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Return of the Bedbug


The return of the bedbug shows no sign of letting up. Unwitting fifth columnists of globalisation, earlier this month they shut down the Nike shop in Manhattan. A friend in Brooklyn says her house was infested. The vector? Probably a son’s wayward friend. Cost in the region of $6000. Orwell used to drive them off with black pepper, which is cheaper. I was last bitten by bedbugs in Fez about 35 years ago and ended up in outpatients. Last, that is, until the bedbug renaissance. Two years ago on a night train from Paris to Florence I was bitten many times. I threw away my clothes, took my travel bag apart and lay down for a week. Six months later in New York, it happened again in a well known hotel on the Lower West Side. It was beginning to seem like a manhunt. I found one of the offenders, put it in a glass and delivered it to reception. In exchange I got a new room. No one offers you a new train.

Once it’s fed, Cimex lectularius, a little brown, oval crawler, seems to wriggle and its elongated body resembles a tiny lashing tail. Travellers in earlier times are said to have gone about with a pig and introduced it into the bed a few hours before retiring: if there were bed bugs they would slake their thirst on the pig. Carrying a rasher of bacon in your wallet will not do the trick.

The latest four-legged remedy is dogs: certified canine bug detectors. They can case a room with greater accuracy than a two-legged pest inspector. They sniff out the insect (six legs) – which lives in any fabric seam, or electrical outlet or sound system – and its ‘viable eggs’ (no legs). All this according to Certified Bedbug Dogs of New England, a company that must be doing nicely. A stricken hotelier or rolling stock owner can then hire an exterminator ‘for only those spaces in which the bed bugs (or their offspring) have been found’. The organisation also promises not to let the cat out of the bag, or even the dog:

When you have a bedbug problem in your home or business you want quick, discreet service. Certified Bedbug Dogs of New England will arrive at the scheduled time in an unmarked vehicle. We will even park several parking lots away from your establishment if you would like. We carry the dog in a rolling dog bag, so no questions arise from guests.

There’s a casting opportunity in there somewhere. Could be Al Pacino or Walter Matthau. Or maybe Mason. Not James – just plain ‘Mason’, the dog who played Lassie in the latest remake.

Comments on “Return of the Bedbug”

  1. Jenny Diski says:

    Oh god, oh god…so many reasons for not going out and not letting any one in. Thank you, Jeremy.

  2. So glad to read this piece. Currently my best dress is inside the freezer on a mere rumour of the blighters in the vincinity of a hotel I stayed in. No actual sighting or biting. Wonder if there’s an emerging black market in DDT? I’ll be packing a hog in future.

  3. pinhut says:

    I went over to my landlady and landlord in rural Guatemala to tell them I had bedbugs in my… bed.

    We all stood out in the street.

    “No!” they both kept repeating, “Zancudos!” (mosquitos)
    “No! Estan en la cama!”
    “No! Zancudos!”
    “No…” etc.

    Finally, exasperated, I dropped my trousers and boxer shorts and gave them a look at what these creatures had done to me, concentrating as they had on my thighs and groin.

    “AAAAAAH!” screamed the landlady.
    “AAAAAAH!” screamed the landlord, springing into motion and rushing into my room.
    I pulled up my clothes. The landlady carried on screaming for a bit.

    I had a new mattress and blankets by sundown.

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