Dirty old men

They’re baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack.

Yes indeed, folks, as I write this, the men in the biohazard suits are back in the hallowed halls of Casa Smiter, roaming ominously from room to room and spraying a toxic cocktail of insecticide into my beloved domicile.

I say, Clive, can you spare some neurotoxins?

Once again, my clothing & linens have been packed & sealed into thick plastic bags. Paintings & mirrors have been removed from the walls, electrical sockets & switchplates have been taken off, and all my furniture has once more been piled in the centre of each room.

My dear little cat, Sophie, has been stuffed into her crate and shipped off for another day at the spa (actually just the vet’s kennel facility, but they treat her like Oprah while she’s there, or so she tells me!) and I am sitting bleary-eyed and a bit shell-shocked at my desk, wondering when the joy will end.

Why is this, you ask? Well, for those of you who missed the last few posts, the building where I live has been suffering under the Scourge of Bedbugs for a couple of months now, and this (above) is what happens when vermin comes to stay.

Just a little bit of "prep" for Spray Day. Uh huh.

(For my friend Karen, who was not notified in time that the Men in White were dropping by today, the day takes on an extra frisson of joy: she could not find a kennel to take her pets in time, so today she and the “kids” are sitting on the front lawn instead. Although from what I hear, it’s turning into a bit of a yard party, as other residents in similar situations stumble out with their dogs & cats in tow. There may be beer. I confess I am almost envious.)

Technically, I do not actually have bedbugs any more. About five weeks ago, after our building management finally disclosed to us (reluctantly) that there were pests afoot, I did a bit of research and then hightailed it for the hardware store where I bought about a dozen tubes of caulking and got straight to work, sealing all my baseboards and any opening where the insects might get in.  That and last month’s napalming of the entire building pretty much did the trick as far as Unwanted Life Forms in my place were concerned. My apartment is so airtight now that if I breathe too deeply, the windows shatter.

Unfortunately, however, the source of the problem was (and, alas, still is) the unit directly above mine, which is inhabited by a very, very old man for whom we used to feel somewhat sorry, but now (after six weeks of unrelenting Bedbug Misery) we refer to simply as “The Dirty Old Fart in 320.” He is so utterly, miserably super-infested that he has a team of workers devoted specially to him, and yesterday these brave young men could be seen and heard removing anything that wasn’t nailed down from his unit and hauling it to the dumpster. They even took the wallpaper. It’s that bad.

The enemy, in all his glory.

And because I am directly below him, every time he gets sprayed, I must needs be sprayed too, as must everyone adjacent to him. Otherwise the bedbugs simply run ahead of the toxic tsunami and hide out in other units till the storm passes.

Now, for those of you who think Dr Smiter is being overdramatic here, or who say, “Well, it’s just a few little bugs; why all the fuss?” let me give you a brief primer of what bedbug infestation actually entails, in addition to the mayhem & disruption I mentioned above.

First, the bites. Bedbugs are blood feeders, and they nest nearest to where they can get access to a nice, warm, inert body: your bed, your closet, your footwear, your coats and sweaters and couch and cushions and pillows and blankets. Like mosquitoes, you will not feel them bite (you’re asleep, and they are small and stealthy) but when you wake up you will be covered in dime-sized bright red welts that itch and prickle. They are hideous. Trust me – I had nearly 50 of them, from my forehead down to my ankles, and was wearing a turtleneck and long pants during a heat wave only because I do not know where to buy a burka in Toronto.

Don't let the bedbugs bite. Really, don't.

Then there are the things you must throw out. I’m lucky and did not have to throw out my bed or dresser – I was a few steps ahead of the bugs and got to keep my furniture. Others are not so lucky. Drive down any street that has a lot of apartment buildings and watch for mattresses, couches and dressers on the curb. Dollars to doughnuts, that building has bedbugs.

I did, however, have to throw out my bedroom rug and two pairs of really expensive leather sandals – craftily, the bugs decided that the best way to get around was to build a nest in the space between the sole and the strap of each shoe. One day I looked down at my be-sandaled foot & went, “is that a blob of glue?” before screaming and kicking my sandals into oblivion at a speed that should get me a spot on the NFL roster next season….

OMG, get it off me! Get it off!!!!!

There are also the incidental costs, like boarding my cat for the day, buying cortisone cream and eye drops (living in a cloud of insecticide does a hell of a job on a person’s corneas, it turns out), buying plastic bags & bins & vacuum bags (which must be discarded after every use lest the bugs nest in the machine), and the hours of work lost because of having to drop pets off at the kennel or pick them up again before closing time or (as I did yesterday) stay home and pack up an entire apartment on short notice.

Not to mention the fact that family & friends (justifiably) don’t want to visit, and don’t want you visiting them in case you bring in a whole bunch of little unwanted guests. Or the hours of work entailed in laundering every item in your house, packing, unpacking, re-packing and cleaning, sealing and caulking and constantly living in fear of seeing something small and dark scuttling across your floor, or your duvet, or your pajama leg.

To date I have spent nearly $1100.00 on these bloody bugs and their aftermath. I have been living out of sealed plastic bags since April, and I am hoping against hope that this Uber-Napalming that they’re conducting today is an end to it once and for all.

I have approached the management company about being reimbursed for this (insurance does not cover any of it, unsurprisingly, as they only cover burglaries of items starting with P during neap tides and full moons). Corporations being what they are, however, I am resignedly awaiting the inevitable, Douche-speak-laden “Sorry but no” that I will doubtless receive as a reply.

(In which case I will tell you the name of the management company in full, after I mail each manager a used vacuum bag and possibly a piece of the Dirty Old Fart’s couch, direct from the dumpster.)

Oh how nice! A present for me!

As I wrap up this entry, my friend Karen tells me from her perch on the lawn that the pest control guys just came out of the Dirty Old Fart’s apartment (a.k.a. “Ground Zero”), their last stop of the day, and they look like they’re going to throw up – not what you want in a hard-core bug killing team, and probably not a good omen in terms of there being an end to this issue anytime soon. Looks like I will have to keep the kennel and the hardware store on speed-dial for the time being.

But at least this means they’re finished for the day, and in a few hours I can go home and begin to re-reassemble my apartment once more before I pick up the cat, shower, scarf down a few calories and then dash off to the theatre for a 6:45 crew call. (Really, the fun just never ends when there are bedbugs involved.) Karen has generously offered to help me with all of this, meaning I may actually make it to the theatre with a few minutes to spare and possibly a majority of my brain cells still firing. Good fences may make good neighbours, as they say, but hey, throw in a few bedbugs and you’ve got a buddy for life.

Meanwhile, if you need me, I’ll be in my car, wrapped in a Glad bag, having a nap and dreaming of simpler, bug-free times.

Smiter out.

Additional grossouts … I mean, resources:

Toronto Public Health’s bedbug site

The Bug Clinic – loads of information on the bugs’ habits, and what’s involved in getting rid of them

Bedbugs: they’re everywhere. Really

New York City


Toronto MPP wants anti-bedbug legislation

Bedbug Registry: report bedbugs, or find out if your hotel stay could turn nasty

Toronto Star columnist Joe Fiorito follows the bedbug problem in Toronto


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