The bedbug hysteria

Over in GQ, there’s a thread about bedbugs that I felt called for a little witnessing on my part.


Recently, one of my kids, courtesy of a school trip that had them staying in a motel that I will NOT be recommending, introduced Cimex lectularius into our home ecosystem. Now, this was not welcome, no indeed. In fact, it was a bit of a nightmare come true.

So I called in the cavalry. There’s a guy in Boston who’s basically the bedbug czar, and he’s a very busy man these days. He charges $120 (if I remember correctly) for the initial consultation, and you go forward from there. So in he comes, we look together at our little bedbug colony, and he lays out a plan of action: spraying all the beds and couches with this product, I forget which, as many times as necessary.

Price tag? $1,200, potentially, depending on the number of visits.

$1,200! I could buy a pretty nice tablesaw with that kind of money. l could even, arguably, visit the fleshpots of Araby with that kind of money. It’s one thing to shed bitter tears over the bedbugs, but quite another to pay the staggering sum it takes to nuke them from orbit.

So I didn’t. Because when you come right down to it, what is a bedbug but a basically harmless annoyance? It leaves an itchy bite, but so what? So do mosquitoes, and bedbugs at least have the decency not to give you West Nile virus, or eastern equine encephalitis.

And here’s the dirty little secret: the bedbug is a total paper tiger. They don’t reproduce that quickly, and they have to molt a full five times before they’re of reproductive age. They tend to hang around your bed – why wouldn’t they, after all? – so you know where to find them. And if you spray them with isopropyl alcohol, they get cirrhosis of the liver and the DTs and die within a second.

In short, it’s comparatively easy to get rid of them, for practically nothing. You just need to be a bit persistent. I’m not dissing the professionals. I feel pretty confident the expensive treatment would work.

But people need to get a sense of perspective. It’s not like three days after the bedbugs appear in your house, you’re throwing bloated family members onto the dead cart. It’s not even like Martha Stewart is suddenly going to show up and publicly humiliate you. If you get bedbugs, things will still be all right.

After all, they’re mostly harmless.

I’ve never had bedbugs, let me state that right up front. But I imagine the hysteria breeds on the ick factor. After all, we’ve all been told all our lives to not let the bedbugs bite, so bedbugs biting must be a really bad thing.

Post this again in 6 months, and I’ll believe you.

Yes, having lived through a major bedbug infestation in a share house in London, large itchy welts and all, $1200 to be sure you have got them all would be well worth it. We did take pleasure in killing them individually with fire and knives, but the only way to be sure to be rid was the DE.

This has to be read in Cartman’s voice:

“After all, they’re mostly harmless… mostly.”

And you know what? With holidays coming, this is a good way to keep the relatives away!

Yep. We had been without bedbugs for over a year, now they’re trying to work their way back in. Without much success.

The head of maintenance told me of another building in the complex that was really infested. Most of the owners in that building opted to use the guy he recommended, others went out and hired their own. Those who did the latter ended up hiring the recommended guy within a month.