If you haven't been living in a cave with your Ace of Base CDs and your Tamogatchis and your Seinfeld references, you'd know that the hottest trend sweeping the nation these days is bed bug infestations. These tiny little blood-suckers which lurk in mattresses and bedding have been spotted in massive numbers in recent years, and if you aren't waking up every morning covered in swollen little bite marks, then frankly, you aren't shit.
It turns out that the popularity of bed bug infestations has only been matched by the popularity of bed bug remedies, because while waking up with tiny little bites is very trendy, it is also possibly the single most distressing non-Ke$ha-related-thing ever. To find out more about bed bugs, I conducted a bit of research on my own, and have below outlined everything you need to know about how to first get a bed bug infestation, and then get rid of it. I've done this because it's considered poor form to just end a column immediately after the introduction.
Getting bed bugs turned out to be surprisingly easy. I simply went on to Craigslist and replied to every ad listing a free mattress available. I spent the next few sweaty days driving around town, picking them up and assembling the lot in my apartment. In this endeavor, I was assisted by my girlfriend, who decided to leave for several months to "clear her head." After practicing some stunts and "karate flips" on my new mattresses, I began my research in earnest, and the next morning I woke up to discover I had a couple dozen tiny little bites all over my skin. Success!
As predicted, the success of the first part of my experiment proved Pyrrhic, and I immediately longed to rid myself of my trendy little companions. Getting rid of them proved quite difficult as you'll see, and turned out to involve exploring more than a few tiers of insanity. For the sake of any forensic psychologists who will have to later piece together my mental state, I've broken out my efforts chronologically below.
Technique #1: Hippie Remedies
I decided to start off gently, looking for non-toxic, 100-mile, fair trade ways to rid myself of my infestation. A few sites on the Internet recommended rubbing alcohol, and a couple others recommended baking soda, so I decided to mix them together in a big bowl and see what happened. There were two results from this. The first was that I didn't die, and the second was that I made a kind of whitish paste.
Worried that I wasn't being thorough enough, and dimly recalling that tomato juice and club soda were also useful for some unremembered home remedies (constipation? Moon repellent? Tiger lubricant?), I added large quantities of those to the mix, and liberally applied the whole batch to my new-to-me mattress fort. That night I went to sleep, eager to see if my techniques had worked.
Results: 10 fresh bites
Technique #2: Can of Raid
Deciding to up the ante a bit after my first failed attempt, and having adopted a new "fuck you, bed bugs" mentality, I went out and got a can of Raid, a consumer-grade pesticide. Returning to my apartment and ignoring the instructions, I doused every part of my increasingly horrible mattress nest with the poison. "Juuu try to fauk with me you leetle cock-a-roaches," I said, lying in bed, misremembering some Scarface dialog. "Then let me introduce you to my friend the little... uh. My leeeetle friend. That's it." I coughed myself to sleep.
Results: 6 fresh bites
Technique #3: Eight Cans of Raid
"In a way, I'm glad," I said to the mirror, as I examined my fresh wounds. "Otherwise this would have been a dull article." My muscles rippled in agreement. This time around I purchased eight cans of Raid, extra strength, and applied them to everything in my apartment, including my clothes, the carpet, my collection of penis molds and then all of the above again. The next morning I did actually wake without any fresh bites, which would constitute a success, but for the fact that I had slept out on the deck, terrified of killing myself by spending any time in the Vestibule of Poisoned Hell that my apartment had become. But after 16 hours of open windows and fresh air, I summoned up the courage to spend the night in what I thought was my own bed. (I had moved all the mattresses around a bit by that point, and given the amount of poison I had ingested, the mattress-identifying part of my memory was a little patchy.)
Results: 10 fresh bites
Technique #4: The Professionals
At my wits' end, I finally decided to bring in the experts. A local exterminating company, Bed-Bug-Begone, arrived within a few hours, and using some specially trained and very expensive dogs, begin sniffing out the source of the bed bug infestation.
"Did something die in here?" the exterminator sniffed, my homemade remedies having not aged well in the previous days.
"No," I said, only half-bothering to come up with a lie. "I've been tanning leather. Anyways, you said this was guaranteed to work?"
"Oh lord no. It may take up to three or four return visits to finally get them all," the exterminator said. "And even then, there's no guarantee."
"Well, so long as it's covered by my insurance."
"It's not." The exterminator eyed my apartment, which with the quantity of soiled mattresses was now looking more like a back alley Vietnamese brothel than not. "Actually, before we begin, how were you going to pay the $300 application fee?"
I thought to myself, considering the words of my editor, Jack "I-Categorically-Do-Not-Approve-That-Expense" O'Brien. "Do you accept sexual favors?"
Results: 0 fresh bites, 1 fresh black eye
Technique #5: Strip Everything Out of the Apartment
My research had taught me that bed bugs like to hide during the day, concealing themselves in various cavities, crevices and crannies around the apartment. Adopting a scorched earth policy, I took every one of my many mattresses, my sheets and comforters, my carpets and all of my non-vinyl clothing, and threw it in a pile in the alley. After that, I vacuumed every square inch of the bare concrete surfaces that remained, hissing curse words at the floors and walls as I did so, the day's activities having kicked up a lot of toxic dust and residual pesticide, now lodged in my brain. That night I curled up in the bathtub, knife clenched in my teeth, flashing gang signs at the ceiling until I fell asleep.
Results: 6 fresh bites
Technique #6: Move
At this point I simply just gave up. There was nothing I could do to beat these monsters. My only option was to retreat. Packing my few remaining belongings, I went back to my parents' house.
"Why are you wearing fetish clothes on our doorstep?" my father asked, fairly.
"You remember how you told me that if I was ever in trouble, to just call you, and you'd come pick me up?" I said. "Because I'm in trouble."
"That was your mother's policy, and I never agreed with it."
Later, after dad relented, and I had retired to my old bedroom, recently converted into dad's "yellin'" room, I finally relaxed. I was free. My long nightmare was over. For the first time in days, I slept through the night.
Results: 3 fresh bites
Technique #7: Bitter Crying Jags
It turns out that bed bugs can conceal themselves in clothes and luggage, and the series of decorative scarves I had brought with me to my parents house had evidently contained a handful of them. Within three days everyone in the house had been bitten. My father, enraged, kicked me out of the home, and after pulling some favors with a friend he had in the press, the next day I found my face was plastered all over the local media as a prominent disease vector.
No longer welcome at my parents, on public transit, or in any Bed Bath & Beyond, I was forced to retreat to my barren apartment, where after a short, unhappy meal of whatever I found in the cupboards (memory was very patchy by this point), I executed my last remaining plan: bitter, full-body, slight loss of bodily-functions sobbing.
Results: 11 fresh bites
Technique #8: Deep Undercover
When I awoke the next day, the answer appeared to me, having been born, fully formed, in the crucible of my fevered sleep. By learning the techniques of the bed bugs, I could adapt them for my own use. I would become the enemy, then destroy them from within. I dashed out on the town to pick up some supplies, then returned to my apartment, where I donned my disguise:
I had a little trouble finding a bed bug costume at the thrift store, so adapted this child's ladybug costume instead. It was a little snug.
Realizing that bed bugs feast on blood, and after a moment's thought, I determined that the nearest source of blood could be found in my neighbor Gary, often located in my neighbor Gary's apartment. Using the spare key he left with me to water plants when he was away, I let myself into his place, and quietly squirreled myself away in his laundry hamper. Following standard daytime bed bug methodology, I promptly fell asleep.
I awoke around midnight, undiscovered, and possessed with an insatiable hunger. Creeping out of the hamper, I observed my neighbor's sleeping form. Cautiously, I approached the bed, and leaning down, carefully took a bite out of his ankle.
"What the assy shit are you doing?" he yelled, sitting upright in bed. Not wearing his contacts, Gary couldn't recognize me, but was able to see enough to know that a grown man spilling out of a child's ladybug costume was chewing on his leg. This was evidently something he was angry about.
"I'm not too sure," I said, honestly. "I thought this would help me understand bed bugs better, but now I'm sad and I've got hair in my mouth. This isn't working out well at all."
This explanation did not satisfy Gary, who proceeded to beat the hell out of me with his fists. I managed to escape while he was calling the cops, and spent the next few days hiding out in my apartment, flitting in and out of consciousness.
Results: 0 fresh bites (suffered) + 1 fresh bite (inflicted) + 24 punches (suffered)
Technique #9: Symbiosis
"Chris... wake up Chris..." a voice that was many voices called out to me.
"What? Who is it?" I asked, rousing myself awake. Blinking the sleep from my eyes, I realized I was lying on the bare floor of my apartment, surrounded by bed bugs. "What's going on here?"
"You're going insane," the bed bugs replied.
"Oh good. Do you think it's from eating nothing but poisoned food for the last week?"
"Food is tasty," the bed bugs observed. "You don't taste like food any more. We need food. Food is tasty."
I nodded. "It is." Thinking for a second, an idea came to me. "Say, bed bugs. I've just had a thought. What if I were to get you a steady supply of food?"
"Food is tasty," the bed bugs replied.
"Indeed. Here's my plan: You guys climb aboard me, and I'll give you a ride into people's homes, and around bedding stores and such. All I ask in return is that when you're done feeding, you bring me back some Cheetos. I'm pretty sure you should be able to lift a Cheeto with a couple of you working together. That way you'll get all the food you'll need, and I'll have a never ending stream of Cheetos slowly marching towards my door. It's a classic win-win."
"Food is tasty," the bed bugs agreed, sealing the deal.
"THEN CLIMB ABOARD FRIENDS," I bellowed. "YOU SHALL SAIL THE SEAS OF GLORY, ABOARD ME, YOUR MAN-BUG SHIP OF HONOR!"
Results: 0 fresh bites + 17 Cheetos (and counting)