O'TOOLE: Bugs intrude on family vacation

Fort Lauderdale had it in for me from the first day. I arrived with my mother, my brother and his fiancée on a July morning
Jul 2, 2013


Yeah, July. Who goes to Florida in July? Drug lords and masochists, that’s who.

I’m too much of a wimp to be a masochist and I’m certainly no drug lord. If I were, I would have a Lamborghini parked in my driveway, being washed by a hot Channing Tatum lookalike in a Speedo. After he’s done waxing my Lambo, he would draw me a bath and wash my hair for me. Then he would give me a full body massage with scented lotions and oils, and then — oh, wait. Where was I?

Oh, yeah — Fort Lauderdale in July.

When you find a motel across the street from the ocean at a bargain price, you should really wonder why. And then you should find another motel.

We were so tired from riding in the car for two days straight that we did not notice the empty food wrappers underneath the furniture. We did not notice the unvacuumed carpets or the smudgy and stained bathroom fixtures. There were no bullet holes, no blood spatters, no crime scene tape. But there were beds.

Thus, our most immediate needs were satisfied and we were, too.

After a deep, blissful night’s sleep, my mother and I climbed out of bed the next morning to discover the bleached white sheets polka-dotted with little black insects. Bed bugs.

Bed bugs crawled all over the pillows where our heads had lain just moments before. Bed bugs scrambled all over the entire surface of the bed, frantically fleeing the light for the dark recesses beneath the mattress.

Mom and I shrieked and tore around the room as if we were on fire.

By the time my brother got there, the bugs had all vanished. He looked at us as though mentally measuring us for straitjackets. He and his fiancée had found no insects in their bed. The two of them spent the rest of the day in the calm, assured-of-manner of people who did not involuntarily and unknowingly sleep eight hours while a hundred bed bugs hiked and camped out on their bodies like the Appalachian Trail.

Mom and I, however, were completely skeeved out, twitching and itching throughout the day, belatedly feeling the bed bugs traversing our skin.

After my mother thoroughly tongue-lashed the desk clerk and we found another motel — farther from the ocean and steeper in price — we decided to take a dip in the ocean. In my estimation, the beach is just an especially scenic location in which to read a book, so I splashed around for five minutes and then hit the sand.

Later that afternoon, I developed a rash that itched and burned as if I’d wallowed in poison ivy. It covered everything but my face. My first thought was the bed bugs. It would be my luck that I would sleep with disease-carrying bed bugs. They had probably burrowed into my brain and were at that moment infecting it. Soon I would be a drooling, itching zombie.

Mom took me to a pharmacy and made me show my rash to the man behind the counter. He looked over his glasses at my red bumps and asked, “Have you gone swimming in the ocean?”

I spent less time in the water than my family, but I was the only one to contract swimmer’s itch. Lucky me. The only remedy, said the pharmacist, was Benadryl. The extra-strength, super-stupor-inducing kind.

The rest of the trip is hazy. I mostly remember falling in and out of druggy, hallucinogenic sleep as the others went in and out of the motel room.

I also remember the one meal I managed to eat creating such gastrointestinal distress I thought there was a civil war going on in my stomach.

My sleep that night, though Benadryl-laced, was restless. When I wasn’t scratching myself bloody, I was so noxiously flatulent that it’s a wonder my mother didn’t run screaming from the room.

The icing on the cake — or should I say, the bug on the bed — was when the air conditioning went out in our car on the return trip. It was 120 degrees with 90 percent humidity — or so it felt as we broiled in the repair shop waiting area, eating half-melted, stale vending machine candy bars and reading grimy magazines.

Someday I hope to return to Florida with my girls. But we’ll be staying in the house of the world’s most famous mouse.

This year, we are enjoying a family "staycation," bonding over our adventures in reading our books.

— By Kelly O'Toole, Tribune community columnist


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