Archive | August, 2011

Bed Bugs and Buddhism

23 Aug

The bedbugs have made me into a better Buddhist. Or Catholo-Buddhist. Or whatever mish-mash of “religions” I’ve become.

Here’s why: I have been a disciplined practitioner of eliminating my attachment to earthly things over the past days.

Meaning I have thrown out A LOT of stuff in a very short period of time. To quantify: One dumpsterful plus a double-load for bulk pick-up.

I thought it would be interesting to explore some Buddhist and Christian quotes on attachment and “worldly” living, made all the more interesting thanks to my new frenemies (props to Eric Calvert), the bedbugs.

Starting with this Buddhist quote:

The greatest generosity is non-attachment.

So, I’m being generous to the city dump, since no one wants my bedbuggy stuff? (Well, I suppose that’s not technically correct. See here for more on people who grew attached to my stuff, thereby taking on my former attachment with the added bonus of bedbugs.)

This next quote (also Buddhist) unmasks the illusion of the uniquely human trait–saving face:

The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

This is a special shout-out to any of my neighbors still speaking to me, after the several days of trash piled on my front lawn, followed by the dumpster sitting in my driveway after that. Now, we’re just back to the small pile of mulch at the bottom of the driveway, with several small trees growing out of it.

Hey, what can I say, that mulch pile was several feet high at the start of the summer. That’s what I call progress! So, even though I appear to be “that neighbor,” I’m really an extremely upstanding citizen wholly focused on saving the world, starting with absolute bedbug elimination.

Here’s one from the Bible:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that
friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a
friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

(James 4:4 (ESV))

Ignore the first part. It’s just a pithy lead-in to the meat. What this quote really means is that I am VERY close to God. I now despise my worldly possessions. Every time I throw a new load in the dumpster, I both curse AND say a little prayer. No matter that it mostly focuses on a swift death to all bedbugs in my near vicinity.

To further emphasize my hatred of my worldliness, all of my earthly possessions are now encased in giant trash bags, so that I cannot even tell what they are. It’s now as if I own almost nothing. I am no longer a friend to the temptations of acquisition. Less is more, because it means fewer bedbugs and less hassle for me.

I’ll admit that I have felt a bit like Job with this bedbug business. Why me, God? I didn’t do anything (seriously) wrong!

Much like Job’s protests, mine haven’t done anything to change my circumstances. Life happens, and it’s up to us to figure out how to deal with it. For now, apparently the best course of action is to downsize.

(P.S. Out of sheer curiosity, I did check for Biblical and Buddhist references to bedbugs and found none (although a host of other insects, including white ants, do crawl into certain verses). But I did find this interesting commentary on whether or not Buddhists are permitted to kill bedbugs. The post also explores some interesting thoughts on what it means to be reborn as a bedbug. Wow.)

Bite Me

15 Aug

Image courtesy of

My family has the adult equivalent of cooties: bedbugs.

No two ways about it. Confirmed by two different “bedbug experts.”

How did we get them? Who knows. Possibly through my travel or from a patient of my husband’s. We’re not dirty people, but there’s nothing like bedbugs to make you feel downright gross. It’s an instant source of shame. So pleasant to let your friends and family know about your newest guests, and how they can identify them under their own mattresses, behind pictures and electrical outlets, etc., etc.

Do many people get them? Yes, they do. We are not alone. I found a cheeky site called the Bed Bug Hub, hosted by the National Pest Management Association, reporting that:

Bed bugs are THE most difficult pest to treat, according to 76 percent of survey respondents, more so than cockroaches, ants and termites. As for where infestations occur, residences top the list with 89 percent of pest professionals treating bed bug infestations in apartments/condos and 88 percent treating bed bug infestations in single-family homes. Respondents also report other common areas, with 67 percent treating bed bug infestations in hotels/motels, 35 percent in college dormitories, 9 percent on various modes of transportation, 5 percent in laundry facilities, and 4 percent in movie theatres.

Did you read that? Why yes, it’s entirely possible that we got them from a movie theatre. But most likely, from my travel and overnights in hotels.

And, not surprisingly:

[T]he emotional and mental toll of experiencing a bed bug infestation can be severe and should not be taken lightly. Survey respondents report that 99% of clients who have had bed bugs were “upset and concerned” and 77% said such customers were “very upset and concerned.”

No doubt. Believe it. This is no fun. I think that I am better at imagining things are okay than my husband is. He hasn’t slept for nights. It’s not the bugs bugging him. We’ve only found a handful of them, truth be told. We are not in the “infestation” category by any means. But the worst thing about it is thinking about all of the potential consequences if left untreated. And the reason they’ve become more prevalent is because a lot of people cannot afford to treat them so just leave them be.

It’s the thought of the bugs, including where they are now and where they will be hiding tomorrow, underneath or behind something where we cannot see them.

And it’s the reactions of people once they find out that you have them. Many make the assumption that it has something to do with your hygiene…that it’s in some way YOUR fault. The truth is that bedbugs don’t discriminate: They like everyone’s blood, whether clean or dirty. They only come out at night, and what attracts them is warm-blooded people. The suckers are miniature, diabolical vampires.

Because of all this we are taking DRASTIC measures. Yes, I do mean DRASTIC. They must and will die. We are paying $3,200 for a combined heat and chemical treatment conducted by a professional exterminator. Here’s what they do:

  • Heat up each area of the house to a sustained temperature of 120 degrees. This will kill most of them.
  • Apply pesticides that kill the remaining bugs, including any eggs. (Did you know that they can lie dormant for 18 months? Just think of it…)
  • And then, we wait to see if they reappear. Because they are also killed by temperatures below 23 degrees, we are seriously considering a safety net treatment of our own in the winter, which will begin with us draining out our pipes, opening the windows, and leaving the house for a day.

Here’s what WE have to do before the exterminators begin their work:

  • Throw out and/or move out a bunch of stuff. Not because it has bedbugs, but because there’s a combined supply of an extra house’s worth of furniture and all-around stuff in the basement of our house, which we recently bought from my in-laws and where my nephew lived for a couple of years. As of this moment, my front yard is channeling the theme song from “Sanford and Son.” It’s full of items for the dumpster, which will arrive tomorrow. (More about my neighbors’ reaction to this in a minute.)
  • Wash everything–clothes, linens, furniture covers, anything fabric. Put it into sealed plastic bags. If it’s clothing that cannot be washed, dry it for 20 minutes at the highest possible heat. I even washed balls of yarn that I haven’t yet used for knitting.
  • Everything we wear out of the house at this point comes from a sealed plastic bag that ensures the clothing is bedbug-free. Everything. I cannot reinforce how much of a pain this is.
  • Vacuum everything, everywhere. Put bedbug covers on the beds. Do some spot treatments in the rooms where we’ve seen the bugs.
  • Repeat everything above as many times as necessary until it’s time for the exterminators.
  • Move all furniture away from the walls in every room and pray that our veneered furniture survives 120 degrees.

While the exterminators do their work, we get to go on a special bedbug vacation! Translation: We rent an affordable somewhat nice nearby hotel for two nights because we have to be away for that long. And we cancel our camping trip to Kelley’s Island, because instead we’ll be here doing post-exterminator cleanup.

So, this is going to be a $3,500 proposition all told.  Cha-ching.

The significant effed-upness of this was on my mind today when my husband told me that neighbors had called our area commission to complain about the furniture in our front yard. Bite me. We spent all day on Sunday getting it out there and the dumpster is coming tomorrow.

Our biggest mistake was our honesty in letting people know (and putting signs on the stuff) that NO ONE SHOULD TAKE IT because of the bedbugs. I’m convinced that this is the reason for the hulabaloo. How many people in our sort of upscale Columbus neighborhood have had bedbugs and not told their neighbors? I’m guessing more than a few.

And then we have the other side of the continuum. What percentage of the population will take furniture that possibly has bedbugs? From my personal estimation, a significant and disturbingly large number of not so discriminating fellows (all men, it’s true). In one situation, a man took a table that he was going to give to his daughter. Two hours later, I noticed that he’d brought the table back. Smart daughter!

There were probably 20 people who took furniture from the yard yesterday, even though it was clearly marked and we verbally warned them. And when I went out to the car this morning, at least a few people had gone through the piles and taken even more. I have to say that I was pretty shocked. Clearly, not enough people have been through this to know the real deal of bedbug removal. It ain’t pretty.

People don’t listen, and they don’t want to. They do not take this seriously. I’ve got spraypaint all over much of the furniture and on all of the trash bags with clothes and fabric stuff. And now we have some schmuck calling us to complain about our irresponsibility?

Bite me. Better yet, bedbug bite me.

We did talk with someone from the Columbus Health Department earlier today (after a very unhelpful call with them last week when they referred us to their website), and while at least this time they were available, they actually suggested that we have the furniture destroyed. My husband asked if a bonfire would work. I don’t think this is what they had in mind. Then on second thought, they said that what we’d done in terms of marking the furniture would do the trick. I’m glad we did the right thing, as embarrassing as it has been.

If I were not a nice person, I would wish the curse of these bedbugs on the person who called the commission. I guess it’s just one of those situations where you try to do the right thing and you just can’t please everyone all of the time.

I told a friend tonight that I’m going to install my 74-year-old father from SE Ohio on the front lawn. He will in no uncertain terms and with a highly unpleasant attitude tell nosy and judgmental neighbors to mind their own bedbugging business. In less polite words than that.

In closing, bedbugs suck: Blood, money and time.

Know the signs and do whatever you can to avoid getting them.

Eighth Grade’s No Longer Good Enough

9 Aug

When my grandmother was 14, she finished school, at eighth grade. Her mother had just died of tuberculosis, and being the only child on a farm her hands were needed for work. Two years later, she got married, and at the age of 17 she had her first of seven children.

I was thinking about my grandmother’s reality, and fully realizing how different it is from my own. There’s a picture of her at 16, with my grandfather, beside an old Model-T. It was the 1930s, and they look a lot like Bonnie and Clyde. Somewhat rakish, and definitely adventurous. Grandma had attitude.

And she also had substance. If she’d been born more recently, my grandmother would have earned her Ph.D. She was a very smart woman–intellectual, despite a humble upbringing and spending most of her life raising children and working in the house. After they were all grown up, she began researching the family genealogy and contacted people from around the world to piece it together. She did extensive research at the OSU libraries during the early 1960s, sifting through county records without the benefit of digitized information.

Grandma also had an incredible imagination and was known for her detailed stories about her family’s history in the Salt Creek Valley, along the border of Ross and Vinton Counties in Southeast Ohio. All of the stories had elements of truth, along with varying degrees of embellishment depending upon the day. They held nuggets of family history, but they also made for good entertainment. There’s a volume that my aunts put together, after transcribing hours of Grandma’s storytelling, and it’s more than 100 pages. I had the pleasure of reading from it as part of her eulogy when she passed a few years ago.

None of Grandma’s children, my aunts and uncles, went to college. In fact, neither of my parents did, but since I loved school they encouraged me to do well there and always made it clear they’d find a way to support me in earning a degree. Which they did, and not without difficulty. My mother has always been a reader, and my dad has a lot of my grandma’s innate intellectualism (with lots of blue-collar flair). They provided me with the self-confidence and resources to “make it.”

The difference between my life and my grandmother’s has to do with EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY AND AN ETHIC OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY. If her family hadn’t lost it all in the Great Depression (i.e., if they’d had anything to fall back on), if she’d married and had children later in life (i.e., birth control) , she’d have finished high school. And perhaps those additional four years of education would have given her the springboard to support one or more of her kids in going to college.

It’s very clear to me, having this reality just two generations behind me, that opportunity for success is not something easily accessible to everyone. So often, it requires several generations of success to launch new generations up to a certain level of affluence. Even if there is a chance to make disruptive change from poverty, in circumstances where resources are scarce there’s a strong encouragement to take care of others (like my grandmother did) rather than oneself. Or to achieve less success than you could find for yourself, by bringing up others with you along the way.

This is why I have to laugh when I hear people talking about how in America you can go as far as you want to go. Yes, it’s true that here there is the freedom as an individual to make great progress,  more so than in any other country, but there’s a cost to it. Not everyone is willing to leave behind responsibilities to support family members needing help. It’s much easier for some than others to have that single-minded focus on success. You have to be able to afford it, in terms of money and social norms. In a way, it’s about being able to afford being selfish. That’s what we aspire to, as Americans. (Is this a good thing?)

I often wonder why people in my demographic buy luxury cars (even if used) for their teenagers and don’t ever expect them to get jobs. Is success as easy as simply wanting it? Are we raising a generation that doesn’t know how to work hard, just to be able to drive a beater car? Or even–gasp–pay for gas to drive the parents’ car?

Not everyone in the “upwardly mobile” set in America is (a) selfless enough or (b) self-sufficient enough to be able to truly make it on their own. Even when upper middle-class kids work in high school and college, typically it’s to pay for extras (going out) and not to contribute to the overall resources of a larger family. Their families pay for their tuition, food, clothing and other necessities, keeping them from truly knowing what it means to sacrifice and make their own way.

So when I read stories like this one, from the thoughtful Atlantic (September 2011 issue), I wonder what level of education my kids will have to attain in order to be successful. Is the middle class truly doomed? That’s a lot of people, just like my own family. It’s interesting to see how distanced we’re becoming from the upper class in terms of earning power, despite higher education.

And, I wonder, will this next generation define success in other terms, not related to money or affluence, but instead related to happiness and personal/community fulfillment? Was the platform that my grandmother created for me destined to help a new generation to hit the reset button on what it means to “go far?” Will hitting an economic flat-line have a more positive effect on our overall well-being?

Public Speaking: How I Got Schooled by Angela Pace

4 Aug

In my years working at PR agencies, I had no better training than the time I got personal coaching by local news anchor Angela Pace. She’s a legend in the Columbus, Ohio area. Even my dad knows who she is.

(Side note: She went to South HS, as did my parents, and my dad insisted that I say, “Go Bulldogs!” when I met her. Which I did. But that’s another story.)

My boss decided that a colleague and I needed help with our new business presenting skills. She was right. To be fair, presenting for new business is one of the toughest things that you can do. Those who’ve done it will understand. Those who have not probably won’t.

They say that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Evidently, I am not yet an old dog, because I did learn some new tricks from Ms. Pace. I’m a decent public speaker, but under her tutelage, I kicked it up a notch. And laughed a lot, including at myself, in the process.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Probably the biggest thing that I learned was not to take myself too seriously.
  2. Smile more.
  3. Don’t assume that people want to dwell on all of those details.
  4. Smile again.
  5. Don’t forget to bring your water.
  6. Warm up beforehand.
  7. And don’t forget to breathe.
  8. Then smile (yes, again). It’s true: The smiling is really not easy for a serious person like me. I have got to learn to be less serious!

I feel very lucky to have experienced this individualized training. Most public speaking trainers apply a formulaic approach, but not so with Ms. Pace. She paid attention to every non-verbal, every nuance of what I said and how I said it. She was not shy to stop me mid-stream and make me start again. There was no escaping her. She noticed every detail. This was a good and bad thing!

If you are in a career where public speaking, in small or large groups, is important, I’d highly recommend working with a coach who cares, knows the ropes and forces you to get outside the podium. It forced me to think differently about how I interface with people in my presentations–and it made a big difference in the end results.

We landed two new deals right after our coaching, by the way!


2 Aug

Fair warning: This post may offend some people. But I’ve been thinking about writing it for a while, so here goes.

Tonight I saw a Facebook post by a friend about a model named Janice Dickinson. Apparently, she is the (in her words) “first-ever supermodel.” I didn’t remember her from her modeling days in the 80s, but I recognize her because she’s one of the judges on the show “America’s Next Top Model.”

The reason I remember her is that she is downright scary-looking. Her face is so stretched out, she looks like The Joker. The effect on her mouth is like a wide-mouth bass’s grin. Yikes.

Wondering what she looked like before plastic surgery, I took a peek at the interwebs. And wow, I can see why she was the first-ever supermodel. She was really beautiful.

And here’s the thing: I think she still would be now, if she hadn’t had so much plastic surgery. I am 100% confident that she would still be stunning, however old she is. I wish she felt that way, too.

Plastic surgery is interesting to me. I know a lot of people who’ve done it, or who’ve had Botox treatments. To each his or her own, I say. If it makes you happy and you’re not hurting anyone, then so be it. My feelings about it have more to do with just not understanding the motivation than judging people for deciding they need to do it.

This is what it seems like, to me:

When women reach “a certain age” (I can say this because I’m pretty sure that being 43, I am right there), they want to get their youth back. And they will do all sorts of things to change their bodies, to feel and look young again. The other thing that’s so common now is that that I see women at my age getting too thin. And then they lose too much weight and end up looking like skeletons. I think that you lose some personal integrity–a small part of your dignity–when you do this. Similar to being in a relationship with someone much younger. It’s just out of balance.

Going overboard with the plastic surgery or getting too thin actually makes women look older, I think. It makes that desire to be young again more obvious, and sad in a way. It seems desperate to me, going backward instead of forward. Kind of like being on a treadmill and slowly losing pace, until you ultimately fall off the back.

I just can’t imagine wanting to go backwards in time. Maybe it’s the way I’m wired: I always think that the future will bring good things. I have no desire to go back to my teens, 20s or 30s. Maybe I’ll feel differently when I hit 50. I’ll report back then.

Plastic doesn’t bring back being young. Why not just get a haircut and an extra ear piercing?