Homeless in San Francisco: Day Twenty-Four

24 Sep

“…we switched on the light — doped with fatigue and despair — to see the bed aswarm with escaping bedbugs like a hundred maddened crocodiles fighting frantically in a small pool of boiling water.” — Ned Rorem, Paris Diary

I read Rorem’s account of bedbugs years ago.  I was a precocious reader at a young age, equally at ease with James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo and Patrick Dennis’s entertaining fiction Little Me.  Of course, I did not understand everything I read; Hesse was a fascinating but daunting challenge.  Rorem did not appear during those early years.  The passage from Paris Diary about his experiences with bedbugs is the only passage I still remember from that book.  Who can forget a description of this kind, with the hallucinogenic qualities of a story of Poe, another one of my childhood favorites.  Still, I was not even close to a living knowledge of Cimex lectularius.

While living in my first San Francisco building upon my return to the city I learned a great deal about the bug.  Probably a third or more of the units at 50 Golden Gate Avenue became infested.  Neighborly gossip pinpointed its introduction to a single apartment unit, much as Patient Zero functioned as a fanciful explanation for the origin of HIV/AIDS.  Of course, Bedbug Zero was slovenly and non-caring; he, in fact, was quite comfortable living with them.  He refused to allow his apartment to be sprayed, evidence enough of his disdain for the other tenants.  But perhaps the greatest disdain was actually evinced by the building manager Shaughn.  She did her duty, calling in the exterminator every time a reported incidence of infestation occurred.  We knew, though, that poisonous spraying did nothing to kill eggs, nor eradicate the presence of their adult kin within walls.  A few of us banded together and became proactive.  Diatomaceous earth was purchased and laid out around beds and along every crevice.  I put it outside the door to the apartment, the white powder hinting at Christmas on a ratty, soiled red carpet.  This incensed Shaughn who complained the substance broke vacuums.  Her real reason, though, for complaint was the nuisance it caused as she showed empty apartment units to prospective tenants, including the unit around the corner that had become infested and driven out our neighbor.

By the time I moved away I could sigh with relief that I had escaped bedbugs.  In another three months that unit was hit.  I realize today I was simply lucky.  I should have thought about my luck the day I was introduced to Hotel Kinney.  The building manager mentioned that the mattresses in my assigned room were covered in plastic to prevent bedbugs.  His words did not register appropriately.  Had I looked at those mattresses I would have seen torn plastic covers and known the danger was not over.  This past week I received a single bug bite.  I did not think about it since I have been bitten by spiders during my sleep, and, after all, when I had seen bedbug bites on other people they appeared in profusion, a feast of Thanksgiving Day proportions.  When I removed the bedding to launder, I took notice and made a report.  That was followed by a spraying not just in my room alone, but also several other units.  The following day I woke with bites over ankles, arms and neck.  This time, my bedding was put in plastic and new bedding was issued.  The room was sprayed again.  Still, the plastic covers remain torn.  I have put diatomaceous earth along all baseboards and encircled all furniture legs, an action that was not advised by the manager.  The lines are now drawn for what promises to be a protracted battle.

Untitled photograph, wheat-pasted posters on a wall in the Mission, 2008.

One Response to “Homeless in San Francisco: Day Twenty-Four”

  1. Matanglawin September 27, 2011 at 2:37 am #

    Hi Dave,
    I am not sure if I could post the pictures I took last Sunday. But I think its not possible to do that. 😦

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