Originally posted September 7, 2010...
If there is a God, He or She knows when school is about to start. The weather changed literally overnight here from hot summer haze to autumnal studiousness. It’s like the weather changes to reflect the changes kids face when going from fabulous summer vacation to scary new school year. I liked school as a child, but worries about the unknown year ahead always got under my skin. But now I love this weather; I always feel smarter and stronger in the fall, plus I can wear baggy sweaters. All summer I try to hold my stomach in, or place grocery bags or Oriental dressing screens in front of my pizza gut like a pregnant actress on t.v. show; the hoodies of the fall put that in check. And I love watching the leaves change and feeling the slight chill in the air and avoiding all the discarded bedding on the sidewalk–wait, what?
It all happened in a day. I came home one afternoon to find a note on our apartment door about bedbugs in Toronto. There have been several reported outbreaks in the city and as a precautionary measure, every tenant was to wrap his or her bedding with a plastic cover; any bed found without this covering was to disposed of off-site. Is this typical? Could this just be concerned property management looking to nip a potential problem in the bud? Or, as my remarkably perceptive paranoia leads me to believe, could we already be infested?
Dream: Never, ever have bedbugs.
Goal: Achievable. I’ve lived like 27 years without several strangers in my bed. I’d like to made it an even 100.
Plan: Take all precautions, both necessary and outlandish.
So I bought the plastic cover. This was after I read the ominous note, I ran upstairs, dropped off the M&M cookies I bought from the store (shut up you guys), and ran back down and into the street. As I crossed the street and walked down a few paces (what are paces, anyway? I’ve always assumed a pace is the distance one covers when one is pacing, but am I just making that up?), I noticed garbage bags on the street, full of… ready? …blankets and pillows!! GAAAH!! Right? Shitcocks! That HAS to mean there are bedbugs at that apartment, right? Nobody just up and decides to throw out pillows! It’s not like pillows suddenly go bad. You don’t wake up one morning with your head resting on a pile of dust. Pillows are forever until they are contaminated! So I deftly sidestepped the garbage bags, resumed breathing normally, and headed a few blocks away to Pay Less For Everything.
Pay Less For Everything is the name of a store that could be alternately titled Useless Shit. It has like coat-hangers and thumbtacks and clocks with Obama’s face on it and stuff. I think they’d probably do better business if they just went balls out and called themselves The Useless Shit Store. And the commercial would be like, “Man, this sink-stopper works too well! All this dishwater is still in the sink! Where can I find a cheap Korean-made sink-stopper that just isn’t that effective?” “Try The Useless Shit Store!” “Wow! Poorly made gadgets! Toilet seat covers! Obama-clocks!” Anyway, they had the plastic covering I was looking for, which was tellingly eighty-nine cents or something. There was a little sign on the register saying all sales were final, but defective items could be returned for store credit. That’s super useful-having credit at The Useless Shit Store-because you never know when you’ll need blank Betamax tapes or an air freshener labelled “Fields of Bogota.”
So I get the cover home and as I spread it over my bed, it split open in two places. I wanted to cry. No bedbug would be deterred by this. “Come on men, let’s set up camp…ohhh wait now. Plastic sheeting. Hold, brothers! Oh never mind, several holes for ease of access. Onward!” So I got another, expensive and legit hypoallergenic no fooling mattress cover from an expensive and legitimate store (this is all the same day, mind you, within the hour of the ominous note and M&M cookies) and put that over the plastic covering, but under the two fitted sheets I had just laundered with too much detergent.
Another method I’ve found effective is living in constant, sleep-deprieved fear. Every night I perform the tiresome but necessary ritual of pulling the covers back and staring intently at where I’m about to sleep. Fun fact, if Jon is already asleep when I do this, it invariably wakes him up. He rolls over to see me staring intently at nothing and gets a little freaked out. Then I run my hands briskly over the bedding several times, because that both brings bedbugs to the surface of my bedding and kills them instantly. Brisk hands are their napalm. Then I cautiously, fearfully crawl into bed and spend the night scratching psychosomatic itches and getting up to do a good stare every two hours.
Finally, I imagine the worst case scenario constantly. Since childhood I’ve found that conceiving a devastating, finely detailed worst case scenario prevents it from actually happening. I was never once abducted and sold into child slavery. No wild animals ever escaped the zoo, broke into our house and ate my parents. I never soiled myself at a Christmas and/or band concert. So I’m really hoping I don’t roll over one day to find a bedbug colony forming civilization in my sheets, with a little town hall and a Starbucks.
It’s the invasion of it all that gets to me. The fact that they’re bedbugs. They’re not called kitchen crawlers or foyer hasslers, they’re bedbugs. Call me old-fashioned, but I really like to know who’s in my bed before I get into it. And if they ever were to infest our building, our apartment, our bed, I would just feel so filthy. Like one of those people who wears too much cologne in lieu of taking a shower, or eats over the tub so they don’t have to wash dishes. I know rationally that an infestation like this is the result of proximity, not conditions. Too many old buildings, too many people to fill the streets with deet. Bedbugs were rumoured to have even hit one of the theaters for TIFF, the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival. The venue was apparently thoroughly inspected, with no infestation reported, but I can’t help but worry that this will keep Woody Allen from showing up to the premiere of his own movie on Sunday (I tried for two hours to get tickets online on a crashed server before being told it was sold out, so I have to spend my Sunday in the rush line hoping to catch a glimpse of at least Soon Yi and score a ticket). It makes me think of that scene in Annie Hall where Woody flies to Los Angeles because he’s being honoured on television and he gets a sudden attack of severe flu-like symptoms that mysterious disappear when Diane Keaton tells him somebody will fill in for him and he doesn’t have to show up. I bet this report of alleged bedbugs has him in such a state that not even Scarlett Johansson can light a fire under his ass.
Historically, I spend the first few days of September fraught with worry. Summer ends, school looms, and I can’t sleep. I wondered if I would fit in with the other kids this year. If I would be able to keep my grades up and successfully avoid doing anything in gym. If I could face what would surely be another challenging year and come out smarter, stronger and better than before. The worries are different this Labour Day weekend, but the anxiety level is the same. But I guess I just have to stay diligent, optimistic and hope to God that nothing gets under my skin.