Here’s a phone call I had with the Farmer, last summer, when I was at a cello institute with my son:
Me: We have bites everywhere. We are never going blackberry picking again.
Farmer: I don’t have bites. I don’t think it’s blackberries.
Me: They are itching. They are mosquito bites.
Farmer: I think they’re bed bugs.
Me: Country people always think bed bugs! It’s a country thing to think bed bugs are everywhere. I’d know them if I saw them.
Farmer: Well mosquito bites don’t show up two days later.
Two days later, I was up late, reading because I was too itchy to sleep, and a bed bug crawled across my son.
I had a panic attack. I crushed the bug, because that’s what you’re supposed to do to show the exterminator. Blood spills out, and it has bite prongs on top.
The other thing you do is look at the bites, which come in threes, and somehow I had not noticed that the last two days. They were in threes.
I called the farmer in a panic. He is well aware that we lost everything to bed bugs when we lived in New York City.
I tell the hotel they have bed bugs.
They tell me no one can deal with it til morning.
They give me a new room.
I point out that I’ll just bring the bed bugs with me if I go to a new room. I see immediately that I am an expert, from the last bed bug debacle, and the front desk guy knows nothing. I say, “The eggs are invisible and can live without food for 18 months.”
He does not care. I am ruining his peaceful nightshift. I do not scream at him. I am waiting for the appropriate person to scream at.
I cry at night, in bed, with the lights on, making sure no bugs crawl on my sleeping son.
I am going to fast forward now, okay? I’m going to tell you that here’s the hotel industry position on bed bugs: That it is not negligent if there are bed bugs, so they are not responsible for fixing anything that happens as a result of bed bugs.
I see, online, that people are suing the hotel industry. I can tell this is going to be like the lawsuits to enforce my son receiving what is due to him in the public school system for autism: The lawsuit costs more than just paying for stuff myself.
I tell the regional vice president that I do not expect to pay for the nights that my son and I were eaten by bugs.
He says we have to pay. He says he provided a room that was, to his knowledge, safe.
It is clear, though, that the exterminator he hired to confirm that it’s bed bugs found the bed bugs in five minutes and they could do that with every room, and then we wouldn’t have bed bugs in hotels, but the hotel industry doesn’t want to. Even the W has bed bugs.
I see that I’m on my own. I come to this quickly because something that really hurt me the last time I had bed bugs was that I thought my landlord was responsible, and I spent time fighting him.
You cannot cook a car. I tell myself I was going to get a new one anyway. You cannot cook $200 shoes. I tell myself I can buy new ones.
There were a few things I couldn’t throw out, though. Like, the books I had just read that I loved and I took notes in so I’d remember to tell you good stuff.
But I was scared to open them. Weeks after the bugs, I was still getting bites, at home, because welts can show up three weeks after the bite. I was convinced that as soon as I opened the bag, bugs would crawl out of the books.
Finally we hired a guy with a dog to sniff the house for bugs. It’s the only way to know for sure if you have bugs. I called the guy who supplies dogs to Disney World. That’s right. If you stay at a Disney hotel, you can always request that a bed bug dog sniff your room before you stay in it.
So the dog came, sniffed everywhere, and found nothing. Then the guy showed my kids the bugs he trains the dog with. They are in a vial.
The dog has to train every day. So we let him train in our house. The guy hid the bugs under the mattress, in our guest bedroom. The dog walked into the room and found them in five seconds. It was amazing. (Career consideration: To keep the bed bugs fresh, the guy hires people to let the bugs bite them: Good money, great hours.)
Before he left, I had the dog sniff the books I had carted around with me all summer to make sure I told you about them. Here they are:
Secrets of the Moneylab, by Kay-Yut Chen
The author is a behavioral economist the book talks about ways HP uses behavioral economics to make more money. For example, giving employees $50 to bet on sales results produced better sales estimates that those officially released by HP. And he quantifies how much money you save by building a reputation of trust: automakers deemed the least trustworthy spend five times longer making a sale than automakers deemed very trustworthy. Truly, I learned something interesting on every page of this book.
The Price of Everything, by Eduardo Porter
This book tells us how prices get set. He answers questions like “What’s a woman worth?” (there’s a shortage of women in China) or “What is an early piece of technology worth?” (early adopters always get a deal). Of course I was drawn into the chapter about “What is the price of happiness?”. The book explains why after $75,000, more free time is probably worth more to you than more money.
All the Money in the World, by Laura Vanderkam.
This book talks about how the happiest people in the world spend their money. It’s a much more practical book than the other two. I confess that sometimes I like theoretical because a practical book makes you realize where you really need to change how you are doing things. I like this book because Vanderkam challenges the idea of scrimping and saving and says instead, just learn how to make more money. She says don’t bother saving for retirement and instead see retirement as something people used to do, but not anymore.
These books really end up telling the story of bedbugs. Vanderkam really writes about security. How to use money to get security. And in hindsight, it explains why my sense of wellbeing did not depend so much on whether I have bed bugs in my life, but whether I had the resources to deal with the problem. Porter explains why I was willing to pay $700 to have a dog sniff my house for five minutes. And Secrets of the Moneylab explains why, in the face of bed bug infestations, I was so quick to get rid of my car, but I couldn’t bear to throw out these three books that I loved so much.