Don’t Let Them [Bite]
by Paden Fallis
“you understand, you’d be remiss if you actually thought you had this thing licked, right? Hubris before the fall, they say. Well it stands to reason here, sitting amongst piles and piles of cling-tie Glad trash bags that you are far from â€œhome freeâ€ and that catastrophe or, at the very least, undue hardship still lingers and crawls around you. If only you knew what to do.
She plunges the tweezers deep into the crevices of the pillowcase. Neither of them saw what she saw and both were hoping that she was going a little crazy. But mere moments later, the French girl who had been staying with them removed the tweezers from the very corner of that pillowcase and, right there, between the two tongs â€“ a squat body, round head, legs protruding right and left.
“Oh boy” they both thought.
Since childhood he’d been afraid of home invasions. It was that damn made-for-tv movie Adam for starters â€“ the one that chronicles the disappearance of a young boy from a Florida shopping mall, his decapitated body showing up weeks later in a river. True, this boy was not taken from his home, but the child watching this movie came to understand that bad people existed and that they might have him in their sights. So the Adam movie combined with MacGruff crime dog commercials (scruffy looking man in a stocking cap breaking open the back door window to get at the interior doorknob) caused the young boy great distress.
To prevent his own abduction, he went through an intensive pre-sleep routine. Similar to a professional sports player before the game, it was methodical and unbending. He had bunk beds and slept on the top bunk. Once in bed, he built a two-tiered fortress around his body; the outermost barrier consisted of pillows lined up the length of his body, the innermost of all his stuffed animals, also encasing his body. His mom would then lead him in a prayer and sing a song where the chorus assured him that “god will take care of you”. Still, with all this accomplished, he would anxiously fall asleep inside his cocoon fearing that when he next opened his eyes, he would not recognize his surroundings.
So, home invasions had always been on his mind. He just didn’t quite see it taking this form.
the day before
He felt it just above his ring on his ring finger. Damnit. This was a bite. This was irrefutable.
I’m going to clean” he thought to himself. He must take a stand. He was aware that this could happen to clean freaks and, for the record, he liked to see his own life as cluttered, not dirty, but certainly not clean. He must make an attempt. He didn’t quite know how to “believe” or “trust”. He knew how to â€œdo.â€ So he set forth.
The exterminator showed up late. He looked to be of Caribbean descent and had little interest in answering the manâ€™s many questions. The man persisted. Presuming he was speaking to an expert, he drilled the exterminator for any advice he could get. The exterminator was cagey, wary of opening up. The man didn’t quit. The exterminator did not want to influence or comment, he just wanted to spray. Still, the man dug in his heels.
They were an odd couple for sure. There was the aloof exterminator who was merely punching the clock squaring off against this hard-bitten apartment dweller who desperately needed to get a grasp on what he was dealing with. Through it all, the man sort of enjoyed the contentious back and forth. In general, he enjoyed a good bit of contention. It offered him some excitement. He could always use a little excitement.
One thing he learned about himself, that shouldnâ€™t have come as a surprise, was that he was very good at going about the paces. He performed well when following the rules. It was an admission that he was not comfortable with. He was an artist, and being an artist, shouldnâ€™t he be flouting the rules? Shouldnâ€™t he work best showing up late, coloring outside the box and letting it rip? Apparently not. In this scenario, he had a checklist to be checked, so he got to work. People around him were bellyaching, fearing the worst, and while he knew anything was possible, he also knew little of it was in his control. He could only perform the tasks before him. So he did.
As an actor, one of his greatest skills (and he had many, a five tool actor of sorts) was enacting notes. He was so good at this that in one instance, after ignoring a directorâ€™s note three times, the director reasoned that the actor simply chose not to put the note into action (thinking it was a lame idea) as opposed to the actor forgetting this note. Simply put, if you told him what to do, he did it, and immediately. If an especially tardy and disorganized director threw ten important notes at him five minutes before curtain, you could rest assured that nine of those ten would be incorporated into that eveningâ€™s performance and that he would have a ready explanation for why the tenth note did not pan out.
He noticed that acclaimed director Ste*h*n So**rbugh was directing a new â€œdiseaseâ€ movie.
Donâ€™t touch that doorknob! He wiped his nose on his sleeve! Cover your mouth!
He thought less of this director as he found these movies to be pure fear inducing, good for nobody mumbo-jumbo.
â€œYou are in their den right nowâ€ the French girl said as he was sitting on his living room floor. The French girl was generally a pleasant housemate. However her stay with them was to be open-ended and this caused some undesired tension between the two. He was trying to be the peacemaker in this situation but sometimes he just wished the French girl would shut up. The place had been sprayed. The Caribbean exterminator assured them that their infestation was not too bad. Things were in bags. He had done due diligence, checked all the boxes. Just like a Terminal diagnosis at the hospital, if youâ€™re fucked, youâ€™re fucked. What can you do?
You really have to leave and come back to get a sense of the state of distress your home and life are in. Earlier in the day, sitting amongst the many, many bags and dealing with the upturned bed he just sort of accepted this as reality. But, having just arrived back from work, he sees his home in a much different, and more accurate, light. It looks like a war torn country. It looks like Sarajevo.
Odd that Sarajevo came to his mind. He knew little of the Bosnian War. He could identify the word â€œgenocideâ€ and the name â€œMilosevicâ€ and that pretty much was the totality of his knowledge about this war.
This pointed to a fundamental characteristic about this man. What he knew, he knew much of. What he did not know, he knew almost nothing about. You might say that while his knowledge was deep it would certainly not be considered wide.
Where did this thing come from?
Was it the French girl, the girl who had bunking with them for the better part of this month?
Was it her luggage?
Was it the trip to the Berkshires?
Did they get it from their neighbor?
Was it from her work?
They both wake up and report no bites. The first night they could claim this in about two weeks. The extermination looked promising.
He worried about his dog. She was no good with change. She had the mental make-up of Anne Sexton on Anneâ€™s very worst days. With the entire house seemingly in bags or covered with plastic, poor little Bluebell stood there with her bone in her mouth completely flummoxed.
As he secured his home he thought frequently of The Conversation. Specifically he thought of the penultimate scene where Gene Hackman literally tears his house apart plank by plank. He really liked Gene Hackman. Growing up in a strict religious household, not much credit or consideration was given to pop culture icons. They were seen as flawed and somewhat a distraction from the real work at hand. But after Elvis and Johnny Cash, Gene Hackman was well considered by both his parents. He was seen as authentic. He really liked Gene Hackman.
He never could wrap his mind around the act of caulking. Caulking, really? Every crack? Every crevice? Cracks and crevices are infinite, right? How can you caulk what is infinite? Caulking seemed to pose an impossible task.
He remembered his third job as a teenager â€“ after building birdhouses and a short stint as a telemarketer â€“ was working for the still-growing Starbucks Coffee. On his first day of work his manager gave him a broom with orders to sweep the store. For whatever reason, he had little experience with sweeping. He began but quickly felt overwhelmed. His sweeping only seemed to uncover more that needed to be sweptâ€¦dust and dirt and grime. He would spend an inordinate amount of time in one small spot, determined to get the job right. It was useless, more dust, more dirt, more grimeâ€¦infinite. Sweeping just seemed like a ruse, an act.
Cracks are infinite. Try though you may, you canâ€™t caulk the whole world. You just canâ€™t. He would hold off on caulking for the time being.
She smiled when she saw him sitting on the bathroom floor. He didnâ€™t know where was safe and with so much of the house in disarray, he sought the bathroom as his refuge. The truth is, he just didnâ€™t know where else to go. He was reminded, and was sure she was as well, of his old acting school days where the apartment they lived in was so small that the only place he could study was in the bathroom. He would sequester himself away, only breaking when she needed to use it for itâ€™s actual purpose.
He found himself here, furiously writing, sitting on the tile floor with his notes atop the toilet. It wasnâ€™t pleasant but at the same time, somewhat romantic.
He remembered about nine years prior when they first moved into this building. He bemoaned the fact that this spot â€“ a building with laundry in the basement, an elevator and super on site â€“ was too much, too fancy. How could he possibly maintain the identity of a starving actor in digs like this? Would he lose his edge? It didnâ€™t take him long to adjust himself to his new surroundings though, and he ended up living here longer than any other place in his life.
Sitting on the tile floor, trying to write as fast as his thoughts were coming, atop the toilet harkened back to those days where you could flush the toilet, flip your eggs and grab a sweater from the closet, all without moving.
He sat there on the cold tile, penning away, happy that inspiration and determination were visiting at the same time. He wouldnâ€™t go so far as to say he had been experiencing writerâ€™s block recently but he was disappointed at his measly output of late. He seemed to be fighting inertia every bit of the way. Yet this night, he was happy here in the bathroom. He thought he could have written all night.
Or maybe he was just avoiding going to bed. Maybe he knew the minute he nodded off, that he would no longer be the alpha male. He would just be a victim. He thought of the Freddie Kreuger movies. Geez, you canâ€™t stay awake forever. You have to go to sleep.
Correction. One bite. Ankle. Mosquito?
Teamwork. This was her first day off since the diagnosis and the spraying and the bagging of the clothes. This was her first chance to jump in their hands and feet. They worked different schedules so, not surprisingly; they worked best at different times of the day. He got his wind later in the day; she found hers off the top. They worked and worked that afternoon; bagging the couch, spraying the ottoman, separating drying from dry cleaning, purchasing a new dog bed.
Their relationship had hit a point of stagnancy over the past year. It had probably been heading that way for some time but they were squarely in the middle of it right now. There was little thrill, little excitement. She bemoaned the fact that they â€œdonâ€™t do anything together.â€ She felt they had led separate lives. He understood her frustration. He just didnâ€™t have any answers.
Soon their friends Margaret and Layton, in tow with their newborn Niles, would be heading to the Middle East for work. They were both jealous of Margaret and Layton. These two friends were off on a new adventure, had plans to do something that was exciting and purposeful. Both he and she would like to switch things up some, get past the monotony. A change of pace was something they both craved.
And here they were, finally together, tackling this problem, trying to right the ship. In some morbid way, this was giving them a common goal. Hey, they were â€œdoing something togetherâ€. It wasnâ€™t tango lessons, but it was something.
â€œYou canâ€™t take that to Goodwill. Thatâ€™s irresponsible,â€ she says as he lines up two bags of books in the hallway.
â€œLook, I canâ€™t lead my life like this,â€ he responds. â€œI really, truly donâ€™t think these books are contaminated.â€
You canâ€™t see them. Okay, you can see them but not when theyâ€™re doing their work. When theyâ€™re doing their work they are not seen. His upbringing had always instructed him to believe, have faith in those things that were unseen. Keeping in line with this, he prayed through most of his adolescence â€“ one prayer each night. However, at some point in his teens, maybe 16, he gave up on the whole pursuit of praying. If he couldnâ€™t quantify the results, what was the point? But in light of his current predicament, where the unseenâ€™s destruction was all too easy to quantify, he wondered if he should rethink his earlier viewpoint.
They argued. Really he did most of the arguing. She mostly sat there waiting for him to run out of steam so she could go to bed. He was on fire, bullet pointing the many, many reasons that she did not want or need him in her life. He soon apologized. He said he wanted to make up for it and make up for it now. She said there was nothing he could do about it that night.
During their argument she claims that he is being â€œa little OCDâ€ about the whole infestation. He doesnâ€™t know how to respond.
It was his first therapist that told him he used sleep as a crutch. No matter what, no matter what trials or tribulations, no matter the immense amount of pain or rejection or frustration in his life, he could always sleep. It was his ace in the hole. She, on the other hand, was terrible at sleeping.
His father was a world-class sleeper and did so around the clock. Never the type of man to sleep for eight hours straight, his father would knock off after Lenoâ€™s monologue, wake about three hours later for a snack and some late night tv, put in another three hours of sleep, get up around sunrise, do his morning activities, catch a cat nap late morning, then toss in some more shut eye later in the afternoon. He didnâ€™t follow his fatherâ€™s around-the-clock sleep pattern but he could always manage it at night. He feared now, the night would never be his again.
Does the dog seem to be scratching more than usual?
â€¦going through the motions and finishing all the prep work and checking the boxes and doing what youâ€™re supposed to doâ€¦there is a malaise that has taken hold and the drama has dipped and the activity has leveledâ€¦
The line â€œbut for the grace of godâ€ had been going through his head the past few days. For some odd reason â€œfeet donâ€™t fail me nowâ€ had also been going through his head. A friend informed him that Bob Hope coined this line in one of his early movies. He was disappointed as he was hoping for Red Foxx.
One apparent bite under his left pectoral. Ugh. Mosquito?
Complacency. Who doesnâ€™t succumb? Political figures of every stripe seemed to agree that another 9/11 style attack would happen no matter how vigilant everyone remained. What can you do? Certainly the Neo-Cons would like to wield the idea of â€œvigilanceâ€ around in attempts to convince people that anything and certainly everything should be done to stay vigilant (AT ALL TIMES). It certainly is a powerful idea to rally around. He would like to remain vigilant in his fight here, but he seemingly had done everything (checked every box) that he was supposed to. They had both seemed relatively bite-free since the extermination. He didnâ€™t want to give in to complacency. He wanted to remind himself that he was still just a few days removed from potential disaster. But again, what was he supposed to do?
And the Band Played On was one of his favorite books. He had a serious interest in recent American history and loved a good muckraking story. To his knowledge, he knew no one who had died from the AIDS virus. He thought about the countless men (and women) living in oblivion to what was going on under their skin, eating away at their immune system. He had a friend who suffered from MS and the friend told him something along the lines of â€œyou know when everythingâ€™s checking out okay, you run like a Cadillac, but when they prick you with that needle you understand your skin isnâ€™t even as thick as an orange.â€
He thought of the many, many men who were living in oblivion through the early and mid eighties as this disease picked them off one-by-one. Here they were, shopping and jogging and bathing and then â€“ a spot. A spot. A mole, more likely. Thatâ€™s all it was, a mole. So you move forward, drinking and working and gardening and all this time unbeknownst to you, your entire immune system is being attacked and you are falling apart, moving down the road to a complete and final shut down. You are helpless. Youâ€™re dye has been cast.
He thought about how terrifying that moment must be when you see the first spot. Itâ€™s more than likely a solitary moment in oneâ€™s bed or bathroom. To that moment life might have been carefree and upbeat, butâ€¦a spot. Itâ€™s so small, so innocuous. How could it possibly be so critical? Maybe, just to be safe, youâ€™ll start hedging on going to the bathhouses or on the casual dates. Thatâ€™s probably the best idea, just dial it back a little, let this thing blow over. Youâ€™ve heard all the reports, the reports that you probably chalked up to mass hysteria. Itâ€™s a spot. It could be anything. Yet, your mind will not stop. You see your body in a different light. Is it over? Has the dye been cast? But I feel fine. And then the old chestnut, â€œthis only happens to other people, not me.â€
Six months later youâ€™re in a hospital bed, breathing through a respirator, your body is about to give in as your immune system has been ransacked. It was just a spot.
The bites had happened for a couple weeks prior to the extermination. They certainly hoped the bites were something else. Some people claimed they looked more like mosquito bites. There was even the idea that there was some rogue spider moving in and attacking them in the night. They hoped these possibilities might be true. Yet all the hoping in the world would get them nowhere. Their dye had been cast. They had bed bugs.
One week out and routine had taken hold.
Word comes back that someone at her work has bed bugs. And what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?
Sitting on the couch, he feels a tickle on his left ankle. On closer inspection, it was just his leg hairs.
Another tickle on his left knee, again, apparently, leg hair.
The residual effects are all around you. You have a hard time remembering the duress and fear that set in a little over a week ago. You are reminded about just How Bad this thing could have been. Or could it still be? After all, you understand, youâ€™d be remiss if you actually thought you had this thing licked, right? Hubris before the fall, they say. Well it stands to reason here, sitting amongst piles and piles of cling-tie Glad trash bags that you are far from â€œhome freeâ€ and that catastrophe or, at the very least, undue hardship still lingers and crawls around you. If only you knew what to do.
â€˜Tidy desk, tidy mindâ€™. He had seen this on some stationary or trinket somewhere along the way. He accepted this adage with no fuss. Looking around his apartment that still resembled a hollowed out city, he realized that regardless of his immediate surroundings, life moved on. So in this state he must take on the death of a family member, a dog with a bum paw, a lingering cold and the same old â€œwhereâ€™s this life headingâ€ drone.
He killed the bug, squashed it between his thumb and forefinger, but talk about winning the battle but losing the warâ€¦
They had tried denying the two isolated bites she had found the previous day. As with the rest of the world they would continue to blame it on â€œthose damn mosquitoesâ€ or that rogue spider. Poppycock. The game continued. They were still there.
It looked as if the couch might be ground zero for their infestation. The couch was the one spot where, try though they may, it would be near impossible to lock down. It was a sectional so while they had taken pains to cover the piece completely in plastic, they could not contain it 100%. This sectional was proving to be their Achilles heel. He likened their situation to the one of the voodoo-worshipping, baseball player in Major League played by Dennis Haysbert. Haysbertâ€™s character was a muscle-bound stud who could crush a fastball way, way out of the park. Yet, with all his power, the dreaded curve ball left him weak at the knees. By movieâ€™s end, Haysbertâ€™s character shrugs off his voodoo ways and sends a curveball screaming over the fences to claim the pennant.
They were really pulling for this couch. It held a place near and dear to her heart and throwing it out would be tough for sure. They held out for its redemption. A clean bill of health might be a long shot but so was seeing that curveball fly over the left field fence.
A deflating sense of gloom was creeping in. This was not a new sensation as he oftentimes found himself dealing with a downswing in mood. He had been in enough therapy that offered him the skills to find the source and maintain perspective. Identification and perspective however should not be confused with happiness and peace of mind. Depression, in his case, worked as if it were a large wave off the coast. It would swell to majestic heights, hold for a brief moment and then dive, dive fast and deep rushing in at him. Going back to that fight they had one week prior, he said something along the lines of this:
â€œI have to believe that what I do will have an impact on the outcome.â€
This was in response to the fact that he had to be allowed to make up for his bad behavior that evening. It takes no therapy to understand that it resonates more than that.
The death of his grandmother was fine. She was old and had been saying her â€œgoodbyesâ€ for years. His dogs bum paw bothered him, but dealing with his dogâ€™s many issues was old hat. His own uncertain future always cast a pall over his life but again, old hat. These bugs. These goddamn bed bugs were starting to eat away at his spirit, starting to wear him down. The gloom stemmed from the uncertainty. These things were winning.
â€œYour infestation is not that badâ€. This was the second time he had heard this and now from two different exterminators. The second spray had finished with still another one coming in two weeks time. This second exterminator was near opposite from the first. He was kind, patient and helpful. The combativeness between man and exterminator was lost and replaced with conviviality. The man could appreciate this as well. The comment about the infestation was not surprising, seeing as a lot of the tell-tale signs; blood stains on the sheets, bugs lying on the perimeter of the mattress, lack of mattress cover were not there. What did come as a surprise was when the exterminator commented,
â€œoh yeah, he does good work.â€
This exterminator said this in reference to a book that was lying on the floor, a collection of plays by an Irish playwright with the last name Massey. The book, like all their others, should have been secured in one of the many plastic bags but their dog, in a fit of manic energy, went to tearing this particular bag apart and out came this book. The man had purchased this book many years before and had little recollection of the plays or the playwright himself for that matter. This was no Oâ€™Neill, Pinter or Chekhov. This was Massey. Who the fuck was Massey?
He quickly posited that the exterminator simply had this playwrightâ€™s name confused with someone else. How could this exterminator possibly know such an obscure playwright? How could this exterminator be more schooled on any playwright than the actor whoâ€™s home he was spraying? Odd. Impossible. And yet the man liked to think that maybe the exterminator did know where of he was speaking. He was familiar with this obscure playwright. He did know of these particular plays. He could say, after a long dayâ€™s work, as he was leaving their apartment, gear in tow, glancing casually down at the floor, with full confidence,
â€œoh yeah, he does good work.â€
The real kicker about having bed bugs is not that you have them. You have them. A cursory surf of the world wide web will give you a handful of ideas and ways to combat these creatures. Nothing is foolproof and depending on your degree of infestation, you might end up having to go into a certain amount of debt and despair before eradicating these little bastards. Anything is possible as they burrow into every corner of your pillow and every corner of your life. It can be a fucking nightmare. And yet, the real kicker about having bed bugs is not that you have them.
The real kicker about having bed bugs is you donâ€™t know how to prevent them from striking again. There is not one way that you can head into your future secure that you can stop this from ever happening again. Short of living like a hermit, you will always stand to be a potential victim. Go to the movies. Go on a trip. Ride on the bus. You are a sitting duck. You are a sitting duck each and every time. Sure, after each of these instances, you can immediately upon entering your home, disrobe and take your potentially contaminated clothes to the laundry and throw them in the dryer for no less than 25 minutes. You could do that, every â€“ single â€“ time. You could do that, but then again, complacency.
Looking around in his home, everything was a threat. The couch, the bed, the books, the clothes, the floorboardâ€¦all threats. Since childhood heâ€™d been afraid of home invasions but what about the threats already inside his home? How in Godâ€™s name could he stop bed bugs from returning? He was helpless. He needed to think that whatever he did â€˜would have an impact on the outcomeâ€™ and that the outcome would be total eradication and peace of mind. These things arenâ€™t roaches or spiders or mice or ants. These things are bed bugs and the one guarantee with bed bugs is you canâ€™t really get rid of them. The real kicker about them is not that you have them, itâ€™s that they have you, firmly, squarely, by the balls.
Come on in guys, just leave a little something for us. Please.
Five weeks later
In the world of bed bug eradication; if you have one, you have one gigantic problem. Bed bugs can hide out for an inordinate amount of time and they reproduce at an alarming rate. Their goal, seemingly, is to outlive us all. So if you have one, you have one too many.
â€œYour infestation is not that bad,â€ is a welcome sentiment but the mere fact that the word infestation is used means your life will never be the same.
They had recently moved, not to rid themselves of bed bugs, as this is impossible but to rid themselves of the complacency that had set in. They were experiencing, for the first time in nine years the feeling of making another place home. But they were not alone. They knew this. The locks worked. The neighborhood was safe. Their problems lay much deeperâ€¦because deep inside, way down deep in the fabrics, one guy was still searching around, looking for life, looking for blood, looking for survival.
Don’t Let Them [Bite]