Moby Bedbug

Jul 29, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

Call me anal. A few weeks ago, never mind how long precisely -- I was worrying a bit about cash on hand and had nothing much else going on in my daily life, so I prepared to go on vacation. When I get like this, I like to go sailing.

Alas, the final move prior to hopping into the car was to strip and flip the mattress, and lo and behold, there were five bedbugs on one corner. Being quick of mind but quicker of hand, I taped four of them (that is, stuck them on Scotch tape, not shot them on video tape), but one, one darned and antagonistic bedbug scooted away. It took my vacation spirit with it.

I shouted out to my wife, "Damn, DAMN, I'll chase that critter around the bed, around the bookcase, around the whole cursed bedroom and to hell before I give him up. Are you with me?" She looked sincere and brave in her agreement, though like me, she had one mental foot in the car and on the road.

That cursed little bug ruined me for the sailing life. And my budget: All my spare gold was now reserved for the killers-for-hire who I sought out in every corner of the metropolitan area, and who, I found, want pure gold in payment for their harpooning. While some offered an off-putting, "no problem, $350" and zero explanation of what they would do other than spray and pray, others offered the moral equivalent of psychotherapy mixed with the physical equivalent of Swiss watchmaking while pricing the care of a few rooms at, are you ready? -- $1800. Forget that one.

Of course, there is the $5,000 thermal treatment where they park a giant propane heater on the curb and pipe in heat until your entire building's innards are roasted at 140 degrees (including, I presume, all the little bits of crayons and candles that are strewn about our place and thus turned into a rainbow of puddles).

The hell of it is that the bulk of work for bedbug extermination falls to the resident. You've got to wash or dry clean everything that might have a bug or an egg on it, bag or box it, and move those things plus your furniture away from the walls so the exterminator can spray and hunt for bedbugs. Mayor Bloomberg's Bed Bug Advisory Board has spelled a lot of this out for us in their report issued (finally) July 28.

The pros do a better job of getting these guys than you can. Amateurs often spray and fog and bang around so that the bugs scatter and hide; the pros come in guns blazing and get them all, supposedly (it takes two or three visits).

So now I'm back and using everything in my amateur and the pro's arsenal: "dry" steam; hot washes, extra long dryer time; everything bagged or boxed; diatomaceous earth, and really, really good cleaning in our bedroom. (It pains me to see people throw out good furniture --this is often not only unnecessary, but it can spread bedbugs around a building or a city). My sense is that few pesticides work really well, and that all this physical stuff is what counts.

Meanwhile, I'm still chasing that one bug that escaped. I'll follow it to the ends of the earth, I will! It may not have a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw or three holes in its starboard fluke, like Ahab's great white whale, but I swear I nicked a leg off. I just wish there was some gold nailed to my doorway that I could win when I finally get the bug. On the other hand, I guess a good night's sleep will do. And I do have both my legs.