Just like all of you, my mother warned me about taking gifts from strangers. This was mainly to prevent me from eating a Tootsie Roll injected with rape venom at Halloween, but the lesson worked. When I was a kid I was kind of paranoid and afraid of everything. I didn’t even really enjoy the playground and I was never that kid who climbed trees or wanted my training wheels off – I was the kid who was sitting at the table coloring while the rest of the kids dug in the dirt.
Being slightly paranoid about odd things has been with me my whole life. It’s weird because I’m not afraid to get beaten up while I’m on stage or confront someone who is being rude. However, when my band is on tour and driving down the highway in the pouring rain, I’m in the back seat hyperventilating murmuring, “We’re going to die” repeatedly. My fears and paranoia don’t have a whole lot of logic to them, but sometimes they save me.
On Sunday morning I woke up with a vicious hangover and feeling really itchy. I got up and dragged myself to the bathroom mirror and noticed a cluster of red bites on my arm and my shoulder blade. “Bed bugs,” I immediately thought. “These must be bed bugs.”
The bed bug problem in Vancouver is an epidemic. Everyone in this city, whether they live on South Granville or the Downtown East Side is going to experience the hell of bed bugs. In Vancouver, they have been found in books at the library and on garments at thrift stores. The Vancouver Bed Bug Registry website shows viewers which buildings have bugs with little red dots on a map. In the summer of 2010, the Bed Bug Registry had 20,000 reports of bed bugs making Vancouver eighth most-infected city in the world. Bed bugs not only ruin your furniture, but an infestation can cause major psychological problems.
I ran into the bedroom to show my boyfriend, Colin, the bites. He told me they were probably nothing and to forget it.
I got dressed and went to work. Through out the day, I obsessed over my bites. By the time 11 am rolled around I was in full-on panic mode. I had to get this solved. I called my landlord leaving a detailed voicemail. When he didn’t call me back in four minutes, I decided this was taking too long and that I had to figure this out on my own.
I called up my friend Sean. Sean plays in a bunch of bands, but he also used to work as a pest control guy for bed bugs. After a year on the job, he got severely depressed and quit, but he still had the know-how and the tools. I don’t know Sean that well, so my bursting, panicked phone call on Sunday morning shocked him.
Bed bug bad mon Sean
“Yeah, I can come take a look for sure,” he said in a groggy voice. “Tomorrow.”
By now my bites had turned into bleeding little nubs. I couldn’t stop scratching. I only had a few bites, but the thought of that was enough to turn me into one of those crack users on Intervention who is convinced they have bugs living under their skin. At least my fear was half-immersed in reality.
When Sean arrived the next night. He found a flashlight, went into my bedroom and he ripped the sheets off my bed to scope the mattress.
“You see,” he said, his face an inch from the fabric. I was suddenly hyper-aware of the old period stains on my bed. “These fuckers like to hide out near your head and in the creases. They are lazy. They want to be near you so they can feed.” Shivers.
Sean meticulously inspected the entire mattress like a grade school teacher looking for lice in a child’s hair. I stood at the edge of the bed, chewing my fingers and praying he wouldn’t find anything. He inspected the shitty, IKEA baseboards under my mattress; even the iron bed frame (even though bed bugs can not hide in wrought iron) and he found nothing.
“But look at my bites!” I insisted, almost in tears.
Sean winced at my arm. “Those look like bed bugs, man. Let me just check this book shelf near your bed.”
Sean pulled back the antique bookshelf beside my bed. It was my grandfather’s and was very, very special to me.
“Holy mother fucker!”, his flashlight pressed into a tiny crack in the back of the bookshelf. “I see one!”
My chest collapsed.
“It’s a full grown one too, that’s really weird,” he called me over to come and look. “You only got bites yesterday and this guy is full grown. That doesn’t make much sense. I mean, you would have had been bitten for months.” Sean sprayed the bed bug with his magic death potion and pulled him out with a knife for me to see. It was red, filled with blood and fucking repulsive. “I think I see another one back there too.” He sprayed again.
Sean instructed me to pull everything off the bookshelf, check it for bugs, double bag it and put it outside. I tried to remain cool and collected, making jokes, but inside I was losing my fucking mind. As I bagged, Sean checked other furniture in my room with mental-person vigilance and found nothing, so he returned to the bookshelf.
“I don’t understand how this happened,” I said. “I haven’t brought anything new into this house, I’m super clean to the point of obsession and I’ve had that shelf for years…”
Then, I remembered.
“Holy shit!” I screamed. “Those videos on top of my book shelf! Some old punk dude gave me those videos and I brought them home on Friday and just chucked them on my shelf!”
Sean grabbed the Pantera Live videos – why I took these, I’ll never know, seriously - and opened them up. FULL INFESTATION. He immediately put the videos in a sealed bag.
“Wow,” Sean exclaimed. He retraced the steps of the bugs like a detective. “You brought those videos here on Friday. Little dudes, hung out, climbed down to your stereo.” He inspected the stereo and found two skins that had shed. “Then, they nestled into the shelf and bit you on Saturday night. Good thing you called me, man. This could have been ugly. We got to ditch this shelf, stereo and check the baseboards.”
Sean and I lugged my grandfather’s shelf down to the alley. We dumped it by the trash. Sean took his knife and carved “BED BUGS” in giant block letters on the top of it. Sorry, Grandpa.
The fucking Pantera videotape! Why the FUCK did I take that stupid fucking tape? Pantera? Really? That shitty fucking band, Pantera, gave me bed bugs.
I had Sean inspect the rest of my bedroom and the living room, just in case. He found nothing, but I was still paranoid. I called my landlord and demanded our apartment be treated. He agreed to the expensive heat treatment method, but we would have to wait a week or so. My brain did a back flip. A fucking week? Hell no.
Sean tried to calm me down. He told me if I was really worried, I could get a steam cleaner and slowly run it along the baseboards, then leave bug killer powder along the edges. I should put any cloth items that were near the shelf in the dryer for 60 minutes and bag them. Heat is the only thing that kills bed bugs completely and although he was hopeful that we had found the bugs and the source almost immediately, he kept ending his sentences with, “you never know.”
I did not like that. “You never know”. This is why I hate nature. You never know with nature.
That night, I could barely sleep. After Sean left, my boyfriend came home and we worked at drying, bagging and making sure everything was secure. I panicked completely, throwing away things because I thought they might have been too close to the crack in the wood where the bugs were. I walked around with a flashlight checking for any trace of bugs. I cried, a lot. I felt like a totally different person. Any logic in my brain was being defeated by the thought of bugs. I started hypothesizing how the bugs were migrating. I made up insane scenarios and screamed them at my boyfriend as he attempted to calm me down. I was full-on losing my shit. My boyfriend threatened to take me to the hospital and leave me there if I didn’t stop it.
The next morning, I called in sick to work and devoted myself to bed bug duty. I did everything Sean said, drying and disinfecting my entire room. It took hours. I bought a bed bug mattress cover. I dried every single piece of clothing, sheet and wall hanging and bagged them. I labeled everything. I steam cleaned my antique chest and spent an hour checking every crack in the wood for bugs. Sean had found nothing in any of these items yesterday, but I wasn’t taking a chance. I slowly started to feel better.
Sean told me that if I had waited and hadn’t called him after a few bites, they would have spread, nested, moving all through out my house causing a full infestation. Then, I would have been fucked. Instead, I freaked and we found the source immediately – a rare feat in bedbug land because this is usually the toughest thing to find – and removed it and anything it was near.
As I write this, I’m still paranoid but I’m not that itchy. I’ve got no new bites, but that doesn’t mean that one little egg sack didn’t flop into my house and until I get the full heat treatment on Monday, I’ll be worried. I may be a total wussy neat freak, but I don’t care. My vigilance and psychotic paranoia paid off. Fuck Pantera. Paranoia forever. I may have missed out on the monkey bars, but it’s better than having to throw away everything you own at 26-years-old.