Bedbugs in
The Office
On my way to work one morning, I was trying to figure out the best way to approach that week's subject --- an interview with the recent winner of New York City's "Ratcatcher of the Year" award, which was handed out every July to the city's best exterminator.

As I was about to go through the turnstiles in the subway station, a high school girl passed me on her way out.

"You're ugly," she hissed. "And you can tell your momma I says so."

"Yes, yes, yes," I replied wearily. It was too early to worry about it. I knew I was no prize, and encounters like this no longer surprised me, but still, Christ. I hoped it wasn't a portent for the rest of the day.

At ten that morning, against my better judgment, I checked my tape recorder, lit a cigarette, picked up the phone, and dialed the number I'd been given for the Ratcatcher of the Year. When he answered and I confirmed it was him, I set the tape rolling. After some basic questions, I asked if he could tell me about a few of his more intriguing jobs. He seemed ready to tell some stories.

"There was one case where the people in an office were complaining about being bitten," the new champ reminisced. Most exterminators you encounter don't seem too enthusiastic about their work, but this guy was. He was also much better spoken than most. "We installed some monitors, and we caught a bedbug. Now, it was real strange to find a bedbug in an office environment, see? Especially one that was so clean."

"I can imagine."

"As it turned out, when we went in to do a more thorough investigation, the manager told us that he had suspected a particular employee of bringing it in. I asked him to show me that employee's cubicle. And sure enough, you could see in the crevices that there were several stages of these bedbugs. In fact, he had a wooden hanger that he used to put his jacket on. In the split seam, you could actually see them sitting in there. So we were able to definitively determine that this was the point of origin."

My skin began to itch as he told the story, but I didn't let on. I'd had some serious bug issues in my apartment in the past, but now that I could no longer see them, they didn't bother me. Hearing about them, however, was something else.

"Our first approach was to vacuum out as many insects as possible. We subsequently made an application to try to flush out any others that might've been in there. But the key issue was that the manager, being equipped with our report stating that this particular cubicle was the point of origin, was able to address the man, and the man had to admit that he was, indeed, having a problem with bedbugs in his house."

"Yes, well."

"At this point," the Ratcatcher went on, "they asked one of our entomologists to take a look and see what the extent was. Our senior entomologist had gone there, and said that there were probably several thousand bugs in this very small apartment. Every crack and crevice in the entire apartment, every piece of furniture had bedbugs in it. He opened up the closet where the gentleman kept his suits, and lifted the lapel of every jacket, and under every lapel there were fifty to a hundred bedbugs."

I gave up on subtlety and began scratching myself openly as I sat at my desk. My ankles, my hands, the back of my head. "I can see how something like that might wreck your whole day," I offered.

"Yeah, well, the question comes to mind, how can you have so many parasites in an apartment and not have somebody complain about being bit at night, right? Then we find out that he has a severe drinking problem, and he would get so drunk he would pass out and not feel anything."

Yeah, I guess I've been there, I thought.

"It would've been quite expensive to try and eradicate that level of population," he went on. "I think that right after that, they let the gentleman go. That was the easiest way; otherwise, he would've continued to bring these things in and continue to subject other people to these parasites.... That was a strange situation, something that doesn't happen often."

"I would hope not, yeah."

He went on to tell stories about armies of roaches and wood ants, and his struggles to outsmart some of the world's cleverest rats. "For all the years I've been doing it now, I've found that you can run into a situation almost monthly that you've never seen before. It's constantly intriguing."

"I think I'm starting to see that myself," I replied.

--- From Ruining It for Everybody
Jim Knipfel
Go to a review
of this book

Send us e-mail


Go Up     Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH