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The World Of Undercover Bedbug Sleuths
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The World Of Undercover Bedbug Sleuths


The World Of Undercover Bedbug Sleuths
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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In another less enjoyable bit of simultaneity, right now someone in Paris and someone in New York are likely reaching the same horrifying conclusion: They have bedbugs. New York has been in the throes of a nasty infestation and Paris may well be next, according to recent news reports. Well, author Jake Halpern lives in New York and recounts his close encounter of the parasitic kind.

Mr. JAKE HALPERN (Author): A few weeks ago, my wife wakes me up, early in the morning, her face stricken with panic, and announces: We have bedbugs.

What? She then shows me the proof: three little bites on her back. Moments later, however, she's pulling off the sheets of the bed, peering into the crevices of the mattress, searching for any signs on life.

In a way, bedbugs are like sexually transmitted diseases: nasty, contagious and embarrassing. For my wife, a Polish immigrant who treats dusting under the couch as a moral obligation, it's even worse than this. The mere presence of bedbugs suggests that she keeps an unclean house.

Anyway, we wash everything in the house, but that's not good enough. So we end up paying $400 for a highly trained dog, a Jack Russell terrier named Bugsy, to pay us a visit. Bugsy is a graduate of the J&K Canine Academy in High Springs, Florida, the Harvard of the canine world, a place where dogs are trained to sniff out bedbugs.

So as we wait for Bugsy to arrive, the whole family - me, my wife, our two toddlers - maintain a strict policy of silence. Tell absolutely no one, I warn my 3 year old son. At this point, I'm in a panic, too.

What about your mother, my wife asks. Do we tell her about the situation? I consider the facts. My mom adores me, but I'm not sure how she would handle the prospect of an infestation. Mums the word, I tell my wife.

So a few days later, Bugsy shows up at the house with his handler, a guy named Jake Schechter. Jake practically bolts in my front door, as if not wanting to be seen. I just did a penthouse on the upper east side of New York - a real fancy place. They had four cleaning ladies, two nannies, and a cook. Of course, I had to sneak Bugsy into the building in a bag so their neighbors wouldn't suspect anything.

When inspecting offices, for example, he and Bugsy do their work in the middle of the night. And if they find bugs, the removal process also happens in the middle of the night. This way the employees never know.

In the end, Bugsy didn't find a thing at our house. You don't have bedbugs, Jake told me.

(Soundbite of sigh)

Mr. HALPERN: I felt a surge of relief. And yet, the paranoia lingered. I asked Jake was it possible that he or Bugsy might have inadvertently brought bedbugs into my house. Don't worry about it, buddy, he told me knowingly. I understand. I got a wife, too.

For a moment, Bugsy, who is now standing in our foyer, fidgeted. I tensed. Then he fixed me with a look, the kind of look that only a dog who charges $400 an hour can give you, which seemed to say: chill out, my man, the situation is under control.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Jake Halpern teaches at Yale University. He has a new book out called "World's End."

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