The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

BLOODSUCKERS AND OTHER DEMOCRATS: Bedbugs are all the rage in New York these days, in the same way that radical chic and mau-mauing the flak catchers used to be. There’s scarcely a day goes by any more without some new report of bedbugs showing up in the local media and sometimes in their beds as well. And now I hear that there’s even bedbugs in the Waldorf-Astoria, and you now that when the grande dame of Manhattan hotels bows to a passing fashion then somehow or other we’ve reached some sort of very important cultural milestone and nothing, absolutely nothing, will ever be the same way ever again. The bedbug has become so popular here that there is even a movement underway to get Albany to declare the bedbug the state insect, a job Joel Steinberg has held for many years. Strangely enough, I have not heard that the bedbug craze has reached Albany itself, but then bloodsucking is an old habit there and the arrival of a fresh batch of parasites would not unduly alarm the inhabitants.

Why bedbugs should be so popular this year is something of a mystery. Granted, fashions in insects change, just as they do for women’s hats and men’s suits (single breasted or double breasted, sir, or do you even care?). Only a few years ago, anyone who wanted to be anybody had spiders in their houses and made sure all the dinner party guests saw the creepy little things whenever the guests came for dinner. Spiders were the thing to have in your house, no doubt the result of the Spiderman movies, and the rarer and more dangerous the arachnid the more chic you would be. The traffic in black widow spiders alone almost brought that species to the brink of extinction and many arachnid counterfeiters did a booming business in painting funnel weaver spiders, an altogether harmless species, black, and then selling them as black widows to an unsuspecting public. This sort of thing would have gone on for years, had it not been for one more of the fickle public’s sudden twists and turns, a pivot that dropped spiders like a Pet Rock and made the praying mantis the headless king of fashionable insects. With the meteoric rise of the praying mantis, a phrase I’ve never really understood, given that meteors don’t rise, they fall, bathrooms all over New York resounded with the sound of the fashion conscious flushing their now terribly passé spiders down the drain. Not all the spiders died in their sudden descent into New York’s sewer system; I’ve heard stories that many spiders survived and flourished in the lower depths, with generations of spiders leaving behind webs so thick they ensnare rats the size of small dogs and even the occasional baby alligator now and again.

And before the spiders were all the rage, there was Beatle mania, which flourished for a few years in the 1960’s, and before that Crickets were big, at least until Buddy Holly died, and before him fleas were wildly popular, for reasons I am not sure I fathom at the moment. You would think that after all the misadventures the fleas caused in the fourteenth century, what with the little critters spreading the bubonic plague throughout the length and breadth of Europe and killing a quarter of the continent’s population, people would regard fleas as something horrific, something no sane person would ever choose to get involved with, like hard drugs or devil worship or the life insurance business, but you would be wrong. We are talking fashion here, boys and girls, and if fashion dictates that fleas are in this year, then fleas are in and you’d better have your fleas out where the cognoscenti, a word that does not come with a side order of marinara sauce, which is a bit of a cheat, if you ask me, can see them. Yes, fleas were everywhere in those days. There were flea markets to shop at and fleabags to put your flea market purchases in while you took in a flea circus and wished everyone a Fleas Navidad, which I always thought was a good name for a stripper. Vanessa Cardui is another good name for a stripper, combining, as it does, choreography and lepidopterology, but I digress here.

The spider rage lasted until the late 1990’s, when it faded from view at about the time the Lewinsky scandal struck. With a distracted press and a polarized political situation in the country, the spider went the way of the Nehru jacket and the liberal Republican. After that, the bug craze ended for a while. There were a few attempts to resurrect it; for a while everyone thought that the deer tick was going to be the next new thing, but the tick didn’t really go anywhere, despite all the type, and most of the best minds in advertising slowly, and very reluctantly, gave up and came to the conclusion that America’s long love affair with the bug was finally over. Bugs had finally worn out their welcome and gotten stomped on once and for all.

And then, just when bug lovers everywhere were about to despair and turn to quilting or collecting 15th century sports memorabilia, the bedbugs arrived on the scene, years late, to be sure, but still incredibly welcome, nevertheless. They are everywhere now; even the New York Public Library has bedbugs the size of the Cat in the Hat in all of its branch libraries, and the Met, the Met, and the Mets, have bedbugs piled up to a second violin’s knees. There are some holdouts—the Yankees will not abandon spiders and neither will the city’s Department of Corrections; the inmates on Riker’s Island apparently love their spiders more than life itself—but every other major institution in the city is laden with bedbugs and more than happy to let you know about it.

But the Yankees and the inmates will eventually surrender; the wave of bedbug mania seems too strong for any institution to stand in its way for very long. I’ve seen a good many bug crazes come and go, and to date I’ve never seen one with this kind of staying power. Of course, if DDT makes a comeback this craze will disappear almost immediately, but DDT is on the environmental movement’s list of seven deadly sins, which is good news if you’re a bedbug, but not if you’re a spider-loving Yankee fan. Now if the Yankees could find a bedbug with a great slider and willing to pitch middle relief, well, that would change everything, wouldn’t it? The Yankee management couldn’t let the little bug sign with the Red Sox, could they? No, they couldn’t: that would be stupid.

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