Sunday, December 12, 2010

Paranoia Is My Bedfellow

The thundering waves off Spring Lake, New Jersey in early November.

Every few years, I spend a weekend with two of my high school friends at the Jersey shore. This brief reunion offers us the chance to act like immature 14-year-olds again. Our momentous weekend this time began with an ill omen. One of us had to cancel at the last moment due to a case of irony—she came down with the flu following a flu shot.

This reduced our number to two, but we carried on. Shortly after checking in, we did the customary girl thing of visiting local shops, followed by a brisk walk along the steel blue ocean. The sea was restless, thundering onto the beach so loudly that we could hear it a few blocks away. After a wonderful dinner, we reverted to age and read until we were sleepy. Debi indulged herself in some trendy fiction while I, being less imaginative, read an antiquarian book about life in the Netherlands during the 1860s.

The next morning, we recharged with breakfast and resumed our itinerary of consumerism and nature. Little did we know that at midday, we would encounter something that would entirely alter our weekend. During a quick pit stop at our room, I managed, in the space of two minutes, to misplace our room key. This lapse in mental functioning made me feel disgusted and old. What happened next, could only be described as worse. In my search for the keys, I upended the sheets on my bed and exposed something I might otherwise have missed.

I called Debi back into the room and pointed out a lethargic bed bug clinging to my sheets. Debi placed it in a plastic sandwich bag and we went downstairs to present it to the desk clerk. We were immediately offered a new room, which we tentatively accepted. But inner hysteria slowly began to build, propelling us to a quick departure. Fortunately, we were given a full refund, but even if it had not been offered, they would have heard our tires screeching.

Due to the miracle of smart phones, we spent the drive home reading articles on how to avoid taking bed bugs home. We phoned our respective husbands with instructions and they stood at the ready. I unloaded my suitcase in the driveway and all clothes, as well as my coat, shoes and purse, were immediately dumped into a scalding hot clothes washer to be followed by more than 30 minutes in a hot dryer. Hair brushes, car keys or anything that could be boiled went into a large bubbling pot. Everything else was placed into sealed plastic bags. I walked directly into a hot shower, followed by a hot bath. Was this overkill? I don't know. It felt necessary.

The worst part of this experience was the paranoia it induced. I wondered how long it would be before we knew if we succeeded in avoiding an infestation. Should we invite friends and relatives to our home...ever again? Would we be shunned by everyone we knew?

My husband, a die-hard conspiracy theorist, was more than glad to ride on the coattails of my paranoia. He was convinced that a pesticide company developed this newest crop of bugs and released them on the world. Why? So they could introduce a proprietary insecticide and make tons of money. Or are bed bugs an insidious form of terrorism? Is Bin Laden laughing maniacally over these blood-sucking jihadists?

Fortunately, I work from home and do not have to travel for business. I have always enjoyed visiting new places, but I now think in terms of day trips only. Does this change in behavior amount to giving in to fear and relinquishing my personal liberty? Am I cowering in the tiny shadow of Cimex lectularius? For the time being, yes. But as Scarlett once said, "Tomorrow is another day."

Epilogue: More than a month has passed and there does not seem to be a sign of the little buggers. We're safe, for now....

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