Thursday, October 8, 2009

More Than I Bargained For

For weeks I’ve been looking for the humorous slant on this story. I know I put it somewhere. Do you know the saying “It’s always in the first place you looked”? Well, it wasn’t there. So I’m warning you on this one: this might get serious.

I generally consider myself lucky — I won a small jackpot in Vegas once — but I couldn’t believe my luck when I found a hostel in Manhattan for $33 a night. On the Upper West Side just a few yards from the subway, West End Studios was perfect for the three nights I needed to be in town.

Clean sidewalks, groomed shrubbery, the absence of reeking trash mountains — the way to the hotel encouraged me to no end. The building made a stately and well-maintained impression from the outside. The lobby was small and filled with backpackers, but that made sense. I got in line behind a German couple at the reception desk.

“But we have made a reservation for months,” the German woman insisted, holding out her documents as incontestable evidence.

“Don’t matter, lady,” said the surly guy behind the desk. “You didn’t confirm.”

“We have not know this,” said the German man.

“Not my problem. You gotta confirm a week before, or your reservation is cancelled.”

“We will complain,” said the German woman.

“Knock y’self out. Next!”

This was me. I hadn’t confirmed either, so I thought I should slime my way in. I handed the guy my passport and rolled my eyes to let him know I wasn’t a novice traveller like those silly German tourists weeping in the corner over there. As he typed my name into his computer, I pray-chanted to myself, “Please don’t let this be too good to be true. Please don’t let this be too good to be true.” And then a small miracle happened.

“Your room is ready,” he said, handing me back my passport with the key. "Fourth floor. Elevator's over there. Next!"

Imagining myself to be Mr. Bean, I strutted by the German couple, shooting them a patronizing — but of course adorable — live-and-learn look. I might have even flashed the key.

The elevator was crotchety and slow, the kind you see in movies about poor Italian families. As I bumped and jerked to the fourth floor, I kept telling myself “Thirty-three dollars a night.”

The room was as basic as a room could be: a bed with acceptably clean sheets (meaning, in my book, fewer hairs than Homer Simpson has); a toilet; a small (empty) fridge; and a non-functioning TV. But none of this could dampen my spirits. I had a room in NYC for $33 a night, and I hadn’t even confirmed the reservation! I was the luckiest man in the world. I did my lucky-man dance.

“Oh, honey,” I cooed, dancing over to the window where a bug was crawling up the wall. “How did you get in here?”

I am nothing if not bug friendly. In fact, I’m Doctor Dolittle friendly. I catch disoriented spiders with plastic containers and set them free to the tune of “Born Free” in the backyard. I hold up my feet for hours to let a line of ants go by as I tweet “Whistle While You Work.” I break off pieces of my food for pesky bees. And I pitch bugs out windows at hostels in NYC. I should mention that name again just in case you want to look up similar horror stories on the internet: West End Studios. Also check out

In my defense, I had never seen a bedbug before, so I didn’t know this little guy’s extended family was waiting in the seams of the mattress for their next I have always felt guilty about that poor bug I tossed out the window. He probably went for days without a proper meal. (That last part was my weak attempt to get some humor in here somewhere. Sorry. If you’ve had bedbugs, you’ll know I wish only death for these critters. A horrible, horrible death. Imagine little electric chairs for them.)

But the blood-suckers would have to wait a little while longer. I had an off-Broadway show and a close friend to see, so I was off.

The next morning, I got up early as usual and went for a run around the lake in Central Park. When I got back to the hotel, I noticed in the shower a couple of bites on my legs. Not troubling. Being so sweet and adorable has its price: I’m very popular with bugs.

That evening, I counted twenty bites on my legs and arms, but I still couldn’t put two and two together. By the time I checked out of West End Studios, I had over forty bites. They were painless but unsightly, and I was spending the next week on Puerto Rico. Luckily — I told you I was lucky — it was cool and rainy the entire time I was on the island, so I didn’t have to expose my bite-spangled body.

Oh, goodness. I've just realized there’s going to be a moral to this story. For Pete’s sake. I hate stories with morals. If you don’t like stories that end with a message, return to the paragraph above this one, read it again and end the story giggling at the image of my spangled body.

If, on the other hand, you’re the type of person who likes messages, by all means read on.

Sometimes you don’t get what you pay for; occasionally you get much, much more. The bedbug epidemic in NYC, as well as in other major North American cities, has been widely covered in the media. All you have to do is Google it to see that this is a sort of modern-day plague. Websites like can help you avoid hotels with known infestations. Use them...and sleep tight.

I must be off,