[ Stentorian Reader, here is a piece that took me much longer to compose than planned, and which has threatened to shove me into further isolation of my already difficult life when it comes to having friends. I don't think I'll post it online until I finally move to a new residence. 'Cause right now I can't afford to be evicted for lack of cooperation or any other reason. Nor will Larkin ever see this, since I'm sure he'd use this tale as a perfect excuse to never hug me again. Though his being telepathic I doubt I could ever keep this from his perceptive brainpan. But by the same token, his remarkable powers can prevent my dilemma from invading his realm altogether...or rid it in a flash if it came to that. Though I suspect he's the culprit who beset me with this challenge in the first place, that I may somehow overcome. Enjoy, if such wish seems appropriate. ]
Bedbugs. The unspoken blight of San Francisco and many other cities since the ban on DDT in 1972 (thank you Rachel Carson). My first battle with the Lilliputian vampires was in May 2006. Jonah down the hallway had just returned from vacation in Turkey. Now, he is not an attractive fellow by anyone’s definition: fat and homely. (Or as I like to say: “Jonah is the whale!”) So I presume his two-week Istanbul getaway was with the same goal in mind as many other sub-par queers who frequent that corner of the globe: gay sex industry. Most of the cheaper hotels are notorious havens for bedbugs. And tourists are only beginning to learn how to prevent infestation into their own homes and communities upon return from these exotic escapades. See:
How to Avoid Bedbugs when you Travel
Now, Jonah had a remarkably funny and sweet little papillon named “Skelli” (short for Skellington the Third) who’d scratch upon my door most every evening, to pay me a joyful visit. He always knew when I was under the weather and would show up to spark that smoldering ember of happiness still lingering in my bosom.
Well about three weeks after Jonah’s return, when Skelli visited me one night I noticed a particularly large bug running through his fur. And of course at first I thought it was a flea: a very juicy fat flea. Tried to catch it between my nails, but no cigar. Next day I stepped out into the hallway to notice Jonah feverishly vacuum the carpet area by the front door. Along with the pungent odor of tea tree oil. (It has been said on various bedbug web sites that such a volatile oil wards them away. Later experimentation on my part has shown this claim to be false.)
Still, I gave this no thought until a few days later: Skelli doesn’t have fleas, that was a bedbug! Upon this realization I immediately posted Jason an email (after several shots of Vodka that had me properly soused), which read:
Don’t even think for a moment you’re gonna pin this bedbug issue on me! You brought them back from Turkey. I will not blow the whistle on you to the manager, so long as you do not turn me into the scapegoat. But if you do, I will make your life so miserable you’ll wish you were never born, and move outta here post-haste.
Seems that Jonah respected my conditional threat, as he never brought the matter up, or made me the target of our manager’s wrath. He didn’t even acknowledge receipt of my email! Certainly a good sign that I achieved my desired impact.
In spite of applying my own tea tree oil and eucalyptus leaves all over the floor of my SRO, the bedbugs proliferated. They first showed up nesting in a black beanbag chair I found discarded in the basement. And I suffered many sleepless nights with their sucking my blood, creating super-itchy welts over my body, especially in the crotch and on my thighs. I silently lived out this 24/7 hell for almost two months…until our lesbian neighbor reported bedbugs to the manager, and was screaming bloody Hades about it to any resident who’d listen.
By that time I had replaced the beanbag settee with a twin-sized mattress given to me by Darcy who lived at the west end of my floor. It was immaculately clean with no sign of bugs anywhere. Took up a large chunk of my domicile’s real estate, but it was euphoric to sleep in a real bed after so many years on makeshift pallets. Minus the frame and box spring of course; so it was still technically floor-bound bedding.
But within two weeks of this slumberous windfall, it too had become infested with those hemipterous night crawlers. In order to keep the population down to a low roar, every eve I’d apply masking tape to all the creases, piping, etc., wherever I spotted them embedded on this mattress. I also used the tape on the walls or molding whenever I spotted a bug (or two or three or four or five or six…sometimes with the aid of my folding aluminum ladder), and applied food grade diatomaceous earth I purchased via Amazon.com along the room’s perimeter. It seemed to be working, gradually, as each night I trapped fewer. And each night my inner thighs became a bit less like two massive fields of pimples numbering in the hundreds that seared like poison oak, and more like a less dense field of the same torment.
Why didn’t I take responsibility to report this infestation to the manager, early on? Because I am a low-income renter at 2306 Market Street for many years, and realized that my living situation is precarious enough for the manager to use false witnesses in order to evict me. I would therefore be a fool to allow myself to be scapegoated and thus dumped onto the streets. So I waited until the bugs spread into another unit, that the onus would be directed elsewhere.
However, there’s a lot more to this story before the wee devils were eliminated. Let’s back up to a Saturday night, two days before the exterminator arrived. My lesbian neighbor (whose sole claim to fame was as an iridologist…a hokey career if I ever heard one, even more so than chiropractic) stood outside my door, arguing with the manager, Steven. Her name by the way, I’ve long since forgotten; so let’s call her “Iris.” She lived with her girlfriend (whom I shall name Corrine) who seemed to be the real bread winner of their household. A paralegal, I think.
Turns out she was trying to convince Steven to bring the exterminator over tomorrow, to check my SRO as well as her apartment and the unit on the other side from mine. Upon hearing that, these are the thoughts that raced through my cerebrum as I stood among them in my mini-hallway:
I must dispose of that mattress tonight, in the very wee hours when everyone’s asleep! Or the jig will be up and I’ll have to bear the wrath of both manager and neighbors alike…maybe even get evicted.
Then the following evasive maneuver came to my panicked brain, which I spoke aloud: “I’m working on an article for a magazine, and the deadline is tomorrow, midnight. Can it possibly wait till Monday? I really can’t afford any disturbance just this moment.”
Steven quickly replied while gazing upon Iris with a short fuse: “Look, no one will come out tomorrow on such brief notice, especially a Sunday. I’ll try to have someone out this Monday or Tuesday.”
Reason why he was getting angered with Iris, is that she acted far more frantic than need be. Her hyper behavior over the next two days finally struck me:
Why, she’s pushin’ for a lawsuit and wants to exaggerate her demise in that direction!
She tried to excite me into hostility against the manager, in order to create an ally for her scheme, but no cigar…I’d have none of it. Sometimes she’d suddenly pop into the hallway and holler to me or Jonah (when we were there, playing with his doggie):
“I found a bedbug in the wastebasket!” And she’d march to the hall’s end to gasp fresh air from the open window.
But after a bit of humoring, I found out she didn’t bother to trap it with sticky tape…since it’s a requirement to capture at least one bug to justify an exterminator. She just tossed the contents into the garbage chute out back…certainly a no-no when it comes to Cimex lectularius. I suddenly burst out in a short giggle further down the hallway, while Jonah stood near Iris by his apartment door. And her face turned florid as she addressed me:
“Do you think this is funny?”
I quickly covered my tracks: “No, of course not. But sometimes nervous laughter is a way of dealing with stress. Sorry if you thought otherwise.”
Iris then strode back to her own unit (a large studio with sliding doors to separate bedroom from kitchen and living area), and leered at me in passing…her bobbed brunette hair swaying a bit in arrogance. She smelled of baby powder and Old Spice.
So here I was stranded in a sea of bedbugs infesting my new mattress that I knew I had to get rid of that very night. Of course I decided to wait until 3-4 AM before accomplishing my secret disposal. But would some surprise resident pop out into the hallway at that late hour, at the very moment I’d be dragging the mattress down the corridor, to the back porch, then descending the narrow wooden stairs to the basement and, finally, up the concrete side alley and through the locked gate? Certainly, I prayed that kismet would be my ally.
Once the clock struck midnight I geared into emergency mode and spent the next half hour removing the latest invasion of bedbugs from the mattress with masking tape. Then sat at my computer watching the most recent two episodes of Criminal Minds. But kismet decided to throw a monkey wrench into the works: precisely at 1:30 AM my phone rang.
It was Marmaduke Quark, my current pot dealer who decided to pop over and get me smoked out…for free! While we got stoned out of our ever-lovin’ craniums and chatted on as the night passed into near dawn, I worried about him casually half-reclining on the mattress and shipping bedbugs off to his own SRO there in the Mission. (I also worried about getting that friggin’ bed outta there without being caught!)
“Look,” I finally announced around 4:15 AM, “I have an assignment from Larkin, my detective buddy, to observe suspicious activity on the streets. If I don’t get out there now, I’ll fail in my duties!”
Marmaduke was already acquainted with my accounts as a detective’s assistant, and how I perform various missions to facilitate Larkin’s case. Don’t think he believed me one whit, but what the hey…an excuse by any other name would still smell just as phony. I needed him out pronto. He was often an intrusive pest (so much so I eventually cut him outta my life, despite the gratis access to quality ganja once a week or so), and he couldn’t have picked a worst night to drop by.
To my relief he departed shortly, and I could finally get that mattress transported to the street…hopefully without anyone spotting my nefarious disposal. Checked the hallway first: all clear on the western front. Then raised the mattress on its side and, while gripping the uppermost corner between bent right arm and torso, began sliding it down the carpeted hall and through the back porch door that resisted my passage every inch of the way, due to a spring-powered hinge screwed atop. Took more than a minute to slide the bulky mattress through and onto the porch. No one was about; so far so good.
Then I maneuvered my burden down the rickety back stairs (with one loose step that could’ve killed me), which turned a sharp left angle halfway down before reaching the basement and its concrete landing. Then I dragged it quietly as I could, with a right turn up four steps and through the side alley that led to a locked, iron gate. At this point, I realized that one or two residents could possibly witness my scurrilous act through a window that opened onto this side passage. Neither light was on, thank Azazel.
Turning the gate’s exit lever with my left hand while keeping the mattress pinioned at my side, I maneuvered my way beyond the gate and onto the 16th Street sidewalk. At this point, I risked being spotted by anyone on the street (whether motorist or pedestrian), or residing nearby. Worst case scenario would be a cop or sanitation truck driving by. But all was dead as the planet Pluto while I lugged my mattress uphill a few doors beyond the gate, and dumped it by the curb of a hapless household. With a tremendous sigh of relief, I returned to my domicile and hit the sack. Which for the remainder of that night, was nothing more than the cold, hard floor cushioned with a couple of jackets and rolled towel for a pillow.
I had done a pretty good job of eradicating any evidence of bedbugs on the walls, in my clothing, or anywhere else external. When the exterminator arrived, all he found was evidence that they were in the walls…and he proceeded with appropriate fumigation. But it left me traumatized, in total fear of having anyone visit me thereafter. And is why I stated previously, that I suffered an event which caused me further isolation from my already-quite-lonely existence.
It was seven months of social solitude before I recommenced having anyone visit me off the streets or elsewhere. Each time I had a guest overnight, anxiety haunted me like a bitch. I even grew afraid to hug my street buddies. Larkin, too. What would he think of me, if my passion spread bedbugs into his already difficult life? What was I supposed to do…condemn myself to a friendless existence out of fear of the manager’s (and residents’) wrath? For I had no one for company except those righteous renegades I pick up off the streets. I haven’t known one single person with a roof over their head for the past 22 years, that would invite me over to their place. In other words: these bedbugs were a new element that threatened to exacerbate my solitary life into prolonged, even permanent, desolation.
Yet almost three years later, I was besieged once more by bedbugs. This time they’d infested my two, thin futons that lay one atop another for times I usually sleep alone. Again, I used masking tape to clear them off the bedding, and removed any I found on the walls or elsewhere. (They weren’t many, I might add.) But finally, my neighbor on the west side complained to the manager about their presence. It was a small infestation I had discovered: a nest of about 35 or so right beside the floorboard in the southwest corner of my room. Surely, I concluded, this is a minor invasion that can readily be removed. By this time I had acquired several anti-bedbug products, and applied them accordingly. With success.
Yet the exterminator declared to Steven (our manager) that my SRO was majorly infested with the nasty insects, and he had to treat the entire area, all four sides. I found this hard to believe, considering I did not find them anywhere else, not even in my clothing, desk drawers, cabinets, and so on. Had another week or two passed without a manager report, I’m sure I’d have totally killed the remaining pests. Nonetheless, Steven was quite hot-headed (not his usual demeanor), and advised:
“Zeke, I saw you bring someone over yesterday afternoon with a large backpack!”
Of course, the implication was that backpacks are bedbug carriers, and I am to blame. But I responded in a soft rage:
“Steve, that is unlikely. He is not homeless, he’s just touring the country. He’s an architect from New York, and only dropped by for a few hours. John’s a very fastidious person.”
I consider Steven’s accusation yet the latest stigma for caring about my homeless brothers. But a few months further down the line, he admitted that other bedbugs have sprung up on the third and fourth floors that clearly had nothing to do with me. So I told him:
“I haven’t had anyone over since that last infestation. Look, I ride public transit and go to the main library…and they are known sources for spreading bedbugs. What am I supposed to do, quarantine myself?”
He nodded in sympathy. Though I’ll admit right now, I lied about having visitors since the last attack. But I suspect there may remain (or remained) a surviving nest of bedbugs hidden in that wall, since the previous fumigation. They can exist for almost 1-1/2 years without feeding, and are growing ever more resistant to what limited arsenal we presently have to eradicate them. I also wonder if our exterminator, Ricardo, may have exaggerated my second infestation in order to boost his income. Can’t blame him if he did: these are hard times for the working stiff.
Plus, I don’t think Ricardo is too bright. Last time he treated my room, he attached sticky strips to my walls that are supposed to catch bedbugs, thus give some idea of their present population. But a month after their placement, not a single bedbug was caught. I even checked out the web site of the company that sold these strips…only to discover their bedbug page is not accessible (or “404″ in web parlance). Perhaps because they don’t work at all, and they’re trying to cover their tracks, avoid lawsuits.
When Ricardo discovered the failed results, he exclaimed: “I paid big bucks for those strips!”
My response: “Don’t you think if they actually worked, the company would be fabulously rich by now, since they’d be the very first to stumble upon an effective bedbug trap?”
Another indication of Ricardo’s tardy wit is when I told him that I visited the company’s site to discover their bedbug page was no longer online, and he replied: “Maybe your computer isn’t compatible with the Internet.”
I later informed the manager about Ricardo’s “shortcomings,” but added: “Not that he isn’t the best exterminator we can get under the circumstances. But bedbug infestations are a big profit for the pesticide business. If cities mandated a minimum 125 degrees for all laundry services, 80 per cent of the problem would be licked. Unfortunately, since the last drought in California, laundromats lowered their ‘hot’ level to below 120.”
In my discourse I was referring to my own homework on the subject of bedbugs here in these United States. Pesticide companies feed on the panic of those infested, and cause much hardship and loss of residency by low-income renters and homeowners, who have no recourse but expensive treatment…which often wipes them out, economically. There are ways to effectively eradicate the bugs without professional treatment. But paid exterminators don’t want us to discover this little secret.
[ Please note: it was during this second invasion of "beelzebugs" that I suffered two additional horrors. (1) Larkin had begun abusive behavior towards me, starting with that shove. And (2) a really bad case of shingles erupted across my legs, waist and torso, that almost required hospitalization. Thus began my year of 2013, a year riddled with so many wretched events I was glad when it came to an end. No one prays to the God of Misery! ]
Since then, I’ve had one more treatment simply because the manager wanted to take precaution before new tenants moved into the apartment beside my own room. I said: “Sure. Any time you want, I’m all for the preventive approach.”
Ricardo claimed to find two bedbugs way up in the molding just below the ceiling. He pointed them out with a pen light, but they looked to me like flecks of old debris. Nonetheless before I departed so he could begin partial fumigation, I declared: “Get those buggers!”
Since that time (five months and growing), I’ve encountered an occasional bedbug here and there…about one or two per month. But no sign of any further infestation. There is something about bedbugs that exterminators are not telling us. (For example: during the first infestation, Darcy down the hallway informed me that she and a visiting daughter woke up one morning with voraciously itchy bug bites. Yet there was no sign of bedbugs, her king-size mattress was totally clean, and Ricardo found no sign of them anywhere in her apartment. No more nasty welts ensued.)
They prefer to keep us in the dark, for monetary gain. And also since that time, I’ve resumed visitors on a frequent basis, enjoying their beloved company, no longer allowing these pests to spread panic and loneliness in my hardscrabble world. Nor has Marmaduke or anyone else who’s visited me, reported later that they now have bedbugs.