I spent this past weekend out of town with friends and in addition to performing a dramatic reading of the crazypants religious material left on our car at Wegman's — the gentleman, whose photo clearly indicated that it had been taken in 1986 and whose bio read, in total, "Tony Alamo is probably the greatest patriot the world has ever known," put forth the idea that Satan-via-the-Vatican-controlled politicians are trying to make humanity extinct, which is why they so shamelessly flaunt God's will that girls marry at puberty — which, um, is considerably less funny since I googled him after typing that second em dash and learned that he quite literally practiced what he preached,* I also had reason to start a sentence with "when I had bedbugs..."
I don't know if I've ever publicly said that I had bedbugs, now that I think about it. I did. It was three years and four apartments ago and I'm not exaggerating even a little bit when I say that it was one of the lowest points in a life containing at least the standard amount of loss and heartbreak and that one time I knocked a car window out with my head. (If you don't know much about the bedbug explosion that currently has New York in its thrall, this is a short piece that will bring you up to speed.)
My experience with them was pretty typical, I think, with two exceptions:
1) I was super-sensitive to the bites. Some people don't have much more than mosquito bites, but on me, they were the size of nickels, dark enough that they looked more like blood blisters than bug bites and both hot and hard to the touch, like I had m+ms under my skin. And crazy itchy.
2) I had them for an entire year because I kept getting my apartment treated, but there were people in the building who refused,** so they kept coming back. I cried a lot that year.
Since I didn't know the friends I was with this weekend back then, I got to explain that while having bedbugs was a terrible awful genuinely bad bad bad experience, it did lead to the events that have become one of my favorite New York stories.
Salient point the first: Bedbug treatment involves exterminators coming to your home every three weeks, turning all of your furniture upside down and spraying everything with poison. It's very traumatic, but, luckily, exterminators — and I met a lot of 'em — are almost universally kind people who will tell you all kinds of disgusting stories about horrible infestations if you're the kind of person who finds that fascinating and/or comforting and then, when they notice that you're a woman living alone, will turn your heavy furniture right side up again even though they don't have to.
Salient point the second: During that year, I interviewed for a job at Penthouse.
So. A couple of months into My Year of Demoralization and Despair, I was getting my apartment sprayed for bedbugs. Again. At this point, the process was familiar: the guy or guys would show up, I'd ask them about their most disgusting exterminating experiences while they sprayed, then we'd all leave together and I'd go to the movies to avoid being poisoned to death. That morning, it was a team of two African-American men, one probably in his fifties, the other in his mid-twenties. They were extremely polite, almost deferential in a way that tends to make me very uncomfortable. The older man went into my bedroom, while the younger guy got started on the living room. He didn't seem inclined to chat, so I was awkwardly sort of straightening things on the other side of the room when he started laughing. I look over, he's holding up the two issues of Penthouse that I had bought to prepare for my interview, then stuck in the drawer of my coffee table and forgot about.
So, I'm like, oh, yeah, I had a job interview there. He gives me kind of a strange look, so I realize he thinks I meant as a naked lady, which is pretty clearly not what I'm all about, so I'm laughing at that. Then the older man comes out to find out what we're laughing about, sees the magazines and is all, "Eh, they used to be good but there's nothing good in there anymore." I tell them what I learned at the interview (the letters are all real! really!) and the older man is teasing the younger guy about being so green that he's still satisfied with the relatively vanilla pornstuffs and somewhere in there, something shifts. Proof: a few minutes after that, the older guy asked if he could use my bathroom because he'd had a huge sandwich earlier and was feeling pretty uncomfortable. I don't want to say that we transcended all kinds of societal barriers and responded to each other's essential humanity thanks to the magic of porn, but he did go from calling me ma'am to telling me about his poop in five minutes flat.
Epilogue: I didn't actually want to edit Penthouse, but couldn't resist applying when I saw the listing. I was not offered the job.
*Whoa: I just googled him right now to see if he had an active ministry and it turns out (not surprisingly, really) that he's a convicted sex offender. The wikipedia entry outlines a very dramatic life story involving a religious compound in Arkansas, polygamy, prison, sequined denim jackets and the spectacularly named Birgetta Oyllenhammer. It also includes a photo of one of his pamphlets on the windshield of a car, exactly what happened to us.
**I know, I know. Shock and dismay. This part of the story always trips people up. I just think that there were people in that building who didn't feel like they were in a position to make waves. I was locked into a lease and the management company did what they were required to do, so I didn't have a legal way out. Once the lease was up, I got out of Dodge. But moving is really expensive and generally requires a kind of scrutiny to which not everyone is in a position to expose themselves. Or they could have just been lazy assholes who didn't want to have to do the work. And it's a lot of work. Curious? Enjoy this write-up (continued here) on how to prepare for/carry on during bedbug treatment and keep in mind that that's how I lived for a year.