Tragedy Plus Time: When Bad Things Happen to Funny People
by Kate Tellers
Sometimes things are bad, sometimes the thought of them is even worse. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.
On this week’s Tragedy Plus Time: BED BUGS.
Receive image of a mouse held captive under a bowl in my kitchen sink from my roommate. Come home to have weekly “would you rather” over hummus and wine. As usual, I’m rodent before bug and she’s the reverse. To illustrate my point I take to google. After a half hour googling “bed bug new york city” I’ve moved myself from our loveseat to the floor of our bathroom and am scratching at my skin.
She opens a second bottle in an attempt to lure me out. Offers to teach me about the twitter and announces that I should meet her friend. “He likes crazy girls, and you’re a good kind of crazy.” Readers, this is called foreshadowing.
Meet roommate in the bar in our building that serves as our living room late Saturday night. She is there with The Friend. He is a photographer and I like his curly hair and the fact that he taught himself to cook watching PBS cooking shows. He appears to like me, even though my (not thinly veiled) attempts at making him promise to make me fettucini carbonara fall on deaf ears.
The most awkward interaction occurs at my door (which includes forehead kissing) and I walk up my steps with his business card.
Our first date, The Photographer takes me to “a quiet place he knows in the East Village.” It is not quiet, and after a man vomits inches from my toe, we leave. Still, we smooch on my front steps.
“Sleepovers” begin. The Photographer’s head becomes a regular guest on my spare pillow. Without being Lea Salonga, Frances Ruffelle or any lady dressed as a boy behind the barricade, “I sleep in his em-bray-eece at last!”
Friend calls to tell she has bed bugs. Reminds me of when another friend got bed bugs and they were living in her picture frames. Reminds me that none of us are safe. And reminds me that I forgot to pick up dog food so I have to boil an egg for the chihuahua again because seriously I am not walking down six flights of steps at this hour.
Despite the lack of bites or physical evidence, I convince myself that we are infested. Em-bray-eeces are cut short as I develop a strategy for catching the bugs that causes me to go to three separate stores in my neighborhood in search of double stick tape for the base of my bed that is strong enough to trap the little monsters as they march to feed. I have ceased sleeping through the night, waking on the hour to the feeling that I am being walked on by hundreds of evil asshole feet.
Sum total of bugs caught: 0. BUT I go to the doctor because I have a bite and it is huge and swollen and This. Is. It. Doctor tells me that I have a spider bite, that he is “100% certain” that it is not a bed bug bite. Doctor lets me remove all of my clothes so that I may properly display every inch of my flesh and assault him with a chorus of “What about this?” “Or this?” while contorting myself Cirque du Soleil style next to his X-ray machine. I leave with some anti-itch cream and an anti-inflammatory pill I will later learn carries a black box warning for snapping tendons. I sleep one full night.
Sum total of bugs caught: 0. I am convinced again. At night I am itchy! I can feel bugs! The Photogrepher becomes accustomed to my taps in the middle of the night and kindly doesn’t correct me when I tell him that “I NEED an Egyptian sarcofogi.” Regardless of whatever King Tut did, I’m finding the only way that I can sleep at night is by mummifying myself with my duvet. He Takes the Top Sheet (also the name of our first album of duets).
Sum total of bugs caught: 0. Some nights I re-write the children’s classic “Goodnight Moon” and recite my own bon nuits to the furniture I have inherited and my unreasonably large silk blouse collection that I’m certain I will be unable to afford to dry clean when the bed bugs do arrive. Because I know they will. Soon. And I am waiting for them with both eyes open.
Sum total of bugs caught: 0 At rehearsal our coach arrives an hour late because he has bed bugs and they are IN HIS PHONE. This becomes my go-to dinner party story.
We are not invited to as many dinner parties. The upshot? Fettucini! Finally!
It’s getting cooler and some nights I share the duvet. That and some serious eye-lash batting convinces The Photographer to look for a place with me.
We find a new home in Brooklyn. It’s a big, long railroad with shiny hardwood floors and a sink so wide my old West Village place could fit inside. We get bright sunshine on both ends, are two blocks from the train and minutes from Manhattan. And! The rent is cheap! This doesn’t happen in New York! You know what does happen? Bed bugs. Do I smell cinnamon?
Our first month in the apartment! Embraces are slept in, boxes are unpacked, the neighborhood is explored. At our local wine shop, they make sure to stock our favorite cabernet (the one that’s $6). Around the corner, there is a man that makes big balls of mozzarella cheese that make me want to find vegans and shake them because THIS IS WHAT SHOULD GO IN MOUTHS. And! Our best friends live around the corner, too! How fun! Until-
Our best friends get bed bugs. For the third time. I’m a rubbernecker at a three bug pile-up, I want to stop thinking about the pests, but I cannot look away. I am starving for every scrap of information anyone can give me. I won’t sit on subway benches. I meet a girl who gets naked in her hall to deposit her clothes into plastic bags before she goes inside and, I Get Her. The Photographer’s most effective sweet nothings consist of the words “We don’t have bed bugs” whispered to me in that order.
Also, still not being invited to dinner parties.
“Bed Bugs” Are Permanently In My Google Bar (also the name of my upcoming memoir of 2010). I do daily mattress checks start to imagine a life without wooden furniture.
I see a bug! And I catch it! And I tell The Photographer “GET ME YOUR LOOP!” We analyze our captive under the lens. It has wings, and was in the kitchen in the daytime, and looks suspiciously like something that rhymes with “Moot My.” Still, I ask, “What if our bed bugs have wings?”
For the thousandth time he reminds me, “We do not have bed bugs.”
He tries to throw the bug away and I stop him. BUT WHAT IF. He turns to me and in a voice I’ve never heard before asks, “When did I start to date Woody Allen!?!” I can tell he doesn’t mean this in you-are- a-highly-prolific-comedian way.
There’s a stand off in our kitchen and we stare at each other through plastic rimmed glasses. I look around at our apartment; at the dishes from the dinner that he made me that I am still promising to clean, at the dining room table I grew up with that he uses as his desk, at our chihuahua on the courduroy couch blissfully licking his balls.
Of all of the things I’ve been afraid of having in my bed, the one thing I want to share my sheets with is standing right in front of me. I hand him his loop. And then, I throw the bug away.
That night I spread the duvet cover over both of us. Whatever is out there I’m sure we can fight it together.
Tell us about your bouts with bed bugs in the comments!
Kate Tellers is a writer/performer/director/producer currently at work on the cabaret “I Sing Dead People,” “Disco Balls” (director) and on-going projects with The Moth.
Follow Kate on twitter @katadudle