Bedbugs have posed an existential dilemma


Stefany Anne Golberg on bugs and Camus @ The Smart Set
The day K. came in and said, “I don’t care anymore,” was a revelation. By then, the communal living space/art collective housing 17 artists and hangers-on that was my home had been battling bedbugs for three months. Only four of the 17 rooms (mine not included) were actually infested, but communal living as it is, we all had to share in the initial bedbug cleansing procedures familiar to anyone who has had or read about bedbugs — the thorough packing all personal items in plastic, the taping of holes and cracks in walls and furniture, the wrapping of each bed in a plastic sack not unlike those used to wrap corpses at homicide scenes. We tried not to let hysteria get the best of us as we emptied our rooms of every doodad, every picture, and watched the mountain of 17 people’s-worth of belongings mushroom in the gallery space. We pooled $1,500 and vacated for four days while the 5,000 square feet were sprayed with chemical warfare. We then returned, unpacked our belongings, and waited for the bugs to die.

But they did not die. And because only four rooms were actually infested, and the time and expense to spray the entire floor was so demanding, we decided as a group to focus our efforts and money on just those four rooms. Though we were spraying only four rooms (a second time, and then a third…) we all had to pay for it, and it wasn’t long before there was discontent among the masses. People secretly blamed and resented the bedbug-havers for failing to rid their rooms of the scourge. They were seen as unclean. It’s not that anyone meant to ostracize them; we simply could not help ourselves. Of course, no one wanted the bugs gone more than the people who had them, who were still living out of plastic bags, suffering the itchy bites, unable to sleep with their beds against the wall. Our weekly house meetings — where we usually talked about dirty dishes and upcoming art shows — were dominated by talk of the bedbugs: when was the exterminator coming again, what were the bedbug-havers doing wrong and how could they improve their efforts. It was at one of these meetings that A. started to show signs of madness.
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