A Better Excuse Than ‘The Dog Ate My Homework’

One of my loyal Linkedin followers wrote me today asking why I hadn’t posted anything since July. I told her I had a better excuse than “the dog ate my homework.” Way better. But I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Right after that last post, my wife and I departed for a summer vacation in Europe. We hiked the wildflower-speckled Alpine trails of Zermatt beneath the snow-capped majesty of the Matterhorn in southern Switzerland’s Valais canton. We visited dear friends in the Swiss city-village of Basel, where we’d spent the last 16 years of my career before returning to New York this past February. We went to some wonderful art exhibits and caught a bit of the 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championships in London.

We strolled the empty August streets of Paris like a couple of seasoned flaneurs, having our pick of the fine bistros and brasseries we passed, because all the natives were away for the month. And, to put icing on the cake – since this was my first post-retirement vacation – I didn’t have to spend a single moment agonizing over the eventual early-Monday-morning meeting at the office, when it would all come to a crashing end.

But something else happened that I never could have anticipated. Something even worse than an early-Monday-morning meeting. And it came from the farthest reaches of nowhere.

Accompanying practically every morning’s TV news since we returned to New York is a comical little commercial for a cute little beagle named Roscoe. “Hey, where’s Roscoe?” a succession of typical New Yorker’s ask. “He’s workin’!” responds the friendly pest control man standing in front of his pest control van.

Cut to some unfortunate family’s apartment, where Roscoe dutifully sniffs out the source of their grief. Bed bugs!

But never fear, a quick dose of freeze spray around the beds, sofas, closets, and floorboards is all it takes and poof. Problem solved.

Would that it were so simple beyond the fantasy world of TV Commercial Land.

A little while after our vacation, my wife and I both found ourselves scratching itches on our arms and legs. Then, one morning I spied a suspicious-looking little bug on our mattress cover.  About the size of a ladybug, but a dark-orange or brownish color and much more sinister-looking, this creature matched the description of a bed bug I found on Google. So I went downstairs and informed our building’s superintendent.

It was as if I’d reported a dead body in my bathtub. Immediately digging into his back pocket for his walkie-talkie, our super summoned a work crew with an ultra-high-powered vacuum cleaner. They descended upon our apartment, lifted our mattress and sucked up every scintilla of matter on every square centimeter beneath it, bed board, frame, and carpet. Before they were finished, I’d already received an email from the building’s management, alerting me to expect a call from their own pest control company. It looked like I was actually going to meet Roscoe in person, or at least one of his canine cousins.

But not yet. The photos of the insects I sent the pest control company were all the confirmation needed. The “K9,” as they refer to their canines, would not be coming until AFTER the treatment, to make sure the coast was clear.

Sleep tight…

Until then, the sum and total of everything I’d ever heard or thought about bed bugs was captured in that silly little bedtime phrase, “Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” and in that benignly amusing Roscoe ad.

Photo credit: insightpest via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

Two things then shocked me: First, the magnitude and duration of the ordeal that befell my wife and me, turning our lives upside down in an instant; and second, the number of bed bug horror stories friends began to divulge when I told them of my dilemma. It’s as if bed bugs were some terrible social taboo, like a psychological disorder or sexually transmitted disease that no one would ever talk about unless they found out you had it, too.

My eyes widened and my stomach tightened as I read the instructions the pest control company sent me on how to prepare for the treatment: All clothing to be laundered and dried at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or else discarded; all books, CDs, shoes and other day-to-day items (in essence, ALL your belongings) placed in clear plastic bags to be sealed with chemical pesticide strips inside. For how long?

Exiled from our own home

For two weeks, which is how long our bedroom has been taped shut to keep in the chemical treatment and allow it to do its work, while my wife and I spent the early nights in a hotel and the rest of our exile on the sofa bed in the living room, getting by with a few essential  items in a sort of go-bag the pest control people instructed us to pack for the duration.

It hasn’t been easy, by any stretch. But it’s amazing what the human being can adapt to. And my wife and I both feel that this is turning into one of those “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” experiences.

The dog is scheduled to come over for an apartment-wide sniff tomorrow afternoon. Anticipating his arrival as a sort of moment of truth, it feels like a twisted kind of groundhog day: If he gives us the all-clear, we’re home free and can resume our normal lives. If not, it’s another two weeks of hell.

But hey, I got a blog out of it to end my draught, didn’t I?

Martin D. Hirsch
Martin D. Hirsch
Martin Hirsch started building his own communications consulting practice in 2017 after a career spanning almost 35 years with one of the world’s leading international healthcare groups. He’s led internal and external corporate communications, brand and reputation management, and crisis and issue management. Working in both the United States and Europe, he has advised multiple CEOs and collaborated with colleagues all over the world. Martin’s strengths include executive consulting, strategic message development, content marketing, storytelling, communications training, public speaking, mentoring talent, and inspiring organizations to advance beyond their limitations.Lately he’s been helping clients by writing keynote speeches for top executives, developing strategies for pitching new business and explaining complex issues, ranging from how to apply new digital health tools in the pharmaceuticals industry to making sense of the rapid and complex changes challenging employees to maintain their equilibrium at major corporations. Martin also works as a faculty adviser at the New York University School of Professional Studies, helping graduate students with their Capstone Papers. His speaking engagements have included presentations at the IABC World Conference, the European Association of Communications Directors Summit, the Corporate Communications International Leaders Forum, the European Commission Communications Directorate and the Rotterdam School of Business Reputation Forum Netherlands. More recently, he was a panelist at the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association conference on expat issues held at Pfizer headquarters in New York. Martin’s writing, including essays, letters and poems, has appeared in newspapers and magazines in the U.S. and Europe. You can read his blog on MUSE-WORTHY, here on BIZCATALYST 360°. He received the American Association of Journalists and Authors 2018 Writing Award for Best Personal Story Blog.
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