Service Story #14: Predator’s First Full Complex Bedbug Hunt
Produced on August 16, 26; Sept 5, 9, 21, 24; Oct 8; Nov 7, 2019by Brenda and special guest stars Joe, Kathy, James, Doug, and “T.”
Chapter 1: An Intro to The Bedbug Hunt
Predator calls his method for eliminating bedbugs a hunt, or sometimes simply “the method.” His big coming-to-Jesus moment for hunting bedbugs (versus the traditional chemical heavy/prep intensive model) happened before I was his human host, when he was only a generic pest control character working for a local Mom and Pop Pest Control Company in NE Portland. The Mom and Pop sold cheap no guarantee, single shot bedbug treatments. They sold a lot of these treatments to property management corporations and other kinds of landlords who managed massive low income, high turnover housing complexes. I never understood why the landlords didn’t spend the money to do it right, but I get it. They were the ones paying the high cost of these treatments, and I’m sure it felt good to report to The Boss they were getting a deal.
The coming-to-Jesus moment didn’t happen like pop! (epiphany), it was a realization that rose to a boil slowly over time. Predator had already been working on techniques for hunting them directly when he quit his “sports applicator” job at the Mom and Pop, and then I went to work for the best bedbug hunters in town. The Best Company learned their method from an organization that calls itself, “Bed Bug University” or www.bedbugcentral.com.
The University’s method taught that bed bugs should be treated in their natural habitat without “pushing them” with needless prep work, excessive cleaning, self-treatments, or non-targeted use of our own professional chemicals. Predator took to this philosophy immediately, because he had seen the effects of pushed bugs first hand.
“I have bedbugs falling from my ceiling!” customers would often say. At first he thought they were nuts. Then he realized that they were so afraid of the bugs, they’d been Raiding their homes with cans of over-the-counter “bedbug products,” which are all repellants.
Predator was already sold, but it didn’t hurt to discover that pest control companies who adopted this new no prep method—that uses inspection, steam, and targeted use of chemicals—reported that treatments that normally took 5 to 8 services were reduced to 2 or 3.
While working for The Best Company, Predator (still in generic form) was averaging 3 treatments (and one final inspection) per elimination with average activity, and that was what I expected our team to achieve at Brenda’s complex. Especially since my teammate read and reported the overall activity in the complex as “light to medium.”
During the first treatment service at the building with 7 units, Pest Predator spent most of his time zeroing in and finding exactly where the bugs were hiding:
He found no signs of activity in the downstairs. Both bedrooms + living room were all clear >
The main floor was clear and so was the back right upstairs room >
As expected, both vacant rooms checked out:
Predator did, however, find activity in the other two upstairs rooms >
Specifically the dresser and nightstand in that room >
I supervised while Predator steamed the nightstand and dresser, treated it with a non-repellant, and then propped it up on climb ups >
In the other room he discovered a “starter set” on the edge of the mattress and a few eggs along the tag, which he hunted with steam as well >
[Warning: the next photo may not be suitable for dinnertime]
All in all, the first serve in the 7 unit building went well. The reason why our team has decided to wait 2 weeks between bedbug services is (a) it’s good to let any eggs that we happened to miss a chance to hatch and show themselves (b) it gives any bugs that might have been pushed into cracks by bad over-the-counter chemicals, excessive cleaning, or the removal/change in sleeping or resting areas more opportunity to feel comfortable enough to emerge from the cracks and begin to feed again (b) on the flip side, waiting any more than two weeks is not good, because it gives the population time to bounce back and grow, especially in fully infested homes.
We drove off that night feeling good about our first service. That feeling faded when I got a call from Brenda the next day. She’d found a tenant moving bed bug infested furniture out of his apartment.
We scheduled a time for an inspection that Saturday morning. And sure enough, it didn’t take Predator long to zero in and find the activity. The large family who lived there had the bugs that bite at night too.
Chapter 2: The Townhouse Unit – August 26th
One of the many tenants who lived there, Joe, was there to meet me when I arrived. After I checked the Townhouse, I thanked him for being ready and we talked about the furniture. I told him that I couldn’t “declare control” (and move on to the 30 day waiting period before The Final Inspection) if any untreated/infested furniture was still on the property. He assured me he was planning to take it to the dump that week.
He also said he wanted to keep the love seat upstairs, and Predator always makes a point to never miss an opportunity to hunt. He won’t tell our customers to throw something out, unless it’s 100% hopeless.
So the service began. The first thing Predator did was stalk every corner of Joe’s home–flashlight in hand, headlamp on–searching for his prey. The thing he noticed was spotting along the baseboard. That means that (a) the unit was infested before he moved in (at some point), or (b) the bugs had been there for a lot longer than a “few weeks.”
As it goes with hunting bedbugs, Predator took the signs to heart and hit his his prey in three ways: (a) we steamed (b) we dusted the wall void, and (c) we treated all the baseboards in the unit with a non-repellant.
Upstairs, to my surprise, Predator found no activity in the master bedroom. But he reminded me (from experience), “We should treat the inactive rooms in the building like they were active,” so we steamed, dusted underside of the chair, treated the bed, and sprayed the baseboards.
Then Predator spent about 45 minutes in the back room steaming the love seat and plucking live bugs with duct tape. When the love seat stopped moving, we treated it and asked Joe not to move it until next service. That way, any bugs Predator might have missed would feel safe, come out of their hiding holes, and cross our chemical traps.
Overall, the townhouse had more signs of activity and live activity than the 7 Room Building as a whole, but I’d still classify it somewhere between light and medium activity. That means there’s a good chance that we will return in two weeks, find a few stragglers, and need to treat again without declaring control. It’s hard to say. We’ll see in a few weeks.
Chapter 3: Round Two in The 7 Building – Sept. 4th
Soon after you left that day, Kathy arrived and locked the front door. We had a long conversation while I inspected and prepped for treatment.
In spite of Predator’s grumblings, I asked Kathy if she wanted to join me when I inspected her bed. Predator is all about The Hunt. The only way he believes its possible to calm our customers’ fears is killing the bedbugs as quickly as possible. I don’t agree. I’ve met way too many bedbug phobic humans. I believe people can’t fully recover from their experiences with bedbug infestations until they understand enough about the creatures to feel empowered and in control when they face them.
So really, I’m saying it’s more important to help the tenants and landlords control their irrational fear of bedbugs, than the bugs themselves.
So I talked while I worked with Kathy. She was surprised when I told her I found a harborage of eggs and a gathering of adults on her bed during the last treatment. After our inspection, I was glad that Pest Predator didn’t find any new signs of activity: no nymphs! But he did find a few adults hanging around, right under the lip of the mattress. Usually, that means they were hanging out somewhere strange and then they gravitated to the bed when they finally felt the coast was clear.
As before, the only other room with activity was James’s. I was pleased when we found that my treatment of the nightstand worked. No new activity there, or the dresser. I was pleased, but Predator was not. He smelled bugs, but wasn’t sure where. Then he “got nosy” and started to search through James’s belongings. I was surprised when I looked in his shoebox…and we found signs of a larger infestation.
I say larger, because you don’t find spotting like that in weird places like shoeboxes unless the box had been in a large infestation. You’d think it’d be easy to find a large infestation, or the history of a large infestation, but that isn’t always the case. Especially if someone has removed furniture, or tried to self treat, or removed the bed completely. It’s possible that James had (a) bought the shoebox from a person who lived in an infested home, or (b) he lived in an infested home at some point, or (c) the bedbugs really liked his shoebox after he removed the bed and they all scattered around his room: to the nightstand, to the dresser, etc…
Predator reminded me of James’s comment about how “they live in the carpet.” The more likely situation is, they now have to crawl through the carpet to feed on him now that he’s sleeping on the floor.
Bedbugs services are funny. There’s the stories I get from the tenants and then there’s the evidence I uncover as I treat…
And it’s not James’s fault. He was only trying to help, do something in the face of infestation. Tragically, often all the things people do to “treat” often make the infestation a lot harder to eliminate. So if we want to go looking for someone to blame, it’s The Chemical Industry (the same hustlers who push pills and pharmaceuticals in healthcare) who feed magic potions and chemical witchdoctory to folks who want to sleep at night. That, and professionals who charge too much for their treatments, which is also another problem we share with the healthcare industry.
In any case, that treatment is going well. No activity was found anywhere else but those two rooms. The apartment, now vacant, can be cut out of the plan as long as no one new moves in before I’m done.
Chapter 4: Round Two in Joe’s Townhouse – Sept. 10
It was clear from the moment I knocked on the door and I saw the sleepy eyes of the younger guy “T” who lived there, they weren’t ready.
It was 2:30 pm. Maybe they all worked the night shift?
I didn’t know, but I was thankful to Joe for his willingness to wake up and move the family out while I treated his home.
While he was getting ready, Predator noticed he was bagging things up again. I did my best to explain, like before, that bagging wasn’t necessary. I even tried to understand where that idea came from, asking if he’d ever prepped for a classic bug treatment (which is what he was doing). I’m not sure why he has been bagging things with plastic, but it didn’t take long to find two new mattresses this time with a number of nymphs under their covers. I made excuses for Joe, while Predator fumed.
The loveseat was active again as well. After talking with Joe I realized that he’d been sleeping in it. That explained why I found the bugs just hanging around, seemingly frustrated, unwilling to cross the chemical Pest Predator put on it last time. It’s not normal bedbug behavior to hang outside of a crack or crevice, especially when no host is present.
“Fish in a barrel!” Predator smiled at the bugs just waiting around for him to pluck off. In other words, our plan worked: the adults that were hiding during the last treatment were now herded in one place in the hope of feeding on Joe at night.
Treatments always go more smoothly when I can count on the sleeping and resting areas not changing locations…
I know it’s hard to see, but that one is flatter than normal. It’s because it’s sick, slow moving, and dying from exposure to my chemical. I found a few of those dying guys in the crack of couch as well.
If that loveseat is a measure of the level of activity found in the furniture Joe took to the dump, I think we can safely rule out Aaron’s (the furniture store) as a possible source. Like the shoebox, that loveseat had been in an infested home with other things that had the same level of activity.
Finding a lone loaded piece of furniture in a home that’s generally free of bugs is like finding a dinosaur bone. It’s a sign of an older infestation with an older story I/we will likely never know.
Predator’s guess was (a) either Joe’s family brought the infestation with them, or the apartment was already infested when they moved in. The classic storyline for that one goes, the previous pest control company who treated did not wait long enough to ensure complete elimination–so they missed the bugs they pushed under the carpet and baseboards in a seemingly vacant, bug free apartment.
The good news is, the downstairs (with the spotting) and the master bed are both looking good. I asked Joe twice to dry the stuff I bagged for him. At first he thought I wanted him to throw it out…but I explained, again, all he had to do was put it on dry for 60 minutes to kill the bugs.
Chapter 5: Round Three in The Six Building– Sept 21st
The downstairs tenants were now gone, which meant that it was no longer The Seven Building. It was The Six.
James and Kathy were the two tenants who have been experiencing the most activity, and (par for the course) they both had a lot to say about the bugs that bite at night. And we listened. James’s comment from the last service–“They’re in the carpet”–was still ringing in our ears.
Predator has now convinced that we were experiencing the “scatter bomb effect,” which happens in homes when an infested sleeping/resting area is suddenly taken from the usually lazy, slow moving creatures. Last service, I found signs in the shoebox. This time, I spied two live bugs through the slits of his radios. Hunting bedbugs in groups is so much easier…
I’m a music lover, and I don’t want to be the guy who sprayed insecticide on the radio The Day the Music Died. I also could let the bugs live in the radios, so I evoked an old trick. I covered the radios with bags and dusted them with the silica gel Cymexia. With the dust in there, it won’t take the radio lovers long to die. As soon as they start moving, looking for a host in the dark, they will cross the dust and meet their ends.
The other big move (outside of the routine) Predator made in James’s unit was take all the belongings out of the dresser drawers, put them in the bathroom, treat the drawers, and put his dresser back together.
“I think getting these drawers up off the floor will eliminate harborage near his sleeping area,” Predator said, explaining his plan.
Kathy’s room was looking good. Predator didn’t find any live bugs or eggs. As was our protocol, I spent a half hour steaming her box spring and nearby baseboards like they were infested anyway.
The rest of the service was routine. Predator inspected and treated the baseboards in the vacant rooms, Doug’s room, and the downstairs common areas. Doug’s room was a mess as usual, but cleanliness has nothing to do with it. We still found no activity there.
Predator never feels optimistic, but I felt like were getting close. Hopefully, one more service will allow us to move to The Next Stage.
Chapter 6: Round Three in Townhouse– Sept 24
I was sad to hear that Joe left Portland yesterday. In his place, the younger guy “T” stayed throughout my prep-time to help.
I was glad he stayed. We had a nice long chat while I unbagged everything they bagged, and had him stage and start loading the linens, blankets, and clothing in the dryer. I feel that he understood the importance of doing that and I’m 50% sure they followed through after I left.
I asked “T” where they futon and love seat had gone. He informed me that they put it in their family members red truck, which they promised to take to the dump (off property) tomorrow.
Like I told Joe, Predator won’t tell anyone to throw something out…but if they choose to toss it…it has to be gone, off property, before I call all clear. Or it has to be treated with everything else in the unit.
As “T” ate Oreos and ramen, Predator inspected and steamed the baseboards and bed. I found a lot of dead bugs along the baseboard in the most active room upstairs. But they were dead! and I didn’t spend too long entertaining conspiracy theories about The Origin of The Bugs.
After I was done with the service, I was happy to inform your tenants that we would be back in a month for The Final Inspection.
No new signs. No live bugs. No reported bites. I say we’re ready to move the townhouse forward to The Final Stage.
Chapter 7: Round Four in The Six Building – Oct 8th
Pest Predator isn’t a hippie. He doesn’t have any wishy washy beliefs about saving the planet from humans. In fact, he’s looking forward to that long awaited day when living characters (make of pure light and energy) will have the earth to theirselves again.
His distaste of chemicals is more elemental. He can taste the chemicals in his food, even after it’s been processed from soil, to plant, to animal, and then to hamburger–and it doesn’t like the way chemicals taste. The other big one is, he’s a hunter who hates becoming dependent on “sneaky chemical traps.” Liquid non-repellant residuals and dusts work great, so long as Predator’s prey creep and crawl across it. If they don’t cross it (and pause at the edge of the treatment because they detect something foreign), then Predator’s chemical trap will fail.
And the answer is yes, bugs are smart enough to avoid supposedly non-repellant chemicals and dusts. Predator has spent countless hours just watching them, and it happens…Bedbugs avoid his chemicals if they can find a path of less resistance. I mean, wouldn’t you pause for thought if the moisture of your exoskeleton began to suddenly dry out? Would you take the long way home to your next juicy blood meal if your mind suddenly went cloudy–imbalanced due to neurotoxin exposure–and you became confused every time you went your usual route around the body?
Bugs can’t read, but all creatures sensed danger. And the ability to sense danger and adapt is why we creatures have the ability to sense danger in the first place. What good would it be to sense danger–and feel panic and fear when we saw a poisonous snake–if we couldn’t overcome it? Same goes for bugs. We’re not living in The Dark Ages. We can spray chemicals like pixie dust and hope to kill dumb, spell bound bugs like magic.
But damn Cymexa dust works well when the bugs are trapped inside a plastic bag with nowhere to go!
After Predator inspected James’s room and only found one half dead bug in his dresser, he treated it thoroughly again. And then set James’s radio back in place for him.
Before he was able to inspect the other rooms and do his treatment, Kathy made an unexpected entrance on the set.
She said she was sick and needed to sleep, but she smelled of booze. And she suddenly became more alert when Jake (not Predator mind you) told her it was OK if she slept on the downstairs sofa while he worked upstairs. The chemical–Alpine WSG–was the same chemical he used many times before (in accordance with the label) when he treated restaurants during business hours with employees and customers present.
“That was a bad move, human,” Predator said as I felt his character began to entrench itself in my mind.
“What do you want me to do?” I fought back. “Kick her out?”
“Have Wilderness Security Guide do it, or that Passive Aggressive Asshole/ Social Worker character you played for years…”
“One of the reasons I started Storysold: Pest Control was so I wouldn’t have to be an Asshole Social Worker any more!”
“Too bad champ,” Predator stated firmly. “Go down there…talk it out with her…I can’t hunt properly with another human in here.”
So I went downstairs and inspected the inactive furniture for the fourth time. Kathy had crashed on the couch, until she saw I was there.
Five minutes of conversation later, I looked up and saw Kathy approaching with her hand held up for a high five. I hadn’t been paying all that much attention to what we were talking about, but she looked excited about a big high five, so I gave her a big high five.
Then she wrapped her hand around mine, took a step closer, smiled big (wide eyed), and I knew Predator was right. Kathy had to go.
“Listen,” I said as I tapped my Asshole Social Worker character. “I like talking with you, but I have a job to do. And I don’t want to tell Brenda that I was unable to complete the service, because you weren’t able to vacate the building as instructed. You could have called Brenda in advance, and we could have cancelled before I arrived today, but now I would have to charge her a rescheduling fee.”
I had learned from my year of “teaching” at Timberlake Job Corps that it’s best not to wait around for a reply after delivering lines like that, so I continued to inspect the furniture to emphasize my point.
I felt Kathy’s upbeat mood drop.
“I’m sorry. I don’t want to be in your way,” she said genuinely. “Do you want me to wait outside?”
We locked eyes, and I said, “Yes, that would be best.”
Then she walked outside and sat on the front porch, hood over her face, and waited as we completed the service.
I can’t lie. Predator was a little nervous about the half dead bug I found in James’s dresser, but he was convinced enough it was time to move to The Next Stage. It was supposed to be our great moment of victory, but it sure didn’t feel that way. Combat tends to be like that. Once The Conflict at the heart of all service stories takes hold of your mind and body, it’s not easily forgotten, or forgiven. The strong feeling that “The bad guys are still out there, somewhere in the world, lurking in their lairs” dies much, much slower than real bad guys…and bedbugs.
“Even if we missed one or two,” Pest Predator stated coldly. “If there’s still an active female alive, we’ll know if for sure by the time The Final Inspection rolls around in a month.”
“For sure,” I said, shaking my head as Brenda rolled into the driveway. “But that doesn’t satisfy my need to know they’ve been totally eliminated.”
“You mean your civilized need for order and perfection…”
“Can it, Predator. I’m wild…I’m working with you, aren’t I?.”
“You also work with that Asshole Bookmaker…”
I was still arguing with myself when Brenda arrived with the keys. It felt a little like a lie–only because I suspected the bugs weren’t all gone–but I also knew it was the right thing to do. In The End, if I don’t achieve total elimination of Brenda’s bedbugs, then it’s on me. I will have to eat the cost of eliminating any bugs James, Kathy, Doug, or T find after your Complex passes their final inspections.
“I found one half dead bug, but I’m calling it,” I said when you entered the scene. “I’ll text to schedule The Final Inspection in about a month.”
And that was that. Hunting bugs is always a waiting game.
Chapter Broken Mirror: The Final Inspection – Nov 7th
Brenda and I met for The Final Inspection at 5:30. It was already dark, a reminder that the short, cold days of winter were on their way.
We started with the Townhouse. It was clean, ready for the inspection, and eerily quiet. Ever since Joe left, all the stuff in the unit (and the stuff in the plastic bags) had vanished Somewhere. And so did the many people who had poured from the rooms when I arrived for the service.
I didn’t spend too much time thinking about it. I inspected the unit to my satisfaction.
I walked down the stairs to face the eager eyes of my audience. “I found something,” I said dramatically.
Then I smiled, pulled something from my pocket, and said, “I found this granola bar tucked back in the recliner!”
The unit was clear. Even the bedbugs I found in the cracks of the closet had gone away. From there we moved onto The Six Unit Complex.
Doug and James were watching The Nightly News in the common area. I greeted James with a warm handshake. Doug launched into his usual parade of defenses. He told us about the work he did, and gave very understandable excuses about the work he didn’t do.
“My room is kind of messy…”
“Yeah,” I smiled. “I know that about you.”
It took him a few moments to realize I meant always messy, not just the mess he left for that day. I liked that he laughed when he got my joke.
With the greetings out of the way, I inspected Doug’s room, and then moved onto Kathy’s and James’s rooms.
After a half an hour of searching everything I could think to search (and a lot of live scares from dead bugs) I turned to Brenda and winced like I’d just been punched in the eye.
“Yeah, ok,” I said with my usual measure of doubt. “We’re good.”
Then, as I walked to the door, I accidentally kicked one of James’s mirrors. It broke in two, and I saw a vision of The Future.
I was doomed to return for sure. There was nothing I could do. I’d broke a mirror in the room with the most activity. It’s not superstition. It’s just the way it is. Good poker players have skills too.
“I have a very important question to ask you…” I said, facing James in the common area. “What’s the retail value of your mirror?”
We settled on all the cash in my truck: $22.