November 19, 2007

A Last Letter from Jameson’s Infested Halls

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Dear Mother,

As brutal as the fall has been—the endless army of rogues scuttling about the halls, plaguing us residents of Jameson Hall with an unspeakable terror—a long winter looms, promising a heightened devastation. The days are bearable, as the cowardly varmints hide when our minds are at their sharpest. But the nights, oh the nights mother, what a different beast they are. The nightly beast calls the bugs, rousing them from their hideouts to feed on helpless residents. The wind slaps against the windows; the darkness beckons the infestation.

At first it sounds like the faint tap of drizzle on a windshield. But it builds and builds to a to a deafening climax, a downpour of high-pitched parasitic squeals, as more and more of the creatures join the band of invaders. Thousands crawl over sheets and quilts and pillows, encapsulating the resident in a bed-bug tomb. They skitter over your scalp and eyes and lips, foraging for fresh blood. A few courageous raiders venture into certain orifices. Probing the eyeballs (16 percent of all blindness is caused by poisonous corpses of deceased bed bugs trapped in the eyelids), the eardrums (an ideal location to lay eggs), the nostrils (some even find their way to the frontal lobe), the tongue (a juicy delicacy for the bugs), and the gums (many choose to remain in the gums, savaging blood from microscopic cuts) with tiny, prospective bites. A fellow resident, Brandon from the fourth floor, disappeared about a month ago after waking to the sight of a buzzing blanket of bugs. He came back last Thursday wearing an eye patch, sporting peculiar earmuffs, with two cotton balls lodged up his nostrils, and with his mouth wired shut with steel brackets.

He is now living in the third floor lounge. His clothes have all been burned and the rest of his belongings have been sent to Johns Hopkins Medical Center for further evaluation. He’s been forced to shave his head. The university has sold him a single canary-yellow jumpsuit for $578.60 that serves as his only article of clothing. The university has also rented him a typewriter for $80,000 a year. I asked Brandon what he thought about his treatment, but his typewriter was out of paper so he could not respond. Cornell Health Services is also bringing a lawsuit against Brandon, seeking $3.8 million for what the university describes as, “Unlawful denigration of university prestige.”

This story, mother, is just one of many. Many residents don’t sleep anymore, and the ones who do are all too often awaken but the haunting shrills of the infested. Every itch, or cut, or bump, or red mark, is not just an itch or a cut or a bump or a red mark but evidence of an attack. I think I’m beginning to become paranoid. Last week I scratched my right wrist until it bled—I swear I saw a lump, there was a bug under there. There’s a rumor going around that a squash player named Kip McKenzie on the fifth floor itched his kneecap down to the bone. The bone!

The university continues to dismiss the bugs as mythical nuisances, as if they were the same as a leaky faucet or a TV with flakey reception or an unstable chair that has one leg that’s shorter than the rest. “They don’t cause health problems,” and, “They don’t exist where conditions are unsanitary,” the university contends. Even high-end hotels have bed bugs—as if that makes it okay for us to. All these explanations are nice and cozy but they don’t take away from the fact that my dorm is infested with blood-sucking insects. I realize that say, stink bugs, can’t really do any damage to me but I’m not cool with them crawling all over me while I’m trying to sleep.

Do not worry for me mother, for I will be coming home soon. I’ll escape this infested hall and sleep in safety again.

Love,
Tony Q. Manfred

Tony Manfred is a Sun blogger. He can be contacted at blogs@cornellsun.com.