United we stand, divided we scratch

Often, one of the first things to go by the wayside in times of stress or crisis is empathy. And last week, after I wrote the column entitled “Dirty Old Men,” I confess I had a twinge of conscience. After all, the “dirty old man” in question is, when all is said and done, a senior and a fellow human being, living on his own, in circumstances that by any standards would be considered abominable.

But if one puts aside for just a moment (admittedly with great difficulty) the question of how he could have come to live in such dire straits (no family? No mate? No friends? No money??), one realizes that the issue of how this guy lives is a total red herring as far as the larger bedbug issue is concerned.

Once again Toronto Star columnist Joe Fiorito said it better than I ever could (see his column from June 7, 2010), but essentially the question of where the bedbugs came from, when, with whom and how, doesn’t matter. Bedbugs are, for all intents and purposes, part of the landscape now where multi-unit dwellings (and, increasingly, hospitals, daycares, schools, university dorms and hotels) are concerned. As such their control and eradication should be considered part of the cost of doing business for landlords and management corporations, just like roach control, grass cutting and the provision of water and electricity. Period.

Yes, there are terrible, stupid, irresponsible tenants. Fiorito has met them. So have I – ask me about Pot-Smoking Door-Slamming Trampolining-in-a-Bikini Girl, or the skinheads with the smelly garbage and the endlessly barking dog.

I put the "tramp" in "trampoline"!

And there are awful landlords as well – again, horror stories abound (in my case, the huge angry Portuguese dude who let himself into my apartment at 11 one night while I was in university and threatened to beat me to a gel, just because).

But again, the bottom line is that bickering about which came first, the tenant or the bugs, helps no one and only gives the insects time and leisure to multiply. And multiply they do: while we dither & bicker & point fingers, they travel with lightning speed and stealth from apartment to apartment, building to building, mating and laying eggs and just having a jolly time of it.

At present, the only way to get rid of them is to spray and dust the bejesus out of the building – the whole building, not just the one or two units that currently have evidence of bugs – and to seal up their little buggy superhighways (baseboards, cracks in walls, etc) so the vermin have no way to travel and nowhere to hide. That’s where management comes in, and like it or not, this is definitely a case of short-term pain (financial & organizational) versus serious, disruptive, acrimonious long-term pain.

Tenants, for their part, regardless of means or mental health or physical issues, have to understand that they must comply to the letter with the (admittedly ghastly & exhausting) preparations that enable exterminators to do their work and, alas, in some cases dispose of “super-infested” belongings that simply cannot be salvaged, ever.

Free bedbugs!

And for what it’s worth, tenants also need to educate themselves about how bedbugs spread, and refrain from dumpster diving and bringing home “free” furniture & mattresses from curbsides and garbage lockups. I’m thinking that as the bedbug issue becomes more prevalent, tenants will have to be living in another galaxy altogether in order to ignore these issues, actually.

(And unfortunately, as the bugs spread, many will wish they WERE living in another galaxy. I hear the Large Magellanic Cloud is nice at this time of year.)

Meanwhile, who knows – some brilliant chemist somewhere may, at this very moment, be hard at work putting the finishing touches on a wondrous cocktail that will send bedbugs to the bosom of Abraham, en masse, in one fell swoop. One can only hope.

But until that miracle happens (at which point I, for one, will be on my knees offering tearful Hallelujiahs), landlords and tenants need to figure out, and fast, how to work together and stop these ferocious, evil little marauders in their tracks.

And maybe buy stocks in the cortisone market.

And I sayeth unto the bugs, Begone! And it was so!

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