Thursday, August 05, 2004

Don't Let Them Bite

How did I wind up on a sofa sleeper at 3:30 a.m., with my wife shaking me awake and asking if anything was biting me? This is not what I expected when I graduated from high school with straight teeth and good posture. I had a naive vision of a world where biting insects and their imaginary brethren simply did not exist. Let me tell you how I got here, my friend, as the Spine-Wrecker Bed BarĀ© does the metal mamba on my back.

It was a simple bit of forgetfulness, really. We didn't pack the air mattress, which usually serves as Eli's bed when we're on a trip.

Consider that the domino, tipped.

We were staying at an Embassy Suites, so we had both a king-size bed and a sofa sleeper in the living room. No problem. Well, no problem except for the unfortunate circumstance that the living room at an Embassy Suites will always be loud because of the indoor courtyard that the rooms surround. All ambient noise from that courtyard, and there's plenty, drifts up and buffets the rooms.

If we put Eli 3.0 on the sofa sleeper, he won't sleep for long. We'll be up with him all night. That leads to the obvious and yet dismaying conclusion: the only way to get any sleep is if Eli takes the king, and we sleep on the sofa.

Outstanding. Eli weights thirty pounds and is about three feet tall. I hope he has enough room on the mattress. Meanwhile, we'll be cramming ourselves into a double, with a courtesy metal bar wrecking my back at no charge.

Fine. At least we'll be able to sleep. And I do, at least until 3:30, when Eli wakes up and comes in to say hello. That's when Gloria wakes me up and says "Do you feel anything biting you?"

This is not information I would hold in reserve, secretly hoping that someone would ask me about it. No, I would be more likely to say "HOLY CRAP! SOMETHING'S BITING ME!"

"No, nothing's biting me," I say. "You'd hear about that in real-time."

"I'm all itchy," she says. "I think there might be bedbugs." I look at the mattress, but I have no idea what I'm looking for. What do bedbugs look like? Do they wear business casual or summer leisure? Is biting people employment or avocation?

"Unless a bedbug is white and looks exactly like a sheet, I don't see any," I say. This I say hopefully, with the intent of being both reassuring and burying the conversation deep in the Nevada salt mines, there to lay undisturbed for at least 1,000 years.

In the morning, destroying my hopeful estimate by well over 999 years, bedbugs are back. In the conversation, at least. "I think I saw a bug before I went to bed last night," Gloria says. Oh, no.

Those of you who are not married may think that this is an entirely innocent remark. Let me assure you, this is not a lone comment--it's an opening statement. This is the conversation equivalent of Dave Bowman flying into the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey and saying "My God, it's full of bedbugs!"

And yes, I know Bowman only said that line in the book, not the movie. About stars, not bedbugs.

In this reality, it does not matter that we don't know what bedbugs look like, or that none appear to be around, or that bedbugs are not known to cause itching symptoms remarkably similar to those caused by dry skin. It also does not help that I know more about nanotechnology than bedbugs.

Yes, I know that bedbugs don't know anything about nanotechnology, and thus it's an easy comparison. Damn my vaguely constructed sentences.

We agreed, after some considerable negotiation, that it was unlikely that the bed was infested with bedbugs, since 1) we couldn't find any, and 2) Gloria had no bites on her legs, and neither did I. We left the hotel for good, and I felt certain that the incident had been put to bed, so to speak.

We're at home last night, in bed.

"Bedbugs can travel on clothes," Gloria says.

"Wouldn't light rail be faster?" I asked.

"I haven't unpacked my bags yet. They say you're supposed to wash clothes in scalding water to kill the eggs."

"You've been researching 'bedbugs' on the Web, haven't you?" It's come to this.

"Yes, I did a little checking," she says. 'A little checking' is code for 'enough research to gain four hours of credit at a local community college.'

"Man, I'm really beat," I say. "Good night." There's the premium man-dodge. Use it at your peril, gentlemen.

I'm asleep (ironically I really was beat) when I hear this muffled shriek and the bed bouncing like at trampoline. I'm instantly awake and ready to be, um, frightened.

"I saw a bug!" Gloria shouts. She's furiously looking through a stack of catalogs on her side of the bed. "I knocked him off the bed, but I know he's here somewhere." I try desperately to go back to sleep. "Here it is!" It's the saddest looking, thinnest little bug in the world, smaller even than a flea. It's also the slowest bug I've ever seen, moving with all the alacrity of a Galapagos tortoise on Quaaludes.

"That's not a bedbug," I say.

"Why not?" Gloria asks.

"There's only one," I say. "Surely there'd be more than one."

"They can live inside the mattress," Gloria says. "They only come out in the dark."

"Should we scotch-tape the body to the mattress? You know, as a deadly warning," I say helpfully.

Gloria would probably not use the word 'helpfully.'

"I'm going to kill it," she says, and starts gently mashing it. "I don't want to crush it so that it can't be identified."

I hope the medical examiner gets here soon. I'm very tired.

Today I did some research on the Web--on bedbugs. They are oval-shaped, not thin, and they are 'fast runners.' Repeat, they are fast runners.

What was that bug, then?

Oh, no.

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