. He thought he was going to bite my personal style, but my personal style was going to bite him.
Everything I kept had to be packed away in 2-gallon Ziploc bags. That whole process, between the bags and the quarters, totaled another hundred bucks. My time is very valuable, and it cost a lot of that too.
The exterminator was a jovial Korean man who came down in between fumigations to visit me in the laundry room. I was reading Julie Klausner’s book and having a panic attack about my love life when he popped his head in the door. He asked me about my work and I told him I wrote “for the Internet” because I didn’t think he’d know what a blog was. Then he asked me if I was an actress, and I said that sometimes I am. He got really excited and said, “You! You are going to be a big star! Big star!” and he looked up at the ceiling of my laundry room and squinted, as if the light from me in the sky was so bright that it hurt his eyes. He even said “Ahhh!” softly, like he was half-heartedly screaming in pain from having his eyes burnt out by the flames of the bright star that is Molly McAleer.
The Universe has to be laughing at you when the man killing the flesh-eating bugs in your apartment tells you that you’re going to be a “big star” while you’re sitting in your dingy laundry room with every piece of fabric you own.
My landlord is Korean and speaks fluent Spanish and decent English, but as the prostitute who lives next door to me said, “That guy. He like, acts retarded or something when he has to answer questions.” The man who can speak three languages pretends not to know what you mean when you say “there are bugs in my mattress eating me when I sleep.” Three days after I told him that I suspected there were bed bugs, he brought me a can of roach killer. I showed him the bites on my side and he asked me if I had eaten any strange meat lately.
I fogged my apartment on my own with a bed bug killer from the hardware store, but then heard from several people that foggers only kill adult bed bugs and that the eggs that are the real problem. After reading up on that for thirty-two seconds, I threw away my mattress and told my landlord that I was calling in the exterminator for the next day. He said to let him know if I needed anything.
Because I Velveteen Rabbit-ed so relentlessly, there’s really nowhere for them to hide anymore. My blankets get put in the dryer every other day to kill anything that could be living in there. My rugs, shoes, purses and luggage need to be vacuumed daily. I pour rubbing alcohol on a sponge mop every other day and wipe my floors down because it’s one of the only things strong enough to kill bed bug eggs. This new lifestyle is exhausting considering I barely moved from my computer until three weeks ago. I’ve temporarily “let myself go.” Chronic paranoia is harder to live with than feeling ugly.
Sometimes I bone this dude and after I won the laundry marathon he insisted that he stop by to see me. Relax, I had my period. I’m not going to talk about bed bug sex. I’m not like that.
The apartment was bare except for Ziploc bags and the air mattress. We pretended it was normal until he eyed my bed and asked me why I hadn’t been staying with friends.
“Because this is my house!” I said.
He started laughing. “I love this,” he said. “You have proven yourself to be completely unstoppable this week.” Damn. Look at that. I was so busy freaking out about all the possible ways this was going to keep me from the things I love (boys and money and clothes!) that I didn’t stop to realize that I’d practically already solved my problem.
I wouldn’t recommend bed bugs to my worst enemy, but I might recommend them to my best friend. I feel brave as hell right now and you can’t buy that. I’m prepared for pretty much anything and since I only own seven things now, I can make a break whenever. That’s kind of a luxury. When the bed bug epidemic gets as bad in Los Angeles as it is in New York, you’ll be seeing me walking down the street in my suit made of alcohol swabs, wielding a rifle and screaming, “THOUGHT YOU KNEW!”