Remain Calm

Photo courtesy Louis N. Sorkin, BCE, AMNH

I offer the following with the intent of helping, knowing that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Those of us who visit TKZ on a regular basis are readers, among other things. As readers, we come into contact with books, and by “books,” for purposes of this discussion, I mean physical books. Part of that contact almost certainly includes visits to libraries, trips to used bookstores, and yes, the occasional foray into garage sales. Please note that you might bring home something other than words in that first edition you picked up for a quarter from the neighbor or that thirty-year-old book by a new-to-you author that you found at the library.

Someone I know recently showed me their ankle, which bore a number of horizontal puncture wounds with accompanying swelling. “Do you know what those are?” they asked. “Sure,” I replied. “Those are bed bug bites.” Hilarity did not ensue. I went into interrogation mode and had the person list all of the places they had been in the previous ten days. This was fairly easy to do, given that their cell phone tracked everywhere they been (yours almost certainly does the same thing). One place stood out: a library in the city we live in. “Well,” I said, “we know that you certainly can’t get bed bugs from the library!” Just to be sure, however, I did a little research and, contraire mon frere, the presence of bed bugs in libraries is becoming a significant problem nationwide.

There are a couple of reasons for this which aren’t important to our discussion here. What is relevant, however, is that once the little beasties are introduced into libraries they make their collective way into the books. This is particularly a problem with hardcover books, the majority of which have what are called “hollow backs,” where the spine of the book cover is not directly attached to the spine of the book block (the inner part of the book, consisting of all of the pages). If you open a hardcover book and peer down the spine from the top of it you can see the “hollow,” or tunnel. This gets larger with age and/or use of the book. The majority of paperback books have what are called “tight backs” where the spine of the book cover is directly attached to the spine of the book block, so that a hollow does not exist. However, you should flip through the pages anyway. Just to be sure.  Again, note the word “majority” here. In any event, bed bugs, it has been found, just love to nestle down in those hollow backs (for up to five years) and wait for someone to bring them home in a book, put the book on a bed headboard shelf, and go to sleep. For bedbugs, it’s kind of like being locked in a Duck Donuts shop overnight. Yum. The same problem theoretically exists in used bookstores, though I haven’t seen anything in the literature about that.

What to do? “Stop reading” and “stop patronizing libraries and bookstores” is NOT on the list. Just check the hollow backs of any books you borrow or buy going forward. If you peer down there (a flashlight helps) and if something waves back at you as you peer down the hollow then you have a problem. Stick the book in a ziplock bag, squeeze the air out, seal the bag and wait a few days. In space, no one can hear a bed bug scream. As it happened, I had several library books in the house when I was playing Doctor Kildare, so I immediately checked them. All of the books were fine. If you do find something, tell the library or bookstore. Libraries have become very proactive about dealing with this problem but the librarians have to be aware that the problem exists in their library before they can do anything about it. Again, I’m not trying to scare or panic anyone. It’s just a potential problem with which we must deal.

Question: what is the worst thing that you ever accidentally brought ho…actually, let me start over. What is the worst creepy-crawly that you have ever accidentally brought into the house? I was bringing in the daily paper for a vacationing neighbor and discovered that a spider had stowed away in the plastic bag. It was on the wrong side of the door when it manifested itself. I stomped it for something like a half-hour. Anyway, that’s me. Tell me what you have. And thank you as always for stopping by.

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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

44 thoughts on “Remain Calm

  1. Well, isn’t this a nice start to the day!

    When we lived in Florida, bugs were a fact of life. So were snakes and lizards. Now that we live in the Colorado Rockies at 9100 feet, we hardly have any bugs at all, although I found a bumblebee in the house (by stepping on it) once. Who knew I could shriek like that (insert interrobang).
    The Hubster and I had a long chat about the proper response to a scream from his spouse, which is not “What’s wrong?” and IS … come running.

  2. First! No bugs at 9100 feet in the Rockies? I hate the prospect of lugging my comic book collection about there (might be time to sell it off), but if by no bugs you mean no spiders, Terry, I’m there! And yes, the proper response for a scream for help from your spouse (or anyone, for that matter) is…come running. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Not “no” bugs, but very few. We’ve been here 8 years, have seen maybe 8 mosquitoes. Haven’t seen a cockroach (which we called Palmetto bugs in Florida to avoid the ‘bad housekeeping’ connotations of roaches.) A few spiders, but nothing screamable. And during the winter, we don’t see bugs (or spiders) or flying, stinging things up here at all.

  3. Wow, Joe. Now I want to check all my hardcovers. Thanks for passing along this information. Eeek. I hope I don’t find any creepy crawlers. I’m itchy just thinking about it.

  4. Is this the beginning of a Stephen King novel?

    Or how about a nuclear event, and the bedbugs become the size of SUVs?

    Great. Now every time I read a library book, I’m going to be asking myself, What’s that crunching noise?

    • Jim, at our age that crunching noise is our bones rubbing against each other, and not in a good way. That’s why we are blessed with deafness as well in our advancing years!

  5. This is shocking. As I always travel with my pillow, I brought bed bugs home once when I lived in the Middle East. Yes, bed bugs are everywhere. Besides the terrible itching, the fumigation process is a real pain. Now in hotels, I always check the mattress for evidence—for blood splotches—before I accept a room.

    • Nancy, that’s a great idea. I take it a step further. I use a small Maglite to check the clock radio, behind the paintings, and the light fixtures. I pull out the drawers in the room to check the undersides of them. I also use the luggage rack in the room, but only if it’s metal (bed bugs for some reason hate metal). It doesn’t take long to do this and is worth it. As you noted, the fumigation process is not fun. Thanks.

  6. First, I just went and checked my current library book. All is good.

    Second, the worst thing I ever accidentally brought into the house was a brown recluse. I’ve seen what a bite gone wrong can do to one’s flesh. I saw it just outside the front door. It was big, so big I knew my friends wouldn’t believe me. So I got my camera, opened the door, and it scurried inside the way you always imagine a demon spider would do if it were coming AT YOU! I whacked at it and managed to miss. It crawled between the crack of a floorboard and the quarter round molding and hid there for two days. (Which means two nights of bad dreams.) I was there when it came out, though.:-)

    • Priscilla, thanks for sharing. One way to flush the buggers out is to spray the last area you saw it either with a spray designed for that purpose or a household cleaner like bleach. If it doesn’t kill them they’ll come staggering out and you can be ready with a baseball bat or a .357 magnum to take it out.

  7. I recently found a huge, mummified spider at the bottom of a container I’d let sit in the basement to separate paint thinner from the gunk on my paint brush. The poor bugger really got shellacked.

  8. Good morning, Joe. I love your humorous posts.

    So what is the worst creepy-crawly I’ve brought into my house? I had to think for awhile. It wouldn’t be the nest of copperheads that showed up with the truckload of rock for the front of the house, when it was built. Those snakes never made it into the house. It wouldn’t be the squirrel that made it in through the attic and convinced my wife and me that we had a burglar when we arrived home at night. We chased that sucker around the house yelling that we had a gun, and finally ran it out onto the patio.

    What I did bring in was powder post beetles – those bugs that infest old lumber and can make an old house click at night. (Thanks JSB. Your comment about a Stephen King novel reminded me of this.) Woodworkers avoid bringing lumber into their shops if it might have beetles. I was offered some curly maple, and it was free. I couldn’t resist. I should have known better, since it had been stored in a haymow. Anyway, I treated it and wrapped it in plastic. Eventually I had to dispose of it. But before I did, several pieces that I made crumbled into dust.

    Thanks for the memories.

    • Good afternoon, Steve! Thanks for your kind words and your stories. They remind me of why I don’t live in the country. I had a problem with a racoon that kept trying to get into the house via the gutters/soffits…A couple of weeks ago I spied him on the lower roof, retrieved a can of wasp and hornet spray (the kind with the 29 foot stream), snuck up on him and let him have it. He hasn’t been back. It doesn’t cause them any permanent damage but it sure makes them feel unwelcome. It works very well on two-legged invaders as well, but that’s another story.

      The only down side to your post was your account of the powder post beetles causing your work to crumble. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

  9. I once stayed at a Disney hotel in Orlando, and noticed a line of bugs with a strange sideways walk moving across my bed sheet. You guess it — my bed had a case of crabs. Hotel management moved me to another room and said they’d spray the room. But I’d left an item behind and asked to return to the room that same day. I couldn’t — the hotel had already rented it. I was itching to get out of there.

    • Elaine, that story gets the prize for today thus far. That’s horrible. And at Disney World, no less. For some reason when I visualize that I think of one of the Fantasia vignettes, with the crabs doing a choreographed pirouette while “Bolero” plays in the background. What is doubly disgusting is that they moved you and then rented the room so quickly to someone else. That’s goofy. Thanks for sharing.

  10. I didn’t bring it into my house, but a snake found it’s way in and dropped down into the commode when it heard me come in. I won’t say how I discovered said snake…but rest assured, it’s dead.

  11. I fell asleep last night watching “Men in Black.” When I woke there was a six foot seven inch cockroach in my bedroom, and it looked a lot like the actor Vincent D’Onofrio. I called Smith and Jones. When I came to, the giant bug was gone. Or was it all a dream?

  12. I just got the best idea for my next story! Thanks Joe! I woke up to a huge rat eyeballing me one night as a little girl. My dad killed it after an hour-long scuffle in his whitie-tighties.
    Those were the days when you could sleep with the windows up and “mostly” not be afraid.

  13. You’re welcome, Cindy. We’re here to help. What you just described is EXACTLY what happened to me as a wee child, only it was a HUGE spider on the wall, about an inch away from my nose. My dad came in and killed it.

    I remember those days you described. It was a better time. Thanks for the reminder.

  14. Whole grains sold in bulk can come accompanied by little moths. I threw everything out and scrubbed the cupboard but couldn’t get rid of them. After the first time they’d show up in closed boxes of pasta and rice. They’re invisible in the beginning. Then one day you find horrid white wormy things crawling over your cupboard doors and, after that, they blossom into the moths. I got rid of them for good using old fashioned sticky fly paper. It lures the bugs, which get stuck, struggle frantically and die a slow death by starvation. It brought out a capacity for sadistic pleasure I didn’t know I had.

    • Nanlynfey, I totally get it. Sometimes the old methods work the best. I draw the line at those mouse sticky traps, but flypaper? Absolutely. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Mr. Joe: I was a librarian’s kid.

    Did you know that the presence of creepy-crawlies in either books or stacks can make the average library patron scream, often to f-sharp above high C?

    But the presence of such things can make a librarian’s kid go bonkers.

    • OH, yes, Jim, I did know that. Grocery store guests do that as well. And it’s not just librarian’s kids who react as such. Stockbroker’s offspring do as well! Thanks for stopping by.

  16. I didn’t bring it home, but one night while I was stationed in South Korea, I was on the top bunk in the barracks and woke up to a cat looking down at me from the pipe above my bed. After my sleepy vision cleared, I discovered it was a cat sized rat.

    Fifty years later I think I still hold the record time for dismounting a top bunk.

    • David, thank you for your service. Hope you’re well. And my oh my, those encounters where we think we see one thing and it’s actually something else…not cool. They get the heart beating in a bad way.

      • Sorry to digress. (You all know how I hate “on the nose” replies.) I’ll stick to bugs.

        My worst creepy-crawly experience is when my little dog got a tick, and I had to extract it.

        • No apology necessary Diane! I HATE ticks. They don’t freak me out. It’s just that for a long time they were considered a minor annoyance but not dangerous. They are.

          I had to extract a tick from the ear of an infant in a rainstorm at a t-ball game. I’ll bet your doggie was more appreciative. Thanks for sharing.

  17. He never came in the house, but when we lived at the beach we had an alligator that liked to sun in the driveway behind my car. Never behind my husband’s car. I guess the gator knew Hubby he had to get to work.

    We have three dogs and three cats. Nothing ever makes it in our house, except the occasional lizard, which I have to fight the cats to rescue.

    • Cynthia, this answers the question of where alligators sleep: anywhere they want. I find it interesting that it never slept behind your husband’s car. Thanks for sharing.
      Sometime (but not in this forum) I’ll tell the story about my friends, newly relocated from New Orleans to Charlotte, who had a snake in the house as an uninvited guest.

  18. Joe: Thanks, I’m awake now, and probably will be for three days. ::shudder::

    I’m with you on the spiders. Other bugs, it’s relevant to size and quickness. The fast ones freak me out. My late DH and I had a deal worked out, since he hated snakes and they don’t bother me (no venomous ones where I am) I handled four legs or less, he handled more than four legs. Worked great.

  19. Joe, you sir, are very timely in your posts. For the last 2 weeks I’ve been eagerly waiting for today, my chance to drive down to Tucson bright and early in the morning because my beloved haven, the Arizona Historical Society Tucson branch was having a book sale!

    I saw today’s TKZ post title & the pic of the bug before I left but didn’t have a chance to read it. When I came home from the sale this afternoon jumping up and down with glee over my 2 giant sacks of history books, I promptly read the post and inspected all my cool old hardcover books and find them to be, at least so far as I can tell, bug free. 😎

    I hit the jackpot today. When you study history you come across names of tried and true historians of your field of study, but the amount of books always exceeds the budget. Not only did I find some books I’ve been wanting for years, I didn’t pay over $5 for ANY of them. EUREKA!!!!!

    • BK, thank you for sharing that terrific story. There is almost nothing better than finding some long sought-after volumes, and at bargain prices, no less!

      I have a good friend who recently needed to complete his collection of paperbacks written by a somewhat notorious pulp fiction author. He finally found the volume he was looking for and paid…well, too much. But he’s happy. I’m glad you’re in the same position without breaking the bank. Thanks again.

  20. My boyfriend is a librarian (insert sexy librarian joke here), and I assure you that bed bugs are very much a problem in libraries. He now works in a library inside a correctional facility, so there are different problems to contend with.

    As for me–I work in an ER in real life, so I will pass on “the grossest thing you’ve carried home” game…’cuz I’d probably win. 🤮

    • Michelle, we’ll send out good thoughts for your boyfriend. Please encourage him to write a novel or five. I bet he hears (or experiences) enough stories to fill a few books. And you…ER personnel are angels. I spent this past Christmas afternoon in an ER (not for me, just looking after the mother of one of my best friends since grade school) and the folks on duty were the best, on a day when they otherwise would have been at home. Here’s hoping that someone develops a Star Trek type sterilization unit for you to zap whatever jumps aboard you and your colleagues. Thanks!

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