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(Geordan Moore for The Globe and Mail)
(Geordan Moore for The Globe and Mail)

How to live with bedbugs Add to ...

During a recent phone call with my mother, I mentioned the possibility of selling my new home, where I have lived for less than two years.

“Once you get your bugs organized, you will be happy to have a house in downtown Montreal,” my mother assured me.

I said nothing, but wondered how to organize bedbugs. Do you post miniature bulletins on the baseboards announcing fixed meal and bed times?

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“Just make sure not to leave any food lying around,” my mother said.

“But Mom, I am the food!”

After that conversation, I began thinking about how indeed one should go about organizing one’s bugs.

First thing is to come out of the bedbug closet. Tell everyone you know that you are infested. Otherwise you will never get any sympathy, and sympathy may be the only form of affection you receive for a very long time, so enjoy it.

Another advantage of sharing your plight with others is they will admire you for your bravery in dealing with such a formidable adversary. Remember, most people associate bedbugs with horror stories and macroscopic photos of the monsters injecting their enzymes into hapless victims (sometimes causing anaphylactic shock). If you just got a few minor bites on your shins and that’s all, they will never know. Let them imagine the worst, and you will seem God-like in your equanimity.

I should add that not everyone endorses this approach, including my friend Christina. “Stop telling people you have bedbugs!” She thinks I should march back into the closet immediately.

Secondly, hire an unassuming exterminator possessing heroic qualities – someone who seems like the type to run into a burning building to save lives. I found my hero in Eric, a French-Canadian pest-management specialist who referred to me as Madame Joanne throughout our working relationship.

What you want to hear are comforting words like, “ On va arranger tout ça pour toi,” or, “ Inquiète-toi pas.” Stay far away from professionals who liken bedbugs to vampires, charge twice the going rate and say that they may be able to “save you.” We won’t name any names. The only thing you need saving from is people who take advantage of your fear for personal gain.

If you find yourself in a relationship of convenience (as I did at the time I discovered my problem late last year), then savour the last five minutes of your liaison, because that is probably how much time you have left together. Bedbug infestations are anything but convenient. That being said, experience has taught me that it is best not to ask your partner to deposit all of his clothing in a big green garbage bag during visits. Far better to follow the advice of my neighbour, who suggested coyly inviting one’s lover to show up in the nude.

You may or may not choose to keep a can of bug spray next to the bed, as my mother suggested, however I do think it’s a good idea to sleep with the lights on. I found a website that argues against this practice because it won’t prevent the bedbugs from biting. However, light in the room is reassuring and somehow makes the prospect of little creatures in the vicinity less alarming. And the glow of a table lamp, while not the same as an actual companion, does lend some warmth to one’s surroundings.

Another recommendation is to dress provocatively. This is critically important if you should need to have any dealings with city building inspectors. My friend John suggested I look hot when I met with the chief of inspectors for my arrondissement. I did – lipstick, heels, the works – and I can tell you that great strides have been taken in addressing my bedbug problem ever since. Another advantage of dressing sexy is that you will feel attractive, even if you do live in an insectarium.

Much has been said about the stigma associated with having bedbugs. It is almost expected that if you have them, you must be haunted by deep feelings of shame and humiliation. Perhaps that is why an acquaintance pointed out that plenty of four- and five-star hotels have been similarly afflicted. If you are struggling with feelings of shame (which I, for one, am not), then consider the fact that you have a lot in common with the upper crust.

If that doesn’t work, then treat yourself to some ego-enhancing pleasure like a pedicure. I sprang for a $70 French scented candle, the aroma of which was described as a blend of black currant leaves and Bulgarian rose. When a friend came by, he asked what the funny smell was and if it was related to the treatments.

While some forms of social interaction are still possible for the infested (for example, Skyping and talking to people through their car windows), one day, you will awaken to the fact that your social circle has shrunk. You’ll start to imagine the relationship of convenience was really the love of your life and, had it not been for a few pesky interlopers, you would be getting married right about now.

You worry that you will never again sleep in the dark or see the back of your new hero, the exterminator. You’re tired of fishnet stockings and malodorous candles, and would like nothing better than to throw on a pair of well-worn jeans and not look twice at every black dot you encounter.

And when you are down to just a few loyal friends, your family and a mother who loves you – bedbugs or none – you will know that you are and always will be as snug as a bug in a rug.



Joanne Tilden lives in Montreal.

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