Saturday, June 29, 2013

Has It Been Three Years?

It astounds me how long it has been since my last entry, and people are still reading this blog and posting comments. Despite not blogging for three years, Bugged Out still gets more hits than my other blogs/sites combined. Makes one realize how serious an issue bed bugs are to so many of you out there.

How has my life changed in this time? I left New York City and moved to Manchester, New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project. The FSP is an organization with the mission of attracting 20,000 supporters of freedom and limited government to move to New Hampshire to seek a freer way of life. FSP participants, or Free Staters, use various labels to describe themselves: libertarian, constitutionalist, anarchist, voluntaryist, etc. They all find a way to make their lives freer, whether it be through political action, civil disobedience or civic involvement.

One thing I've learned from my past bedbug experience is that bedbugs will change your life in ways you'll never expect. I still have nightmares about bedbugs, and it's been seven years since I had them. I guess I can thank the bedbugs for making me into a libertarian. As a former liberal who believed the government would always be there to help, I was relieved when news broke out that Councilwoman Gale Brewer introduced a bill into the City Council that would help New Yorkers suffering from bedbugs and even prevent the spread of these creatures to other unsuspecting New Yorkers. There was even talk about a citywide bedbug task force. Unfortunately, the only thing that was really accomplished was getting the Councilwoman's name in the local media, since bedbugs were a hot new issue in the Big Apple at the time and introducing any legislation related to bedbugs would be sure to get some press.

Bedbugs are still a huge problem in NYC. Other cities like Toronto and Cincinnati came up with comprehensive plans to deal with their bed bug problem, while the Rotten Apple still moves at the speed of government. City "leaders" finally decided to do something in 2010, having established their slow-to-birth bedbug advisory board on paper (not in real life) a year before. But by then, the bed bug problem had become a widespread epidemic, making New York City infamous as a safe haven for the insects.

When I say infamous, I mean there are a lot of New Yorkers up here in Manchester, and some of them have told me tales of landlords spraying the inside of the moving trucks upon learning their new tenants just moved from New York City (as if Red Sox fans needed one more reason to hate New Yorkers). The city's reputation for being lax on bedbugs is the stuff of legend, and one that will most likely persist for years, if not decades. When bed bug reports trickled in Manchester and other parts of southern New Hampshire, New York transplants were quickly blamed. I still tell native New Englanders that not all New Yorkers have bed bugs. Whether they believe me is another thing. Being the media capital of the nation has its drawbacks, especially since headlines of bed buggery in the Big Apple are often spread throughout the U.S. and beyond.

Here in New Hampshire, bedbugs have been mostly found in local homeless shelters, but have been found in residential homes as well. It's easier to curb, though, as most people live in small structures that are not attached to neighboring structures (like New York brownstones or sprawling apartment complexes). Real estate is not at a premium like it is in NYC, so homes are more spread out, shorter (the tallest building in the entire state is only 12 stories high!). Throwing a fumigation tent over a dwelling is far more doable here than say, a 10-story apartment building.

I guess I was disappointed and disillusioned back in 2006 when I saw that the city and state governments were only making token gestures to address the local bedbug infestation, which was a serious problem for millions of New Yorkers. With its opulent buildings, officials with their lofty titles, and massive budgets, it's easy for one to be fooled into thinking that an expansive and expensive government will swoop in and solve your problems. That was me, seven years ago.

What did jumpstart the bedbug response in NYC was not coercive government, but the voluntary actions of concerned citizens. One computer programmer created the Bedbug Registry, which allows people to pinpoint on a map of North America where in their city or town bedbugs have been found. Back in NYC, people were setting up New York-centric bedbug blogs and pressuring local politicians to meet with them at informational meetups. Before the City Dept. of Health even came up with their bedbug factsheets, ordinary New Yorkers were disseminating information and debunking myths about bedbugs via message boards and blogs.

And what has City Hall accomplished? Passing a law requiring all discarded mattresses and box springs, regardless of whether they are infested, to be wrapped in a sealed plastic bag. Failure to do so results in a $100 fine. Sounds like the law is more about revenue collection than about curbing the spread of bedbugs, since it does not address cushioned chairs or sofas. Yeah, because NYC is all about jacking its people for one more dollar, one of the reasons I left. I felt that for all the taxes I paid as a New Yorker, the least the city could do was rid New Yorkers of the bedbug epidemic as many smaller cities were doing.

So what does the city of Manchester, NH do to curb its bedbug problem? About the same as New York City. The only difference is that the starting salary for a NYC council member is $112,000 a year while the salary (which does not increase with time) for a Manchester alderman is $4,000 a year. While state politicians in Albany enjoy a starting annual salary of $79,500 (not counting bonuses for sitting on legislative committees or the fact that some of them have been in office for two decades), their counterparts in Concord, New Hampshire's state capitol, are paid a princely sum of $100 a year.

I guarantee, the legislators in New Hampshire care as much (or as little) about bedbugs infestations as the politicians in New York. Civic leaders and politicians seems to have formed a Bed Bug group about the same time as NYC. The difference? New Hampshire has...

  • no state or city income tax
  • no general sales tax
  • no alcohol tax
  • no capital gains tax
  • the lowest tobacco tax in the northeast (Newports are $5)
  • and property and business taxes still lower than anything you'll find in New York!
Yeah, there are some drawbacks and advantages to moving from a city of eight million to a city of 110,000 to say nothing about a town that is 86% white (not that that's a bad thing). The buses only come once an hour and stop running after 6pm, but I can always take a $4 dollar taxi home from downtown Manchester. I always have discretionary income, something I never had in New York. I can afford to buy healthier food, I breathe cleaner air and enjoy a far less oppressive police force.

After living for a year in the city's poorest borough (the Bronx) in a condemned illegal apartment, I still could not afford to live in NYC and was faced with the prospect of leaving New York or moving back with my mom. I was actually considering moving to Texas or Georgia for the lower tax burden and subsequently, lower cost of living. Thank goodness I found out about New Hampshire.

I actually did have a bedbug scare earlier this year. A friend who had been staying in a homeless shelter here in Manchester slept on my couch. In retrospect I should've checked him and his backpack for bedbugs before letting him in my home. But I wasn't thinking about bedbugs and homeless shelters. He left a week later and I found what I quickly recognized as spots of bedbug feces on my couch and discarded exoskeletons associated with bedbug gestation. That fucking couch practically flew out of my apartment and to the curb, where I wrote BED BUGS on it with a black sharpie. I wasn't going to wait until I actually saw the bugs themselves, most likely nestled within the wood and fabric nooks of the sofa.

Since then, my bedbug paranoia has increased 1000% even though I have not seen a bedbug or any signs of bedbugs. Now I remember why I stopped blogging here. Just writing this is making me itch like crazy.

Oh, yeah: I'm single now. I kicked M to the curb in 2011 when I discovered she was screwing the next door neighbor's husband behind my back. Luckily, I'm living in a city where I can actually afford to live alone and not depend on another person's income to stay afloat financially, though it would be nice if I had a car. Not sure what else to write, not sure when I will blog here again.

For those of you suffering from bedbugs, there is hope. And for those of you still recovering from bedbug PTSD, if there's a cure, I'll let you know as soon as I find it.

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