A new feature from New York Magazine explores the lives of tony Upper East Side residents who are afflicted with bed bugs.
The article is convincing on the point that those who are well-to-do also suffer plenty from a bed bug infestation. We knew that.
And it is somewhat persuasive on the point that, in some ways, the rich have an especially hard time, since they are more likely to be in complete denial that a bed bug infestation is possible in their often expensively maintained and serviced homes. (Yes, even more in denial than everyone else.)
On the other hand, I’m not convinced well-to-do Upper East Side “eccentrics” with bed bugs are more of a problem to their neighbors than impoverished hoarders and shut-ins with bed bugs, though Pest Away owner Jeff Eisenberg’s stories are certainly eye-opening:
Another Eisenberg tale involves “a very, very high-end building on East 92nd. Very well known. A super called me and said, ‘We’ve got some bedbugs on a glue board.’ But that didn’t sound right to me. Bedbugs tend to avoid glue boards, so if that was the case, the whole building was probably infested. Lo and behold, the place was loaded. It turned out there was a guy living there who only left every five weeks to see a doctor. Once, he went downstairs to pay the rent and two bedbugs fell off his arm as he passed the envelope. Four staff members were standing right there and saw the whole thing, and two and a half minutes later, I get a call … That’s one way they spread: hitchhiking. You get a hundred guys like that walking around the city like Pigpen—to a movie theater, wherever—and that’s how it goes. I’d say that every third or fourth building up there has a guy like that.”
In still another Upper East Side building, Eisenberg says, a woman with 400 or so first-edition books refused to admit that she had a bedbug problem. Her apartment turned out to be so infested that the walls, floors, and ceilings had to be removed to get rid of the 100,000 or so bugs that were living there (the building eventually sued her).
Ultimately, I can’t help remembering that the rich have unique advantages over the rest of us. They can afford treatment and related costs. “Margaret’s” family, featured in the story, spent $30K on dry cleaning, and $70K total, in the course of their bed bug problem.
They can afford to have things destroyed and replaced where needed, with minimal disruption.
They can pick and choose pest control firms and methodologies, and can afford to get spoiled by service professionals.
They can afford to hire “help” to sleep in their beds as bait (a practice I have heard about before, but which isn’t mentioned here — perhaps because it does not inspire a lot of sympathy for the rich). If all else fails, they can move.
As the article notes of Margaret’s son’s room after treatment:
James’s room is now pristine. Most of his toys and books were destroyed and replaced. “Everything here was sent for intensive cleaning,” Margaret says. “This is the scene of the crime.” His bed is still there—with new bedding, of course. “The old headboard,” Margaret says sharply, “was sent out to be burned.” Margaret still constantly checks pillowcases and James’s skin. She also has an exterminator in every three months to lay powder into the apartment’s cracks and crevices.
And what if none of that works? I ask her. What if she and her family faced another infestation? “If that happened again?” she asks. She takes less than two blinks to reply. “If that happened again, I would move.”
Bed bugs are never easy, and my heart goes out to anyone who has to do battle with them. Everyone suffers, everyone loses.
However, I am not especially sympathetic to the rich, all other things being equal. If anything makes a bout with bed bugs easier, it’s money.