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The Newtons in Vancouver (12.12.2019) – “The Heroes of Slumberland (aka The Part Where Pest Predator Learns to Lie to Humans)”

PREDATOR: The safe bet is to wait until we get the all clear to move new furniture in, but I get that life has its own pace. I have your back either way.

SOPHIE: 4 bugs on me from big couch last night. Blech!

Produced on Oct 7, 8, 22, 23; Nov 5, and Dec 17 in Vancouver, WA

by Sophie and David N.

I am Pest Predator, the customer service character in charge of bedbug services for Storysold: Pest Control.

I’ve been hunting bedbugs for many years now, and the question that everyone always asks is, “Where did they come from?”

I’ve tried to tell the truth. If you’re out in the world and you sit on a chair, rest on a couch, or sleep in a bed infested with bedbugs for more than, (let’s say) fifteen minutes, then you might have made a new friend. Cleanliness has nothing to do with a bedbug’s decision to befriend you.

I’ve tried the truth, but my social skills aren’t, as they say “appropriate.” I can tell by the look on their faces. “I don’t know where you made your new friends,” isn’t an appropriate answer to that question.

That’s why I’m learning to lie. Nothing in the following service story is true. It’s the story I should have told Sophie when she asked that question…

On Monday Oct 7th the immaterial, generically engineered commercial character known as Thumbtack (who we generically endorse in hopes they will someday vanquish Home Advisor and leave that monster lost forever in a sea of forgetfulness), sent the following messages:

SOPHIE: [requested an estimate for bedbug elimination]

PREDATOR: Hello Sophie, I prefer to start with an inspection even if you know you have them. I have found it saves a lot of time, money, and confusion. I charge $85 for inspection. If you decide to go forward with treatment, it will be applied to first treatment fee…

SOPHIE: When can you come 🙂

PREDATOR: I have time today between 12 and 2, tomorrow AM, or Wednesday afternoon. Do any of those times work for you?

SOPHIE: Yes today please

PREDATOR: Sounds good. I’ll text you when I’m on my way

Hours later, I was standing in Sophie’s home in Vancouver WA inspecting all her sleeping and resting areas for bedbugs.

I found a small gathering (about 25-50) in her son’s bed, about as many in the bed downstairs, a few possible signs in the back bedroom, but the mass of them were in the living room. The nice, comfy, red couches were populated heavily with the bugs that bite at night.

Like I said, I’m not always socially appropriate. And I’m proud to report that I did not look the family in their eyes and say, “Holy Moses! You have a small army of bloodsuckers in your living room!” I very calmly assured them that I was the right character for the job, all the while setting what I felt was appropriate expectations.

“My average number of treatments is three,” I reported as I added what I thought was amazing sellspersonship. “I’m Pest Predator, and I take my hunts seriously. If I can’t hit by average of three, I’ll do the rest for half price.” Later that night, at our nightly team meeting around the movie screen (featuring the latest action movie), our human host Jake made it clear that was not the right answer.

“Half off?” our human railed. “Do you have any idea how expensive healthcare insurance is?”

“Never fear, human vassel,” I spoke in calm, even tones. “I will vanquish their infestation in three services…”

“Or what?” Jake laughed nervously. “Where’s my cut of this deal?”

CHAPTER 1: The First Hunt

That was The Intro Inspection. The next morning, on Oct 8th, I arrived bright and early for my first bug hunt. As you might have already noticed, I hadn’t begun lying to the humans yet.

Sophie greeted me at the door, bright eyed and full of energy. I like to indulge myself and identify as a “supereconomic action hero,” but Sophie was the real deal. She put her customer service mask on, clocked in for the nightshift, and became that undervalued hero we know as “social worker.”

You know, the social services superpeople who form like Autobots (or Voltron) to help the humans who host non-normal characters who don’t always produce the kind of action that the Capital C Characters of civilization don’t believe are worth the price of their admission.

Needless to say, I liked her immediately.

I liked her in spite of the fact that she genuinely liked classic 80s action heroes like Steven Seagal and David Hasselhoff. I’m too much of a true believer in the greats like Sean Connery, Kurt Russel, and Dwayne Johnson to take would-be heroes like Night Rider seriously, but I admired her courage. It takes guts to say “I like David Hasselhoff” aloud and mean it. In some countries that aren’t as free as ours, they shame people for saying such things. I’m not saying we should tape our humans’ eyes open and administer legal drugs, and then make everyone watch appropriate 80s action movies like Silverado, Predator, Jedi, Mad Max 2, Wrath of Khan, and Big Trouble in Little China, but the world would be a better place if we were all running hot with Jack Burton on The Pork Chop Express.

“To the choppa!” we’d all cry in The Next Extraterrestrial Bedbug Invasion.

Sorry, that was an inappropriate departure from my narrative flow. I’m about to get to the part where I start lying to the humans.

After I bagged all the suspect bedding and clothes and prepped the home for the chemical spray, I spent about an hour steaming the couches. As it goes with the real-life action hero business of slaughtering bedbugs, it takes many forms. Steam is great for killing the bugs and eggs that are present during The Hunt, but it has a limited reach like chemicals. In other words, steam isn’t more magic than spraying neurotoxins. The steam can reach further into, let’s say, a couch, than chemicals, but it still can’t reach far or hot enough to kill a hoard living in the inner core of a mattress, couch, or chair. To get at a bedbug population that has grown below the surface of a sleeping or resting area, trickery is needed.

“I’m going to put these climb ups on your couches,” I said to Sophie a few moments before she left. “Is that ok?’

“Yes,” she replied. “We’re going to get rid of those anyway.”

Use the climb ups to cut them off from the baseboards, carpet, and the rest of the house. That was my plan as I applied neurotoxins around the base of the couches as I usually do. I was heartened by the low numbers of bugs in other rooms. Then again, I did find signs of activity in every sleeping room in the home. No doubt, this wasn’t going to be easy.

CHAPTER 2: The Second Hunt

In the time before The Second Hunt, the creature Thumbtack sent the following messages:

SOPHIE: New couches coming tomorrow. Not sure how best to proceed? Do we wait to open them or go ahead and move the old ones out

PREDATOR: The safe bet is to wait until we get the all clear to move new furniture in, but I get that life has its own pace. I have your back either way.

SOPHIE: 4 bugs on me from big couch last night. Blech! Can I at least get rid of that one and the new one in. I can put the trays on the new one. They all seemed like smaller bugs. I guess we need to schedule next treatment?

PREDATOR: Smaller bugs is good sign. As for the couch, I totally support whatever decision you make. Sounds to me like you’re ready for a new sofa 🙂 We can schedule the next treatment for sure, but I recommend we wait the full two weeks. I space the treatments out that way, because it saves us time, you money, and it’s more effective in long run.

SOPHIE: Ok! Do you want to throw me out a date/ time for treatment 2? Same time on 22nd would be great…

Good chance that’s where the lying began. Smaller bugs/nymphs are a sign of The End, but they’re also a sign of The Beginning. I suppose I should have mentioned that, but I was already asking a lot of our producers. It’s hard to look a human in the eyes and say, “I’m sorry, for the next three treatments you’re going to be my bait.”

In fact, I felt so bad about having to ask Sophie and her wonderful family to be my bait, I put one of my still untested prototypes into action. The Sunday night before I geared up for my second hunt, I spent an evening building a bedbug trap that, if successful, would solve the problem of bites during treatment. Not only that, it might also eliminate the need for chemicals in bedbug treatments all together.

The idea is simple enough. That thing fits in between the mattress and box spring of a queen sized bed (like the one in Sophie’s basement) with the lip facing down. Once installed, the lip is filled with a old pest control product called Tanglefoot. It’s a sticky, removable glue substance that would catch bedbugs like flies on flypaper.

And yes, I managed to fit that thing on my little Ford Transit van and drive to Vancouver. It was excited to test my new contraption, but I’m also what they call a “mission oriented” creature. After I arrived in scene, Sophie and I had a heart to heart chat about the new plastic wrapped furniture in the backyard. (a) Not only did I then realize that the only queen bed my new invention would fit on didn’t have a box spring, but Ikea slats (b) I realized Sophie was committed to tossing the couch and love seats that represented the bulk of the bug harborage in her home, and I knew, without a doubt, that would make my job easier. The only problem was disposal.

“I’m going to call Waste Management and ask them to pick it up,” she said after we moved the couch and love seats onto the driveway. “If they won’t do it, I’m sure they can recommend someone who can.”

“Sounds good,” was all I said, knowing well that the bedbug stigma was so troublesome to humans, even waste management professionals refused to touch a bed, or couch, if they knew it had bedbugs. While Sophie called Waste Management (and got the expected runaround) and I proceeded to steam, inspect, kill bugs, and prep the house, I stewed on the words that were already on the tip of our tongue.

After her call, Sophie went to church and left me to roll up my sleeves, blow my inner hunting bugle, and begin my ritual act of tracking the little devils down. Unlike other bedbug hunters who require their customers to pack all their belongings in bags and stack them floor to ceiling in the kitchen or bathroom, I prefer to rifle through the belongings of relative strangers like I was a prison guard, or at-risk teen social worker tossing bunks looking for inappropriate contraband in a detention center. I’m aware it’s super creepy, but I don’t trust chemicals. I want to look my prey in its eyes and know for certain I tracked and sent them to The Great Bedbug Beyond.

I’m often tempted to comment on what I find: “I see you like The National too!” But I keep a lid on it, because I don’t want to be any creeper than I already am. Humans never know exactly how to take me anyway. I’m half human, half fly, and Predator from the 80s movie The Predator.

By the end of my second hunt, I discovered 2 harborages I missed in my first hunt. The first was along the edge of the carpet that was under the couch. The second was a bug I found in the video gaming chair in the back bedroom. How could you be so stupid! I thought as I waited for Sophie to return from church. Always check the gaming chairs! They’re like Bedbug Disneyland. They all go there!

As soon as Sophie walked in, I stopped the ritual act of beating myself with branches like a medieval monk. Even though the general punishment and sacrifice of self is often highly encouraged (but seldom rewarded), I still think individual repression falls into creepy/borderline inappropriate behavior right along with hunting for bugs in other people’s private belongings.

Then again, I thought as I presented Sophie with the carpet, the fancy doctors on The Hill get away with borderline inappropriate/downright weird behavior all the time. I mean, for real, those guys get paid big bucks to rifle though more than your belongings looking for pestilence. They get paid big bucks to rifle through your BODIES looking for microscopic “bugs” everyday, and that’s somehow perfectly normal. Humans just nod and agree with those characters when do their inspections. Maybe that’s because they doctors are so great about putting on a good show, pretending they really know For Real what’s going on behind your walls. They interpret The Nature of your bodies with their well crafted stories same as any hustling pest control operator. It’s not like they really have what would be a genuine super power…to see inside and know your cellular soul intimately.

Sophie took one look at the rug, and decisively stated, “Toss it. I was going to replace that rug anyway.”

There was hope for the carpet, but I rolled it up anyway. I know all too well, that too much optimism always gets me in trouble.

The sudden need to say something about the removal of things hit me all at once. By choosing to replace the harborage, Sophie was unwittingly moving into my happy hunting ground like the time the bad guys took over the ship Steven Seagal was humbly cooking in…before shit hit the fan.

“I’m going to say something mean now,” I said with a smile as Sophie walked out in preparation for my chemical application. I framed it like that because I knew she was a super person social worker, who was used to higher degrees of conflict than the average clock punchers.

“Shoot,” she smiled back.

“I’ve already sunk my teeth in this one, so I don’t want you to tell me ‘no’ when I make this offer…”

“Well ok,” she almost looked interested. “What’s your offer?”

“Waste Management isn’t going to pick that up,” I explained. “Let me take it to the dump for you guys. I need to do it… It will satisfy my need to complete this hunt start to finish.”

I knew she knew I meant it. I’m not as they say “on the spectrum,” but I’m not fully human. I’m part alien hunter from out space, and the alien hunters in space take their sense of completion very seriously.

“Ok,” she said, torturing me. “But you should let me pay you something.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I smiled, secretly sighing with relief knowing my happy hunting ground was mine once again. “I wouldn’t charge you for the chemicals I kill the bugs with…It’s all part of the service.”

CHAPTER 3: The Dump Run

I decided it was a bad idea to let the furniture sit in the driveway any longer than necessary. I knew, from experience, that humans (like some pests) will take anything that’s not nailed down if they think it’s been abandoned.

It’s classic earthing behavior to explore, discover, and claim “undiscovered” countries, even ones infested with bedbugs.

I arrived early the next morning in our old pickup truck “Ranger Jane,” an old Autobot friend who has been with Farmer Emily and I on many of our adventures. When no humans are looking, Ranger Jane transforms into a being made of Pure Energy (Giver of Racial and Gender Equality, Economic Freedom, and Chocolate Milkshakes with Enough Straws for Everybody). If you look carefully at the periodic table of elements you’ll see that Pure Energy is listed beside kryptonite, the only material in the universe who can kill Superman. Everyone knows he really struggles when it comes to maintaining a normal, everyday relationship with Lois. She’s always so much easier to relate to when she’s tied to the tracks.

All that’s to say, Ranger Jane didn’t have any strange, socially sanctioned stigma about bedbugs. She hauled the infested harborage to the dump in three trips, “no oil spilt.” Which is Autobot for “no sweat.”

“Aside from some wild fictions about Pure Energy and such,” Ranger Jane said, using her radio not too unlike Bumblebee, “you haven’t really lied to any of the humans yet. What’s your deal? You know no one will ever read these service stories if you write them straight.”

I heard what the old clunker had to say, but I didn’t reply to her taunts until after our dump runs were done.

“I know,” I replied finally as I waved goodbye to Sophie and her husband smiling and waving back on their front lawn. “I’m warming up to it.”

“You know she’s going to ask, don’t you?”

“Yes, I know. The humans always do.”

“So what are you going to say?”

“I don’t know,” I replied honestly. “Where do bedbugs come from?”

And that’s that. I pressed play on my favorite song–The Pixies “Where is My Mind?”–and let my character fade to black on my drive home.

CHAPTER 4: The Third Hunt

A week later, the Thumbtack sent a very special message to my human’s phone. It read like this:

SOPHIE: We are winning! Home feels like it’s ours again, no pests since your last visit. Will we see you Nov 5 at 8?

PREDATOR: Awesome! Totally a team effort! November 5th at 8 works great.

Money is necessary for food and shelter, but victory is the true currency of any predator. And it can’t be bought.

I arrived on Nov 5th more fired up than usual. I flashed my light in every crack and crevice in every sleeping and resting area of the home. I didn’t want to find any bugs, but I didn’t want to stop looking either. To me, the scene where I missed one–and failed to claim total victory–was a lot more terrifying that the scene where I found one and had to tell Sophie we needed a 4th treatment. No doubt, it helped that all the furniture in the living room was new. And no doubt, that also upped the stakes. The new furniture was now under my protection too.

After an hour or two of inspection, I sighed a sigh of relief and put my mind to steaming the downstairs bed and prepping the house for what I hoped would be a final application of bug destroying neurotoxins.

When Sophie returned from church, we talked in the living room for a while. I shared my story about my autistic nephew stealing trinkets behind the prize counter at Chucky Cheese in front of everyone, and no one said a thing. He just reached behind the counter in full view of God and took what he wanted, and nobody cared to sound the alarm. He should have been dragged off to some kind of detention center for at-risk teens. Instead he went home with a lot of candy and useless toy garbage.

At first I thought that story about my autistic nephew had nothing to do with hunting bedbugs, but then I thought about it for a moment or two while I paced around the room, still looking for bugs.

I got it, I thought suddenly. I know where bedbugs come from. Now all I have to do is wait for Sophie to ask me again, or maybe I can prompt her to ask the question with some kind of social cue…

I was about to make my move when I happened to look up.

“Shit,” I said aloud. “I forgot to check the curtains.”

Sure enough, there was a small party of bedbugs still clinging to the ripples in the living room curtains. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Sophie to wash and dry it at high heat for 60 minutes, but I didn’t trust her.

“Don’t worry,” I said as I carefully bagged it up and puffed it with a few rounds of silica gel dust. “I’m still good with moving to final stage of the process. I’ll bring your curtains back in a month.”

And so began the long wait for The Final Inspection. In the long days that followed my mind raced: Did I get them all? Will we be able to finally claim our victory from The Heroes of Slumberland?

Chapter 4: Breaking The Fourth Wall

When the day of The Final Inspection finally arrived, Sophie and David greeted me at the door. I was feeling nervous, as always. What if I missed one? I thought, pacing like a caged animal. What if I inspect and give them the thumbs up, and then I miss one?

“I’m nervous,” I reported after a few moments of pacing.

“Why?” Sophie replied with her potent mix of indomitable optimism and skepticism. “I’m not worried at all. We haven’t seen a bug since our last treatment.”

Then I explained myself, a compulsive act often attributed to bedbug destroyers, while I began my routine of turning their home upside down like a truffle hunting pig.

“Did you bring our curtains back?”

“You bet,” I pointed to the bag I brought with me. “I washed and dried it last night.”

I know Sophie and David said they were cool, but I could feel the tension in the room. We were all on pins and needles, waiting to see if I’d turn up any more bugs. In spite of what most people believe, even a lone bedbug in a 3 room home isn’t impossible to find. Life isn’t like Star Trek. They can be found; bedbugs don’t have cloaking devices. Usually, the logic goes, the longer I hunt for them, the better the chances are that I won’t find any.

Ten minutes rolled into thirty. I searched all the rooms, lifting every mattress and sofa in their home with my Herculean ant strength.

“I’m calling it!” I said, greeting the couple in their kitchen with a grin.

“All clear?” David asked hopefully.

“All clear!”

After a celebratory round of high fives, we enjoyed a nice, long chat in the kitchen. We talked about all the things I love to talk about (but rarely have the chance to exercise): social work, super powers vs. mental illness, fiction and story writing, and the everyday flow of The Action. In the back of my mind I was secretly hoping they had read this story…and knew what had to happen next in order for my title to make sense. Come on…please, I thought. Pop the question…

As the wonderful conversation wandered, I wanted to shake my head and yell, “Cut!” And then take my stars into my office and explain, “Don’t you see? This scene, right here and now, is our chance at The Big Time! Can you name one story in the history of the world where real, live action characters became aware enough of their own stories to break The Fourth Wall? All it will take is for you to be aware enough of our story to pop the question…and cue my reply!”

To this day, I don’t know if Sophie and David were aware enough of The Fourth Wall to break it, but I shit you not! It happened right there in that kitchen with no prompting from me!

The topic emerged naturally from our conversation: “So where do bedbugs come from?”

And I smiled and said, “I know I should tell you what I tell everyone else…and tell you that bedbugs are hitchhikers that you can pick up in motels, theaters, and video gaming conventions…but that wouldn’t be true. Not really. The truth is, bedbugs are the heroes of Slumberland. They’re the vanguards of a growing movement among the wilderness creatures of this planet who all believe the only way to cure the human infestation is to, well, rock you gently to sleep–like Snow White–in a digital world they’ve developed for you called Slumberland. This movement wants to put a spell on you that makes you forget all about The Action…forget about the pain and conflict of life. They want you to fall into your predictable work routines, watch TV in the evenings and weekends, never talk to strangers, and fear the wilderness outside your home, so their heroes can feed on you…and drink from your precious bodily fluids…so they can divide the humans from themselves, grow strong, and reclaim their wilderness homes from the humans like an invasion of brain-sucking vampire zombies.”

Sophie made a vomit face, and said, “Blech!”

“That sounds so awful,” David cringed.

“Oh it is,” I replied dramatically. “But that’s the truth. An army of Slumberlandian Heroes are now, as we speak, marching across the globe pacifying humans with generic work routines and screens. They are working hard to build marketable sleeping and resting areas, so they can feed on our flesh whenever they want…with popcorn and bowls of ice cream.”

It wasn’t right. I should have never told them. No human should have to bear the weight of so much truth, but they asked. That’s where bedbugs come from.