08/02/2010 09:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bedbugs Are Coming to Get You

I have lived through the breakdown of law and order, the crack epidemic, suburban flight, financial meltdowns (several), blackouts, riots, gentrification, and real estate booms and busts (several), all of which have seemed to threaten New York's way of life. But perhaps not as much as bedbugs.

It may be the nature of the alliteration, or the cuteness of the nursery rhyme, that makes it hard to discuss bedbugs as a profound urban crisis. It is perhaps the nature of New York: Sure, bedbugs are a growing bother, and there's a certain schadenfreude that they've made it into a Victoria's Secret store, but, along with cockroaches and compared to rats... what's a bedbug?

The New York Times did a piece the other day about bedbugs, a kind of good feeling civics lesson in how well-intentioned people deal with the lesser maladies of city life. This on-the-job administration has earmarked a half-million dollars to educate people (apparently it will build a website) about what the Times affectionately calls "blood-sucking critters."

This is earnest government, but far from any understanding of the existential and apocalyptic nature of the beast: You can't live with them; you can't get rid of them. That may only be revealed when they come into your family.

My daughters, sharing an apartment 18 months ago on the Upper West Side, got bedbugs, at 229 West 101st, Apt 7E -- in a building owned by Heller Realty. If you live there, you have bedbugs, as did the tenants before my daughters, and surely the tenants since. (No disclosure, of course, on the part of the landlord.) My daughters are suing, as are previous tenants (and, I would bet, successor tenants) -- but suing a landlord seldom gets you satisfaction. (The gentlemen from Heller Reality, even among landlords, are a particularly low, scheming and brutish bunch.)

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