On The Nature of Fear as It Relates to the Bedbug Menace

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I don’t reckon I ever consciously had that One Great Fear, but I know for certain that, whatever it was, its status has of late been usurped by bedbugs, the existence of which fills me with dread beyond dread.

I should clarify: It’s not solely the existence of bedbugs as such that bothers me, but rather the prospect of said creatures borrowing and hiding in the cracks and crevices and crawl-spaces around my bed. The vision of these small, seed-sized beasts engorged with my blood as they crawl methodically up the hairy expanses of my thighs is worse than any pre-pubescent vision of a sub-mattress monster. The imaginary danger of something beneath you has shifted to the very real danger of something that encompasses your entire sleeping being. They are literal invaders that operate by dusk. They slice through your skin to soak up your blood. They infiltrate every modicum of space – the bindings of books, the spaces underneath light switches, the battery compartments of remote controls, the rims of picture frames, behind headboards, along the edges of carpeting. Any ignored recess is a potential home. This makes your entire domestic existence home to a unique form of pest whose tenacity is only surpassed by their desire to feast on your body. They possess the impulses of vampires and the stealth of ninjas, but with the negative psychological influence of the modern terrorist.

And this makes them the most horrifying fucking things in the world.

And that last part is important, because, similar to a terrorist attack, your chances of experiencing a bedbug infestation are relatively slim. Thus where the reality of a bed bug appearance fails to appear, your mind steps in, filling in blanks and creating its own entirely new subjective reality. Any errant dark specks that appear on your sheets, from afar, suddenly learn movement and bloodlust. That vague tickle of motion on your leg is now that of a moving living creature. You begin, in a very clear way, to start doing the work of the bedbug for it – you create the fear of a threat that is psychologically omnipresent but physically absent.

Not that the bedbug has any clear incentive to make you afraid in the first place. Unlike Osama Bin Laden, Osama Bin Bedbug has no cognitional ability or reason to make you afraid of it. It just wants your blood. In fact, being afraid makes you a harder target for a bedbug to get to for the very reason that transit providers encourage you to be constantly alert for suspicious packages: By learning of the existence of a threat, you can, in theory, more effectively combat against it. Fear makes you a moving target.

Which is why, in a somewhat circuitous way, fear is your best defense against something you can’t see. That, of course, doesn’tmean that it is now encouraged that you walk around in perpetual fear. That would be silly. Instead, what works is acknowledging, comprehending, and actively trying to avoid becoming something’s next meal.

These are my Rules for Bedbug Prevention: 1) When in the mindset where finding and possibly taking home curbside furniture seems like a good idea, think twice. Maybe three times. 2) All alien upholstered seating – movie theater seats, waiting room sofas – must be throughly inspected before use, regardless of stars. 3) No guests if it can be helped, but when insurmountably obliged to host friends all suitcases must exist perpetually in the bathtub. Bedbugs can’t climb ceramic. 4) When one bedbug is discovered, assume there are dozens (!) more crawling and living in every space imaginable.

My rules don’t extend beyond prevention for the simple reason that I don’t envision myself mentally surviving a bedbug infestation. As such, violating the aforementioned rules is tantamount to indirect movement towards my own self-inflicted death. This is the sad truth of my capacity to sustain emotional damage. Bedbugs, be forewarned.

images courtesy of wonderferret and liz.novack

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  1. Heather
    September 5, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Hate to say it, but if you live in San Francisco or New York, your chances of getting bedbugs are pretty good. The infestation is at its highest level since Victorian times. You can even go online and find maps of your city showing all reported cases of bedbugs, and it’s scary which neighborhoods are completely covered. In the past four years I think I have had at least 15 friends/coworkers (none of them dirty or habitual street furniture collectors) have this issue.

  2. Transister Sistor
    September 5, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    When I had to live at hotels for awhile between apartments about 6+ years ago in SF, I had my bedbug experience at a North Beach Hotel. It was truly sick. I didn’t even see them, or maybe they weren’t there yet, when I went to bed. I know, cause I looked at the sheets. But when I woke up in the morning, there were 4 blood red apple seeds moving around on the covers, and I had welts all over my arms and neck. Like Bad ones that hurt, then itched days later! It was awful, and this was before the epidemic widely publicized, so I was like “WTF”?!