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Don’t Let The Bed Bugs Bite

I owe you fair warning that this post might give you the willies. It’s a horror story from my renter days that I wanted to share in hopes that it may help someone experiencing something similar.

When I made my post-graduation move to New York City in June 2004, I rented a two-bedroom apartment in Astoria, Queens with a college roommate. It was less than nice, but my roomie and I were just happy to find a place with big bedrooms with cheap rent. All in all, it seemed like the perfect place to cram with my seen-better-days IKEA furniture, “decorate” with cheap posters and kick off life as an adult. Little did I know I’d actually end up living like this:

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But let’s start at the beginning. I randomly woke up in the middle of one August night and headed to the kitchen for some water. I turned on the light and immediately noticed a small, brown bug sitting on my shoulder. As I turned my head to flick it away I saw several more crawling down my back. Naturally, I got some major heebie-jeebies and ripped my shirt off so fast you would’ve thought it was on fire.

I darted back to my room, figuring I’d accidentally left my window cracked and let some flies or gnats creep in. When I turned on the light I saw two things: (1) closed windows and (2) several dozen bugs swarming my bed and the surrounding walls. Gross, gross, gross.

I started to kill the ones I could catch, but quickly realized they were appearing faster than I could squash them. I turned to my next best defense: the Internet. Some quick Googling revealed that I had a bed bug infestation (I know what you’re thinking – ewwww)

Bed bugs are very real. They’re small (pencil eraser sized) flat insects that are nocturnal and feed on warm-blooded creatures, which certainly explains their love of sleeping humans. It’s rare that you catch them in action like I did, so most people detect an infestation from the bites they find on their skin. Both my roommate and I had lots of those (she even had one on her eyelid) but made the common mistake of assuming they were just mosquito bites. You can also look for stains on your bedding: both their droppings (small black dots usually at the edges of your mattress) and blood stains (when you roll over and “pop” one that just drank). Gross, I know.

So how did we get bed bugs? They’ve been making a resurgence in the US lately, especially in big, transient cities like New York. Despite popular belief, an infestation isn’t an indication of  filth, but rather a a result of increased international travel (frequently found in hotels, bed bugs come home on your suitcases and clothes) and decreased use of DDT in pesticides (assuming they were mostly gone, people stopped making chemicals to kill them). How they made it to our apartment? No one really knows- except that our wall-to-wall carpet surely didn’t help.

Unfortunately, bed bugs are notoriously hard to get rid of. We were told it often requires multiple applications of a pesticide to ensure the problem is gone. Our (somewhat shady) landlord was too cheap to call a professional, so he hired a friend to spray our place with some mystery chemical in all the cracks and crevices around our apartment (this involved dismantling all of our IKEA furniture- bed bugs love dowel holes!).

In addition to the pesticide treatment (which I will admit wasn’t very green at all- but we were getting eaten by bugs at night and our landlord wore the pants), my roommate and I had to take several steps to help ensure that we quarantined any of the bugs that miraculously escaped the chemical treatment. This involved washing all fabrics in hot water (keep in mind this meant lugging ALL of our clothes, sheets, and towels two blocks to a laundromat) and then storing them in plastic for 2 months. Bed bugs apparently have trouble walking on slick surfaces like plastic or metal, so keeping everything in trash bags helped keep them from stowing away anywhere new. So that’s why my closet looked like this for 8 weeks:

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And since the bugs could still be living deep inside our mattresses, we were advised to buy plastic mattress covers (with zippers!) and leave them on until we could afford new beds.  And since checking for bite marks in the morning was the the only way to tell if the problem was solved, we had several unsettling nights where we basically “sacrificed” our bodies to be sucked on for the sake of seeing if they were gone. Here’s a pic of me before bed one night on my sheet-less, plastic-covered bed. Despite it being summer, I covered myself in as much clothing as possible to limit my bite count. Oh, and that annoyed look is 100% intentional too.

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After a couple of weeks of biteless nights, we officially declared ourselves in the clear. In the end, it had been about a 12 week ordeal. I’m usually not one to freak out about bugs, but these suckers (literally) caused an insane amount of distress – from arguing with our landlord over who was responsible for treatment to eventually replacing every piece of furniture I owned (not ’til I moved out, mind you). I truly wouldn’t wish bed bugs on anyone.

But bed bugs aren’t the end of the world. If you find yourself infested, do your research, rely on professionals and brace yourself for a few weeks of  uncomfortable living. Hopefully in the 4+ years since my ordeal their treatment methods have improved. The best treatment for bed bugs is obviously prevention. When traveling, check hotel mattresses for stains and keep your suitcase off the floor. At home, keep your carpets vacuumed and if you think you’re at risk for an infestation (lots of globetrotting guests, for instance) think about coating the feet of your bed in Vaseline or sitting them in a tin can so the bugs can’t travel from the floor to the mattress (bed bugs can’t fly, so as long as things are slippery they won’t be able to bridge that gap).

Hopefully this long post hasn’t put you to sleep. But if it did, I’ll hope you slept tight and didn’t let the… well, you know the rest.

Learn more about bed bugs here and here.

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Hunting For Rhinos

The story of Sherry’s Valentine’s gift starts last month when I got an e-mail entitled “OMG I need this for my birthday” that included a link to this white, ceramic rhino from Z Gallerie.  Her birthday is in March (and I already had gift plans for that), so I figured this would be the perfect V-day gift, right? Wrong. It was out of stock and Z Gallerie couldn’t tell me if it’d be available in time for Feb 14th.

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You see, Sherry had been searching for a ceramic rhino for at least a year, since she first laid eyes on this baby in the Nate Berkus-designed room pictured in his portfolio, which she blogged about almost a year ago, never knowing that the most-likely-super-expensive-rhino (maybe this one?) would someday be made by Z Gallerie for the masses.

Knowing Sherry should never be denied the company of a white, ceramic animal, I pre-ordered it anyways and offered it up to my sister Emily as a birthday gift she could give to Sherry in March. Well, I’m not a great liar. Sherry could tell I’d ordered it and quickly became convinced she was getting it for Valentine’s Day. Uh oh. She even went as far as to gush to Emily about this beautiful rhino I was giving her. Emily thought it was hilarious, but I was starting to panic. Even though the rhino did arrive last week (to my office), Emily wasn’t planning to give it to her for another month. Not to mention that the gift I did get her for Valentine’s Day was more on the practical side. Sherry was surely primed for disappointment.

Fast forward to Saturday morning, as I held Sherry’s real Valentine’s Day gift behind my back, I told her one last half-truth: “I ordered your rhino, but it didn’t come in time. You’ll get it for your birthday.” Then I handed her our digital camera which now contained a new Eye-Fi wireless SD memory card. Again, not the most romantic gift, but I knew my favorite little blogger would save lots of time uploading pictures now that our camera could do it automatically and wirelessly. It went over very well (a big relief to me) and seemed to distract her from the absent rhino for the time being. Being able to turn on the camera in any room of the house and effortlessly upload new pictures is pretty sci-fi. And Sherry loves anything that allows her to blog smarter so there’s more time to fit in more projects that we then get to blog about.

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Later that evening we headed over to Emily’s house for a Valentine’s Day party as planned. Sherry didn’t know it, but her horned ceramic mammal awaited. Emily and I decided it’d be too cruel to withhold the present for another month, so she decided to give Sherry her birthday gift early. But not without having a little bit of fun first.

Emily took me aside when we arrived and started pointing to various picture frames around her living room. Inside each of them was a picture that she and her kids had staged with Sherry’s rhino (see a few samples below). We figured the usually-very-observant Sherry would notice in no time. Instead, it took her nearly an hour. During which, by the way, she even pointed to the photo of our niece Olivia reading to the rhino and said “ahhh, cute” without noticing the ceramic animal snuggled nearby. We basically had to say “Sherry, did you look closely at all the new pictures?” for her to finally catch on.

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Needless to say, Sherry was thrilled and the scavenger hunt ended with the happy reunion of girl and rhino. I was relieved that I didn’t have to keep secrets for another four weeks and that, with the help of my sister, I hadn’t disappointed my wife on Valentine’s Day. And I’m sure the rhino is very content in his new home in our living room:

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All-in-all, a very happy (if not intricately schemed) Valentine’s Day. Do you guys have any funny V-day stories to share? Any gifts you gave that went over particularly well or particularly, um, not so well? Do tell.

Images courtesy of Z Gallerie and Eye Fi.

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