Sprayings four and five have come and gone and we are still plagued by bugs. They haunt our furniture like guerillas, waiting for nightfall before conducting feeding raids that leave me squirming and sleep deprived. Our apartment, like our government, is plagued by insurgents.
My bedroom/office has nothing but a wooden chest (doused in Cykick and Gentrol); a wooden armoire (liberally speckled with diatomaceous earth); my desk (all cracks and openings covered in duct tape); and my box spring and mattress (both sealed with $80 mattress covers from Bed, Bath, and Beyond). My body has started reacting to their bites, so every morning I wake up speckled with red marks left by these paper-thin carnivores.
As an American citizen, my first reaction is to sue someone. Sadly, New York law is tricky on the subject of bedbugs. The relevant case, Ludlow Properties v. Peter Young, in 2003 gave a tenant a forty-five percent retroactive rent abatement because his landlord failed to eliminate his bedbugs despite multiple efforts. The decision hinged on the landlord's failure to spray throughout the apartment building, which is exactly what our landlord has failed to do. While it's great that the tenant won, a forty-five percent rent abatement for the months of bedbugs certainly doesn't cover legal fees not to mention the expenses associated with treatment.
Moreover, the only reason I want to go to court is because I am pissed off. That's cheaper to solve with a different classic American tactic: calling names. My landlord, I am willing to say it, is a real jerk.
The term Pariah comes from the ancient Tamil paRai, meaning drum - specifically a drum used to preempt announcements. The players of the paRai were of a low social order and the term pariah eventually became the descriptor for the lowest caste - the untouchables - in parts of Sri Lanka. In English, it's generally used to describe outcasts and social freaks.
Thanksgiving is when we welcome in, however reluctantly, the pariahs in our families. We accept uncle Bob who has a nose hair issue; aunt Delores who is always talking about her neighborhood being ruined by 'those people'; and the highly tattooed cousin Herbie along with whoever his current girlfriend is. So I banged my metaphorical paRai and announced to my aunt and uncle that I would be coming up to their farm in rural Massachusetts.
At the door, I shuffled, hemmed, and hawed before finally explaining to my nervous aunt that I couldn't guarantee that I wasn't bringing bedbugs, but that I had taken every precaution I could think of to prevent them from tagging along. It was an unpleasant moment. I felt like a recently released pederast announcing to the neighborhood that he will be living nearby.
My family probably felt equally awkward. They were kind enough to avoid mentioning them, but the bugs became an issue that was highlighted by its absence in discussion. It was like having a one-armed man at the table who everyone laughs and jokes with until some fool asks him if he plays baseball and then there is a long and pained silence.
There comes a time in most insurgencies when you should cut your losses and leave. Maybe the enemy was more persistent than you imagined; maybe he was better at hiding; or maybe the weapons you used against him were inadequate. In any case, no one has ever accused the United States of pulling out of a conflict too early. And while I am all for America, I don't wish to repeat her mistakes.
I have returned from the farm and the squalor that confronts me confirms that the bedbugs are winning in our apartment. Yes, we have inflicted casualties. Yes, we have damaged their infrastructure. But at the end of the day, there are more of them than there are of us and we cannot win their hearts and minds. Moreover, there is great suspicion within the building that our downstairs neighbors are harboring bedbugs. Despite several requests, they have refused sprayings in their apartment. The bugs, we suspect, hide downstairs until the toxins in our place wear off and then return in greater strength. We can only assume they have training camps. We are keeping diplomatic channels open, but are not optimistic about pacifying either our apartment or the one below us.
We are calling in one more spraying, but the backbone has fallen out of our effort and we do not expect success. Our departure won't involve an embassy swamped with desperate refugees, but it will involve the horrid logistics of moving, made all the more awful by the necessity of inspecting and poisoning or freezing every item before it is packed away. It's a depressing thought, but honestly not all that much more work than washing, drying and sealing away all your clothing and papers and other possessions. Now come the slow logistics of apartment hunting, broker's fees, and long Saturdays devoted to subway rides and open houses. We are optimistic though. In the neon-lit consumerism of the new American Christmas, minor commercial miracles happen all the time. Uncle Bob might get some nose trimmers from the Airmall catalog; Delores might tip a busboy; and cousin Herbie may finally give in to those Debeers commercials and propose to that on-again off-again cocktail waitress he has been seeing for years. And maybe, just maybe, we will find our own minor Christmas miracle: a small apartment that's reasonably priced, relatively clean, and blessedly uninfested.