Almost running, we went to our back door and entered the kitchen. On the floor were two scraps of cardboard separated by about two feet. An orange can of Raid Max rested on each scrap. A few cockroaches were scattered around the cans of spray, writhing themselves into death.
Natalie had duped us.
“What the fuck,” I said. Jimi looked at me and shook his head.
We walked into the living room and two more bug bombs set on the floor with a stunned crowd of cockroaches surrounding them. Footsteps sounded from the floor above but to us there was a silence that emitted from within and fueled our anger.
“Wait ‘til Dr. Handsome gets home. He’s going to be furious,” Jimi said.
“At least we didn’t pay her anything, I guess.”
“Yeah… I guess…”
When Dr. Handsome got home he wasn’t as surprised as we expected.
“I saw it coming the whole time. Why else would she be so adamant about us being out of the house?”
Neither of us had an answer but I felt the disappointment and sadness of a child tricked out of his desires. Jimi’s characteristic roll-of-the-eyes-and-shrug echoed my sentiments.
When it came to trying to convince Natalie the second time, we needed a better approach, one she couldn’t get out of.
If you’ve ever studied Buddhism, you may know the fable of the second arrow. Basically, the tale says when we experience pain, our reaction, if negative, feels like being shot with a second arrow.
The swollen bumps and intense itchiness served as the first arrow—probably somewhere to the mid-section.
Social repercussions were the second arrow of our bed bug bites. I worked as both a cashier and a cart pusher. They weren’t the most prestigious positions, but I took pride in my duties nonetheless. No matter how many times I told myself it didn’t matter what others think, I had difficulty internalizing that idea. It was like nature was there to poke at me and say, “Hey, you need to learn that inside there’s a sanctuary. Trust yourself.” But my insecurities overcame my intellect and I found myself ashamed and embarrassed for much of the time.
The worst bites were the ones on the back of my hands. They weren’t the biggest, or the itchiest, but they were nearly impossible to hide. I spent many hours scanning groceries while trying to keep my sleeves stretched down over my hands, my elbows pushing the fabric taut like a chalk stick fracture.
Learning from our pat mistakes, we told Natalie we would call the exterminator ourselves and set up an appointment for extermination.
“No. No bedbugs in my building. We spray before you move in. Exterminator says, ‘All good.’”
“Natalie, we’re all being bitten. Zack has one the size of a small anthill on his side,” Dr. Handsome said.
“Maybe spider bites; no bed bugs! Where is Zack?”
“Have you got the mattress covers? Bed bugs cannot live under a plastic cover—they will suffocate.”
“So you’re admitting we have bed bugs?”
“No. No bed bugs. I did not say that,” Natalie said. Even after catching her in a lie she wouldn’t admit to anything. Her ancestry made me wonder if she purposely emulated the behavior of a yurodivy, an old Russian folk hero.
“David says he has bed bugs too. Have you ever checked his apartment? They could get up here from there.”
“You do not listen to David. He does not know what he’s talking about. David is a drunk. He never pays rent. I have been trying to make him leave forever. I tell him, ‘You must pay or leave,’ but he does not leave.
“My lawyer tries to help but there’s nothing we can do, he says.”
“You’re missing the point, Natalie. I don’t care what you think about David. I just want to wake up without having to worry if I have more bites.”
“Yes I am sorry. I will take care of the exterminator. Please do not worry; it is my job, not yours.”
“Ok, I’d like to meet him when he comes so I can ask some questions.”
“Of course, of course. Just tell me the time and I will set it up.”
Evenings were the only time available and Dr. Handsome relayed this fact to Natalie. Natalie, being Natalie, made the situation difficult.
“Exterminator cannot come evenings. Only during the day, Seven O’clock is too late.”
We’d hoped for a Wednesday night so we could all be present to show our bites and the bugs we’d caught/killed. According to our research, without definite evidence of bed bugs we could not force Natalie to pay for bed bug extermination services. And it wasn’t enough to show our shad landlord the evidence; we needed a qualified third party to verify our infestation. Adding to the frustration of the whole situation, we had either the most incompetent landlord, or the most savvy landlord posing as an incapable fool, taking advantage of poor students and ex-students who just wanted to live in peace without the hassle of using court as an incentive to make their landlord fulfill her duties. I tended to believe the latter option, but I’m biased. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
There weren’t any convenient times for the whole group so we had to compromise. Dr. Handsome had a night lab but usually got out early. Banking on his early departure, we agreed upon a time: Wednesday night at seven PM. After a few days of argument and empty threats Natalie agreed to ask her exterminator to meet us that evening.
Feigning surprise, Natalie told us a few days later her exterminator “miraculously agreed” to meet with us at our requested time.
That Wednesday came and Jimi and I collared our enthusiasm with cynical contempt for Natalie’s word, a by-product of our disappointment the last time we requested an extermination. There was no implied conversation of rainbows or puppies. We went about our normal business waiting for Natalie and the exterminator to appear.
The timeline went something like this:
4:30 PM: I arrive home from work. Jimi’s still at work and Dr. Handsome’s at school. I sit down to finish my episode of Skins (the English version because this was before that embarrassing American version released on Music Television). I marvel at Cassie’s beauty and innocence and rub one out in her honor. Thankfully the bed bugs don’t sense the filet mignon that is my penis.
5:15: Jimi gets home from work. I am cooking a salmon filet and ask him not to use the microwave or any appliances on the same circuit because our apartment is ancient, has real fuses, and I’m just trying to eat dinner, not run to Price Chopper to buy more fuses to finish cooking dinner which will be ten times worse tasting after sitting out in a pan for the half hour it takes me to buy more fuses.
Me: Alright, Jimi I’m done. You’re free to cook your pasta.
6:00: Jimi and I are sitting in the living room, watching TV while Jimi eats his pasta.
Jimi: I don’t think she’s coming.
Me: I wouldn’t be surprised.
6:15: Natalie arrives.
Jimi: Where’s the exterminator?
Natalie: He calls me and says he is running late. Don’t worry; he is on the way.
6:30: The exterminator arrives. Dr. Handsome is not home. I begin to show the exterminator around the apartment. Natalie follows.
Me: This is Jimi’s room. He was the first person to be bitten by bed bugs…
Natalie: No, where are the bed bugs? I have not seen any. Please, show us where the bed bugs are.
Me: …and he also found out that diatomaceous earth helps with keeping them at bay.
6:32: While I am showing Natalie and the exterminator around Jimi calls to ask when Dr. Handsome will get home. He doesn’t pick up so Jimi texts him.
6:45: Natalie emulates a compassionate person and presses us to let the exterminator leave.I am not finished with my tour and have not yet shown him our evidence. I ignore Natalie more.
6:50: Dr. Handsome texts Jimi back, says his bug collection is in his desk drawer. In the collection are a couple of bed bugs from the apartment. Jimi goes in to get the collection. Natalie takes the exterminator outside to “chat”. I don’t stop her.
6:54: Jimi returns from Dr. Handsome’s room with the entomology bug collection.
Jimi: Zack, where’s Natalie?
Me: She took the exterminator outside to talk.
Jimi runs outside with our bed bug evidence, hoping the exterminator has not already left.
6:55: Jimi watches the exterminator pulling out.
Natalie: I’m so sorry. He had to go. He will be back next week to spray.
6:56: I am wincing because Jimi looks like he wants to kill me.
Now, on two different occasions, our disappointments had been punctuated by the act of running. Our efforts also qualified for a variety of descriptors: cowardly, idiotic, lazy, unassertive etc. Call it what you may, our remaining time would be spent living with bedbugs, cockroaches, spiders, and mice.
Other Sections: Prologue - I - II - III - IV - V - VI - VII