Bedbugs

It's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry… you will someday.

That's a quote from American Beauty that has been really resonating with me lately. But unlike Lester Burnham, it's not all the beauty in this world that makes my heart want to give out. It's the stupidity. And I find it very easy to get mad.

Let me back up a bit - a few nights ago I was upstairs yammering on my computer. Marissa was at work, and the hours were starting to roll over into the single digits. I thought it best I turn in for the night.

Then I noticed a bug on the wall. It was rust colored and about the size of one of those round slips of paper that fall out of a hole puncher. It moved slowly and deliberately on the wall in plain site. Living in Wisconsin for two months, we were already acquainted with the exotic bugs here on the lakeside.

I reached for a post-it note and pressed it over the creature's body. Its carapace popped, sending a streak of crimson blood down the wall. Boy scouts out there will back me up, but when you find an insect filled with human blood, you google it.

blood beetle

Search. Loading…

Did you mean Bed Bugs?

Oh God, I hope I didn't. I clicked the Images tab and felt my mouth gape in horror. Hundreds of thumbnails of similar looking bugs. Rust colored, flat, and filled with blood.

bedbug1.jpg

Figure 1: Sidenote: next time you search for an insect on Google Images, take note of how many hits include a colony of said insect living inside somebody's brain.

Our apartment had bed bugs. When my wife got home from work, we spend the next few hours sifting through our bed sheets and thumbing the cracks in our walls. The bodies began to stack up. We found about four that night.

Catching a bedbug is very easy. The ones you can actually see are almost proud to be caught. Finding a bed bug on your wall feels sort of like walking in front of someone while there picture is being taken. I could imagine their little brown mouths hissing um… excuse me? You can't really count on crushing a bed bug to death. You should probably keep it intact anyway so it can be identified by a professional. The way to do it is by just taking a piece of scotch tape and folding it over its body. Then it just kind of lives the rest of its life pressed in that tape. They can go for months without eating, so the one's we caught are probably still alive.

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The next day, I turned to the loving arms of the Internet for information. If you've never researched bed bugs, I'd recommend it. They are fascinating.

Get this - most people don't react to the bites at all. They don't carry any diseases of any kind. Occasionally the local anesthetic they administer to a host causes mild allergic reactions. They are attracted to carbon dioxide, which is why they tend to gather in bedrooms.

Most 'meals' occur in rows. This is because the bedbug starts feeding furthest from his home, then times the bites with your night time stirring.

Clutter facilitates their survival, but good hygiene doesn't provide any advantage. Most people pick them up from hotels. They are very difficult to treat. Chemicals simply cause them to scatter. A professional treatment involves sniffing dogs and three separate days of intense sterile heat and chemical application.

We sent off an email to our building manager and waited. In the meantime, we mentioned the incident to a neighbor of ours. She mentioned that our neighbors several doors down were displaced from their apartment for the same reason. Marissa and I were relieved. It was the first time we didn't feel like this was all our fault. We could finally stop mentally tracing our steps. We were simply the victim of a larger problem in the building.

That night I was taking Ollie outside when I noticed two healthy adult bed bugs sprawled out proudly in the hallway of our building. I guess my eyes were fine tuned to spot them after three straight nights of scouring my own apartment. The inspector was coming to our apartment tomorrow, so I figured he would be interested in knowing that I found bugs in the hallway. I bagged them and added them to the pile. With the purest of intentions, my wife penned some neighborly advice with a sharpie.

Warning! We found bed bugs in the hallway. Please check your beds and let [manager's name] know if you find any!

She even drew a little bed bug on it as a kind of stationary. I added to it by taping one of the subdued specimens to the note for further visual aid.

To our surprise, the note was removed immediately. My wife texted our manager to see if she knew anything about it.

Marissa: Hey [manager]! Did you take down the bed bugs sign by the mailbox?

Manager: Yes we are not sure what the bugs are yet and we need to have someone come inspect before you get everyone all worried. Please do not put up another note.

Fair enough - I guess it's not 100% confirmed that these blood filled bugs we are finding around our bed are actually bed bugs . After all, maybe our building has a massive south american bat infestation and these bugs are the rare and exotic bat ticks that look deceptively similar.

Marissa took the opportunity to ask about our neighbors.

Marissa: OK that makes sense but isn't [neighbor's number] moved out because of them? I feel like you need to let everyone know if that is the case.

Manager: No [neighbor's number] is on vacation. When we find out if there is a problem the issue will be addressed and those tenants affected will be notified.

Cryptic, right? We were puzzled. Despite finding bugs in the hallway, our building manager was very precise in wording - those tenants affected. Wouldn't it be reasonable to send out a flier warning people? Maybe some helpful tips on securing and checking their unit? I've lived in enough dorms and apartments at this point in my life to know what the protocol is.

But fine - our landlord doesn't like to call something that gallops a horse. They were apparently still waiting for a professional to rule out zebra.

The inspector found several more bugs in our room and confirmed their identity. At that point, my wife and I had no interest in where they were. You can only stand guard for so long before you physically need to switch off that part of your brain. We had both developed something the bedbug survivor community refers to as Bed Bug PTSD. The shooting fear that sits you up in bed and compels you to run a flashlight over your legs one last time. The horrible visions of those brown little bugs swarming your neck and arms the second you close your eyes. It's terrible living like this.

But they were indeed bed bugs. The inspector was particularly interested in the bugs I found in the hallway.

That's it - case closed, right? Send in the dogs. Tell everyone to bag their clothes and hide their babies. Despite being forbidden from visually informing neighbor's, everyone already knew. Our building had bed bugs. We should be allowed to tell people now, right?

I returned from work to find a note taped to my door.

Tenants,

Tomorrow is our annual pest inspection. Please have your apartments ready to be inspected.

Your Building Manager

Annual pest inspection? These people are kidding right? They have yet to distribute the term 'bed bug' in an official communication. At this point, the reluctance to acknowledge an actual problem in the building is starting to creep me out. Our manager's tip-toeing was starting to anger me, but another resident beat me to the punch. That night, another note was slipped underneath our door.

NOTICE FROM A CONCERNED TENANT:

This is not an "annual" inspection. There have been two confirmed cases of bed bugs on the 2nd floor within the past few weeks. The property manager would not allow a sign to be posted on the bulletin board, so I am slipping this under your door. If the bugs have spread to your apartment, this is due to negligence on the property manager's part in not informing you earlier so that you could take the necessary precautions.

As I finished the note, I felt as if I was about to witness a car accident. Every word of it is true - and the note didn't even mention the bugs I found in the hallway.

The next morning we awoke to the sound of pounding on the door. My clock read 6:45 AM. The distinct sound of a fist throwing against the door shook the house. It was the kind of knocking that would come from a swat team about to fill the building with gas. Both my wife and I, recovering from a horrible head cold, were reluctant to answer. By the time I trudged downstairs, the knocking had subsided and a single white sheet of paper lay on the ground.

You guys should really get your facts straight before you go writing nasty notes and slipping them under everyone's door. I only do what I am told around here and that is it! The management company knows everything that goes on in this building and I just do what I am told.

To put a letter under everyone's door that personally attacks a person is not very Christian like, especially when your note is a lie.

Here is the office # XXX.XXX.XXXX so you can call them with any issues, oh wait you already have! Maybe you should try again!

I was dazed. Was I dreaming? Had I been killed by bed bugs last night and was just experiencing a bizarre last-moments hallucination? How could an adult actually write something like this?

First of all, we did not write the NOTICE FROM A CONCERNED TENANT. I won't deny that I fist pumped when I saw it and envied the kahones of the author, but sadly I cannot take credit for it.

Secondly, did this need to be given to us at 6:45 in the morning?

Thinking I had, at the very least, a decent noise complaint on my hands. I reached out to the corporate office Wisconsin Lakefront Property Management located in California of all places. Nice.

The claims our manager made in the ridiculous letter were true. Both Marissa and I had reached out by phone and email at least once a day for a week. And that was before the Wisconsin Lakefront Properties one-man gestapo tried to breach my door that morning.

My phone rang around lunch time. I answered it in my car. The conversation was too exhausting to recount, but the woman from the corporate offices was one of those people that things they are incapable of losing an argument - even if they don't try.

We quibbled at length about the their responsibility to disclose pest infestation. I'm no lawyer - I don't even watch Law and Order. The point of my argument was wouldn't it be helpful to warn people? Why are you guys trying so hard to keep it a secret from people? The point of her's was that the infestation was only in two units . This woman thought it was entirely reasonable that the pests infested our neighbor's place, then sent a few bugs twelve doors down the hallway to our place - ignoring all the other units. There - only two units are infested.

It was one of those arguments that I thought I would win by just getting the other person to say their viewpoint out loud. How wrong was I!

But what about the bugs I found in the hallway? Oh those? Those… were not in the report she received from the inspector. She assured me she would double check, but in the meantime, since there were no other infestations, there is no need to alert other people.

But… but… wouldn't they need to be told about the problem before they bothered checking their own unit? Whatever - you can't argue with this kind of talk. It was clear that they were not interested in alerting people about the bed bugs. They are undoubtedly just trying to keep the whole thing under wraps so they will not have to pay to treat the whole building. It's ridiculously evil, but I can get over it.

The woman was ready to hang up when I squeezed out one more question. I'm going to do my best to paraphrase what happened without somehow making her look more obtuse than she actually was.

Me: "Did you read my complaint's about [manager's] letter?"

Her: "Which one was that again?"

Me: "The one she left us at 6:45 this morning. She was pounding on our door. Do you condone that kind of thing?"

Her: "Well… I would have to know the details of it all"

Me: "So given the right context, you think that's ok?"

Her: "Don't put words in my mouth."

Me: "Is it really that hard to say it was inappropriate of her to do that? Has anyone ever pounded on your door early in the morning?"

Her: "I don't have to answer that."

Me: "You know she tried to use our faith to coerce us into feeling guilty. Is that ok to do?"

Her: "What do you mean?"

Me: "She accused us of passing out notes and said it wasn't very christian of us."

Her: "Well isn't that true? I've heard the same about christians."

Me: "Look, this was harassment and we don't want it to happen again."

Her: "Well, you should be understanding of what [manager] is feeling right now."

After a few more leaky arguments, stubborn rejections, and plain buffoonery, the woman hung up on me. Jerry Seinfeld is right - hanging up one someone with a smartphone is not nearly as satisfying as it used to be with a real phone.

Meanwhile, my wife got an equally warm reply from our apartment manager.

Marissa: We did not put the notes under everyone's door. There are many frustrated tenants like us.

Manager: This is my personal cell phone #. If you need to reach me for an orchid knoll matter you need to call the office @ XXX.XXX.XXXX and your call will be returned within 24 hours during normal business hours which are monday-friday 8-4. Have a good day and no more replies will be given from this # for any reason.

My wife spoke to our neighbors - who were ground zero for the infestation. Apparently they had bought a mattress that managed to scoop up a few bed bug pilgrims in a moving truck. By the time they discovered them, there was a full blown nest living in their bed. They told us they would be fined $600 for every unit affected . I pray that whichever judge has to tie this all up is struck with the inherent stupidity of proving who is to blame for onboarding barely macroscopic insects.

So here we are - sharing our home with likely hundreds of tiny rust coloured roommates that get drunk on our blood every night, as well as a building manager that feels like she can pound on our door in the middle of the night. The only thing our manager has communicated was a brief forward of our scheduled bed bug treatments allowing with a harrowing $150 fine if our apartment is not "prepared properly."

I'm going to be honest with you, dear reader. I'm not built for this kind of thing. I haven't been this stressed since I tried watching The Wire . I go to sleep with psychosomatic tingling all over my body and I wake up with a knot in my stomach that wretches tighter every time I pass our building manager's apartment. Murmurs of lawsuits and fabricated fines fill the hallways these days. I wasn't built for drama.

Which is why I can promise you I don't mean to just air my dirty laundry out on my blog for the sake of dirty laundry. You can only take the slings and arrows of a greedy property conglomerate and a landlord with a twisted interpretation of their responsibilities for so long before you need to just say everything at once. I think I just needed to drop my entire argument in one place, satirize it, then walk away.

After all of this, my best conclusion is that Wisconsin Lakefront Properties LLC is run by bed bugs. Maybe it was run by humans at one point, but bed bugs moved in, killed them, and just decided to front prime bedbug real estate as human living developments. Maybe our landlord is a humanoid robot being controlled by millions of bed bugs. Maybe they will eventually control all of us.

If any of that is the case, I really can't blame them. We all are just doing what we can to survive. Ironically, the bed bugs themselves come out being the most considerate players in this drama. They don't carry diseases, only feed when we are sleeping, and are kind enough to numb the pain before they take a modest amount of blood. When you look at it like that, they don't seem like parasites. They are more like symbiotes .

I'm pretty much done fighting. If our landlord manages to stick us with some stupid fine or my rent mysteriously goes up for no reason, I am sure that I don't have the energy to fight these people. I'm ready to just relax and stop trying to hold on to being right. I'm ready to stop feeling wronged and start feeling grateful again. Do you know what I'm talking about? I hope you do someday.

And now for the obligatory cliche. Goodnight, readers. Don't let the bedbugs bite.