Monday, December 23, 2013

Of Bedbugs and Baked Ham

   First of all, I don't know if any of this is true. Maybe I'm just misreading everything. But this is what I suspect.
   The guest at the center didn't stay long, had a cup of coffee and a cookie and sat on the sofa  reading the daily papers. It was wet and cold outside, in the midst of an ice storm and the guest's apartment I knew to be cramped and dark. The center on the other hand is bright and light and tidy. He left as another visitor arrived and as I swabbed the floor to remove wet footprints. That's when I saw it, a small brown insect with a large oval abdomen. I grabbed a piece of toilet paper and scooped him up. Then I saw the next one, and the next, all of them on the end of the sofa where the previous guest had sat. I ran for the vacuum cleaner, turned over the cushion and found another. Bugs in winter? maybe something that had fallen out of the birch branch decor, hatching in the slightly warmer temperature. I gave the sofa a thorough once-over with the vacuum. No more bugs,
   That night I spent the evening googling bugs. Not what I had planned but the ice storm precluded Solstice festivities. Lice? Not quite. Bedbugs? I had never seen a bedbug but, really that's what it looked like.
   The next morning I closed the center and cleaned like crazy. I found one more of the little brown critters under the sofa cushion.
   The next day, my guest arrived again. I explained the situation. Had he not complained to me of itching and bites? All gone he said. Would he please sit on the loveseat, not the sofa? (easier to see bugs). Sure, no problem. Another cup of coffee, another perusal of the daily papers. He stood up. There it was, a little brown bug crawling on his jeans. He nabbed it, we bagged it. A discussion ensued of the need to take the clothes to the laundromat and wash them and dry them in a hot dryer. There was a confusing admission of a matress now destroyed (it was full of them) an apartment already bombed. Yet there one was, crawling up his pantsleg.
   Could I give him some money for the laundromat? How about some bags for the laundry? Of course I said. I had only a $20 bill. I gave it to him.

   Now, it was actually about an hour and a half later when I went to the grocery store and found my visitor arriving in a neighbor's car. He could have gone to the laundromat, though he was dressed exactly as he was earlier. Oddly, his neighbor came up to me and apologized profusely for being angry with me when picking up the previous resident of the same apartment (these low rent, undesirable quarters are cycled amongst the neediest of the city's residents), an event which had occurred months earlier.
  I then spied my friend with a large ham and some trimmings for a nice dinner. He was apparently in cahoots with the neighbor, who was aiding and abetting this dinner procurement.
  Now I know that this center guest, who lives on food stamps, never has enough money for food at the end of the month. Never especially enough for meat, the holy grail of those who are hungry.
  I began to wonder if the $20 dollar bill had figured in these dinner plans. No laundry, probably, but a cheery dinner with the neighbor and his wife, a whole ham, a full belly.
   Merry Christmas. And maybe another plan to deal with the bedbugs. If you're hungry, doesn't eating take precedence over cleanliness? I had to confess, in the world of survival, that it does.

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