Bedbugs and the Translation Business

by Translation Guy on September 20, 2010

I’ve been in the translation game for 15 years, and you know, frankly, it feels that way. I mean, I like the people I work with a lot, and the technology and organization requirements are definitely fascinating, but the passion? Well, I don’t know. Sometimes instead of doing what I should be doing, I think instead of what I’d like to be doing instead, something I could get passionate about. Midlife crisis thing, I guess. So I’ve been thinking bedbugs. Which is a natural outgrowth of my interest in translation.

I think you could make a good case that Midtown East is the epicenter of the translation business. Turtle Bay is where the UN is and is where we came to set up our company. You’ve got it all here, lots of global corporate HQs, the missions, the NGOs, it’s a good neighborhood for translation. But if you’ve been following the unrelenting drumbeat of bedbug coverage in the NYT, you’ll know we are also the epicenter of the bedbug business (and that Times publisher, “Pinch” Sulzberger, in addition to his financial problems, probably also has bedbugs, if editorial interest is any indication).

Well, I have a bedbug problem too. I know this revelation may make some squeamish about doing business with 1-800-Translate, but I can assure my customers that bedbugs cannot be transmitted electronically or over the phone, to the best of my knowledge.

Here’s how it happened. Vocation led to location, and location led to infestation. We moved here to translate, and then the bedbugs decided to drop by for a bite, and stayed. So it was career choice―that and my penchant for trash-picking―that led the bedbugs to our bed. (Our zip code, 10017, is one of the richest in North America and the stuff people leave on the street is often irresistible.)

Talk about occupational hazards. Our marital bed has been converted to the bedbug equivalent of the seige at Khe Sanh, a bedbug deathtrap with the missus and I as the live bait to lure the enemy in, until they are totally annihilated….

We’ve had the exterminators in a couple of times. They’ve drilled holes in the walls and sprayed like crazy, and we are now holding the line. But we have not achieved total kill because we aren’t willing to go the full monty, which seems to involve building a Viking funeral pyre out of all our possessions in the center of each room. So even now, months later, in the darkest hour of the night, little bedbug sappers slip out of the woodwork and scale the mattress liners.  Sometimes we find their carcasses on the outer perimeter, and sometimes they find us, so we sweep the perimeter again and redeploy.

Disgusting? You bet. Itchy? Just writing this makes me itchy all over.  Bedbug paranoia is itchy.

How about you, reader? Scratching anywhere as you read this? Do you think maybe that little red spot behind your knee could be a sign of bedbugs and that’s why you’re reading this post in the first place, since you really don’t give a fart about translation? I’m looking at you with my thousand-yard stare and a cigarette hanging out of one corner of my mouth, shaking my head. You poor rat bastard. You have no idea what you’re in for.

But I’ve got an even itchier itch. An itch for revenge. I want to take out every last bedbug in this town. That’s where my passion lies now. Bedbug extermination. Probably a good business move, too, since the bedbug business looks so high growth. And if I do make that career change, it will be translation that got me there.


  1. Nelida K. says:

    Perhaps you may consider moving down to Montevideo, Uruguay? I live two blocks down from the beach, and no bugs whatsoever, bed- or any other kind. Sounds enticing? And, last but not least: today is the first day of SPRING!!! Goodbye Mr. Winter!!! Greetings. Nelida (@NikiMat on Twitter)

    • Ken says:

      I’ll call you from the airport on arrival, Nelida.

  2. Wilber says:

    Great blog. Amusing and instructive, as always. I may have to give up motels when I travel (a rather rare thing anymore).

    Because of context I’ll hazard a guess that the verbs in your passage above, “X lead to Y lead to Z” … are intended to be in the past tense. In which case, you’d want “X led to …. ” etc.

    But don’t mind me. The story’s the thing after all. The bedbugs. I do sympathize. Plus, lately I’ve been trying to act nonjudgmental (even though “nonjudgmental” ranks high on my list of one-word oxymorons). Goodness knows English spelling affords all too many shibboleth opportunities, see Judges 12: 5-6 (a tale of zero tolerance indeed!!!).

    Enuff of this ghlough. Keep ’em flyin’ Hombre.

    • Ken says:

      Wilber, that sentence was originally cast in the present tense (maybe) to imply the universality of the experience, but my editor saw fit to sully my matchless linguistic purity. I can’t be held responsible for someone else’s substance abuse problems.

      For those who don’t know their chapter and verse, here’s Judges 12: 5-6 (KJV)

      5 And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;

      6 Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.

  3. Chris Carter says:

    Yikes Ken. And last night, in my UWS apartment, I lay in bed wondering if those tiny sensations on the hairs on my leg were just twitches of my nerves or if they were something more blood-suckingly sinister. Like most New Yorkers, I live every day in dread of the possibility of unwanted roommates moving in. I even remember reading about how one midtown movie cinema shut itself down for spraying after so many people complained during a single movie showing about being bit. I was at that exact showing of that movie! I came out unscathed (and unbit), but how can you live in New York and NOT worry. Looks like you were one of the unlucky. My condolances, and good luck with the good fight.

  4. Arcanum says:

    Great story Ken!

  5. Ew!

  6. Deckster says:

    That’s what you get for living in the wildest, most exciting and dirtiest city in the world!

  7. Angelfish says:

    We travel quite a lot and have stayed in hotels for various budgets, but have never ever had a first-hand experience with the critters. So, let me paint the picture for you: it was day three into our nine days abroad and I woke up in the middle of the night scratching. Turning on the lights, I realized my foot was covered in insect bites. Cokebaby showed no signs whatsoever and after checking the bed for culprits, we decided it was either an allergic reaction to detergents used in washing the bed linens or mosquito bites from a walking around the canals. Truthfully, I think we were both in denial. So it was that the next morning, upon checking out, we were both covered in bites.

    A hard learned fact: you can check the bed all you want but if the foot of it is touching a wall and that wall happens to be made of carpet? Chances are you’ll never see them. Such was our luck. We’ve been back for a week and a half now and the bite marks have healed but are still quite visible. Here’s the most surprising thing that I learned on my iPhone while trying to figure out what to do: bed bug bites can take days, even potentially weeks, to show up. So it was that as the days passed, we saw more and more bite marks emerging on our bodies. I counted fifty on one arm alone.

  8. FranKllr says:

    steam clean your luggage man!

  9. Rita Yates says:

    Hey Ken, you know that big ass Niketown at 57th and 5th in Manhattan has a bed bug problem. Yes, bed bugs. Rampant. Closed the store down.

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