Brand building through storytelling

My bed bug war

It was exactly one week till moving day, and every corner of the home I had loved teemed with boxes containing the fragments of my life. Only the bed, with its brocade throw cushions in a regal crimson, had escaped the rising tide of bubble wrap and packing paper. The bed looked exactly as it always had, except for an odd blood spot on the sheet where my arm had lain. Must have cut myself, I thought. Jane will deal with the spot. Jane is our longtime cleaning lady and I’ve never known a stain, scratch or smell to escape her zeal for wreaking order. That morning she had come for yet another packing spree while I took care of urgent matters like hunting for the scissors and running to Staples for yet another roll of bubble wrap.

In moving mode—a state both addled and obsessed—I am forever buying scissors to replace the ones I just mislaid and then cursing the rule of nature that ensures the new scissors will vanish within the hour. I am chronically short of bubble wrap, or that loathesome tape that sticks to my fingers and everything else as I struggle to apply it in a tidy seam. I ask myself how a reasonable person can become so obsessed with scissors and bubble wrap. This question had been burning a hole in my brain when Jane announced that she had something to discuss with me. “I just took your sheet off the bed and a little brown bug fell out,” she began. “It was about the size of a flax seed. When I squished it, blood spurted out. That thing had just had a good feed.”

Bed. Bug. Blood. For more than a year I’d been reading those words in news stories on my city’s latest “crisis.” An invading army of blood-sucking creepy-crawlies had Torontonians in every neighbourhood tossing mattresses, bagging their clothes, avoiding their friends and scratching an omnipresent, crazy-making itch. If you ate in restaurants, went to the movies, used public transit or—worst of all—stayed in hotels, the bugs could get you too. I’d blithely unpacked my bag on hotel beds hither and yon, all the while dismissing the bed bug scare as a hysteria-fueled distraction from real urban crises. But when Jane broke the news of her discovery, I dialled public health with trembling fingers (please, please tell me that the bug Jane had squished was not the scourge of Toronto). “I don’t have an itch,” I pleaded. “And we’ve only seen one of these things. You don’t think…it couldn’t be…a bed bug!”

A crisp female voice pronounced judgment on my case. “Some people aren’t sensitive to bed bug bites. But any bug that’s full of blood is definitely a bed bug.” I would need to arrange two stem-to-gudgeon chemical treatments, two weeks apart—this on top of numbingly complex protective rituals that included vacuuming the mattress daily. Could you have bedbugs and still have a life? And, more urgently, close the sale of your home in nine days? “But we don’t have time!” I wailed.

That was my problem. Might as well be honest and call it a full-blown crisis. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed.

Nothing like a good cry to steel the will and clarify the mind. This was war: woman against bed bug. And by God I would win. I phoned a leading pest control company, where a cheery young woman informed me that I didn’t have to settle for old-fashioned chemical treatment. Her company offered the latest thing: heat treatment that would cook our soon-to-be-vacated home at 135 degrees Fahrenheit, destroying not just the bed bugs but their eggs. It would cost us several thousand dollars—a mere detail with the sale of our home on the line. “How soon can you get here?” I asked with “tomorrow” in mind. I was offered a week from tomorrow—one day after the move.

Which is how, after another sobfest, I found myself on the line with the keeper of the bug-roasting apparatus—Captain Exterminator himself. Like another great captain, the one known as Kirk, he had one of those steadying voices that wrap you in the confidence of victory at hand. No worries, he said. His people would fit me in on Monday between 12 and 1. It couldn’t be simpler for my husband and me. We’d leave home in bug-free clothes fresh from a hot dryer and check into a hotel while the bed bugs sizzled away.

As fate would have it, I was not done sobbing. Not by a long shot. There were tears on Monday at 2 when Captain Exterminator’s crew still had not shown up. And at 5 when, soon after they appeared, their four massive electric heaters chugged into action only to plunge the entire building into darkness. The crusty European super, who had championed traditional chemical treatment, insisted that heat would never work. The pest control guys, who barely spoke English, muttered on the phone to Captain Exterminator. Tears flowed when I caught the words “otro dia.” We didn’t have another day! At last the workers handed me the phone. “We’ll handle this,” the Captain promised. “The guys will drive back to the warehouse and get the propane heater.”

This plan was not exactly problem-free. Propane would generate so much bug-zapping heat that the device could not be placed within our walls. Since we had no patio or balcony, that left the sidewalk outside our loft. The door would remain open all night—no small concession on a block where street people make regular rounds. A burly guy had vowed to protect our worldly goods, but I couldn’t quite suppress the thought of vandals wreaking havoc. As for the super, he pictured the building in flames and disabled residents trapped in their homes. Fists shook (his). Tears flowed (mine). With night fallen and time running out, I rang Captain Exterminator, who mollified the super with Kirkian calm.

Just one little glitch remained: the sprinklers. How to stop them from unleashing a flood once our place began to cook? The captain’s plan: bags of ice would be positioned on painters’ stools, directly under each sprinkler (have I mentioined the 11-foot ceilings?). If my husband and I schlepped 20 bags of ice, the captain’s crew would take care of the rest.

One month later almost to the day, our expensively roasted former home is now in our purchaser’s hands. Yes, she knows about the bed bugs. She also knows we paid a bundle for a state-of-the-art treatment that concluded without a hitch. As for our current home, its status is open to question. Since the move, we’ve driven to Florida—and stayed in four hotels. Who knows what might be lurking in a corner of my suitcase? Once we’re home, must we throw away our luggage? Send all our clothes for dry-cleaning? Cook our shoes and belts in a 200-edgree oven, as a friend of mine now does after every trip?

Captain Exterminator, my hope and my presumed protector, I never want to speak with you again. But I have this uneasy intimation you and I aren’t through just yet.

Every disaster is a story waiting to be told. Click here to read about a road trip gone spectacularly wrong—and saved by starting over..

Posted by Rona

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