I don’t like economists, those overvalued oracles who sully the name of fortune-telling. The Boston Red Sox hate the Yankees, yet I heard a commentator say they all like Jeter; likewise, I might occasionally find a reason to quote an economist, such as Joseph E. Stiglitz, writing in The Nation: “September 11, 2001, taught us that with globalization not only do good things travel more easily across borders; bad things do too.”
Hiding among those bad things are bedbugs, the jet set of insect society.
We’ve all heard the stories of the old married couple dying at the same instant, or the twin who suffers an unaccountable pain at the very moment his double, on another continent, is shot. I present the case of a fairly normal couple in their twenties, separated by Central Standard Time, who each found a bedbug on the same night, Halloween Eve.
Your humble correspondent is not a talker, particularly on telephones. He is seized with an involuntary shudder every time a phone rings. Dorothy Parker apparently had a similar reaction to doorbells; according to Marion Meade’s introduction to the new Portable Dorothy Parker, “the sound of a doorbell used to make her exclaim, ‘What fresh hell is this?’” That’s not what I said, but it’s essentially what I thought when M. phoned for the second time that evening.
She had found, she said, a baby bedbug in her pants.
She hadn’t seen any other bedbugs, nor any sign of them, and didn’t have any bites. We decided it was a stray, picked up at work, that there was nothing to get worked up about, although she should redouble her vigilance at work. She went online and ordered some spray that’s supposed to repel them.
It was around 11:30 p.m. in New York, and I thought I would eat some cereal. I got up from my uncomfortable chair. I looked down. A movement on the floor caught my eye. Oh, I thought, a little spider, but then I ushered it closer, thinking it would be too fantastic a coincidence…
I coaxed it onto a butter knife that lay on a dirty plate and, fighting off the urge to vomit, held it close to my face: it was brown, it looked like a bedbug, except it had exceptionally long antennae. (It was not a baby.) Then it fell off the knife, and I stomped it, eliminating the possibility of further examination.
I suffer from a condition known as bedbug affective disorder, which descended on me like a bell jar and didn’t lift for about three days. The desire to drop out of society and move to the woods is in me, and encounters with bedbugs trigger it. I wanted to give up, chuck everything, but who can afford to move to the woods these days? Instead, I halfheartedly searched the room for the creature’s associates and found none. I got some cereal.
It occurred to me, mid-meal, that there was a logical explanation. It wasn’t a freak coincidence, and it wasn’t divine punishment, and then I remembered what I’d done all day—waited for a delivery.
There were two packages that arrived that day from Denver, one containing a pair of boots and a scarf, the other an assortment of magazines and books, and also, perhaps, a bedbug. This realization exacerbated my BAD: if the bedbug had come by delivery, that meant M. had a bigger problem than she thought.
I was tired, but I found excuses not to sleep. I verged on slumber, then I’d feel something—which turned out to be nothing—crawling up my leg. And then I’d feel, what might have been worse, uncertainty. Was it a bedbug? Or was it just some ugly doppelgänger?
Those monstrous antennae were too long, I told myself, for a bedbug. But then, nature adores a freak: my feet are too big for my body, and I’m still a human.
Were there more, hiding, waiting to swarm me when I fell asleep?
Why does she always find them in her pants?
And if the apartment was now infested, would I be blamed and kicked out? I couldn’t afford a new place.
I see apparitions every day, crawling on my ceiling or on top of my duvet, or scaling my leg. I’ve seen a few houseflies and a dead roly-poly, but no actual bedbugs or their look-alikes since that night. I’ve had no bites and seen no signs of bedbugs (like blood-spatters on the bed sheet from rolling over on them while they’re full).
M. spent a lot of time looking at photographs of parasites on the Internet, and she’s now convinced that the bug she found wasn’t a bedbug but a louse, which, inexplicably, doesn’t bother her as much.