Every Christmas, I hand-craft ornaments from acrylic clay to give to relatives and friends. Each ornaments represents something important that happened in my life during the year. Last year, for instance, we went to Paris for the first time, so I made tiny frogs in berets, smoking and drinking wine (Yeah, I know–not PC. But they were cute). The year my story collection first came out, I made little devils reading books. I’ve commemorated each grandkid’s birth—Grey’s baby figure wore a Red Sox cap, a two-fer because he was born in 2004. You get the idea.

This year’s ornament is a bedbug.

Bedbugs are all the fashion this year in NYC. They’ve graced the cover of the New Yorker, popped up in city offices, stalked Victoria’s Secret, and been discovered in Howard Stern’s studio (Seth Meyers, on Saturday Night Live’s news: “’This is disgusting,’ said the bedbugs.”). The venerable, regally-overpriced Bergdorf Goodman keeps a bedbug-sniffing beagle in the store to reassure personal shoppers that their clients’ Gucci won’t be Itchi. Visitors to posh Manhattan hotels set up their luggage racks in the bathrooms. Even homeless New Yorkers no longer adopt abandoned mattresses off the sidewalk.

Our building’s hired exterminator warns us to bring flashlights to the movie theatre. “You shine ‘em on the seat and check out every seam,” he says. “Every inch. You check the seats on either side, and in front and back. You get home, you stand in the bathtub, strip, shake off all your clothes. They can’t crawl outa of the tub—too steep, y’know?”

Our management company hires the exterminator primarily to eliminate what Brooklynites call waterbugs, which are to cockroaches what Shaq is to WeeMan. Every month, the guy puts a dab of goo in each of our cupboards. We never had waterbugs in our cupboards until after he started doing this. I’m not sure I would hire him to exterminate bedbugs, if I had them.

Although our downstairs neighbors claim he did a decent job with theirs.

The downstairs neighbors moved in last Spring—a lovely couple with a burly little toddler. I welcomed them with a plate of cookies.

A few days after they unpacked, they noticed teensy reddish-brown bugs in their new apartment. Were these baby cockroaches? They checked them out on the Internet.

They weren’t.

I ran into my new neighbor in the courtyard, and she sheepishly confessed that they had bedbugs. Sheepishly, because bedbugs are the Leprosy of 21st century New York. Friends shun you. People don’t invite you to dinner. They never, never come to visit.

My neighbor told me the van carrying their furniture from their old—bedbug-free—apartment was infested.

“I thought of you and felt terrible,” she said. “I thought, She gives me cookies; I give her bedbugs.”

If you have cockroaches in New York, you put dabs of goo in your cupboards. If you have moths, you clean out your closets and scatter moth balls or cedar. If you have carpet beetles, you dry clean and use insecticides. If you have mosquitoes, you spray chemicals and slather yourself with Off. If you have head lice, you shampoo, run a nit comb through your hair, wash your linen, air your pillows. If you have fleas, you spread flea powder, vacuum, spray and put drops of stuff on the back of your pet’s neck.

If you have bedbugs, you get an exterminator. Then you throw out your upholstered furniture, mattresses, bedding, drapes, carpeting—plastic-wrapping everything before you haul it to the curb, if you’re a good citizen. You encase new mattresses in pricy BedBugBags and duct-tape over the zippers. You wash clothes in scalding water, seal dry-cleanables in plastic bags with bug killer, run luggage, books, toys, shoes, and objets d’art through a special heat unit. You scrub, vacuum, calk. Then you bring in a bedbug-sniffing dog, if you can find one who’s not occupied at Bergdorf-Goodman, to make sure you’re clean.

Bedbugs are the most expensive critters in New York to get rid of. They are also, of all the bugs listed above, the most innocuous. Bedbugs bite, but they don’t give you diseases. They might make you itch, and hitchhike in your suitcase, but they don’t try to become a permanent part of your body. They don’t eat your winter coat or your Oriental rugs.

They’re just…icky.

My chat with my new neighbor gave me bedbug nightmares. I woke at night sweating, digging at imaginary bites.

So I stopped at the hardware store. I bought a spray called Kills Bedbugs II, and a tub of Kills Bedbugs Powder—which is merely diatomaceous earth, a natural compound used in swimming pool filters. I also bought a suitcase spray.

“Wow,” the checkout girl said.

“I don’t have bedbugs,” I said.


“Seriously. It’s my neighbor.”

“Right.” She took my money.

“My neighbor downstairs. This is preventative.”

“Uh huh.” Was that a smirk? She handed me my bag. “Spray under your door.”


“Keeps ‘em from spreading.” Definitely a smirk. “From those neighbors.”

Paul and I spent the next day hip-deep in chemicals. He sprayed the room margins and every crack in the floor and the walls with Kills Bedbugs II. I took apart every electrical outlet and switch plate and puffed Kills Bedbugs Powder inside, then capped the outlet holes with childproof shields to keep them dry. I threw powder behind the refrigerator, beneath the heaters and under the cupboards. I sprayed the hell out of our suitcases.

I even sprayed under the damned door.

I’ve seen no evidence of bedbugs. The building’s hired exterminator checked out all of our units and pronounced them clean.

My new neighbor is nervously optimistic, although she and her husband still sleep on a futon, and they run everything that comes into the apartment through their special heat unit.

I plan to make the poor souls some Christmas cookies soon. I’ll also bring them a hand-crafted ornament.

Although…I’m not sure they’ll want it.