Involuntary donations: Bed bug blood, bicycle, bit o’ pride

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
― Mother Teresa

Today marks the first week in a month that I have not had a bed bug bite, which led me to think about all my involuntary donations of blood to those parasites.

Bicycle thieves are another kind of parasite. One such parasite arranged for my generous, albeit involuntary, donation of my longtime bicycle in Oakland by the bay.

Both involuntary donations were sources of shame for me on my new-found midway and a source of comedy for carnies.

Still, after talking to carnival bosses, I consider myself lucky.

The trouble began the February day I rode my bicycle into the current carnival’s East Oakland site and asked for a job. Immediately, I was assigned a bunkhouse trailer room and unloaded my packs.

The room was a mess, with sawdust over much of the six-foot, five-inch long space. That night I suffered my first bed bug bites.

I remembered the rhyme, “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

But how do you stop them. Every night for the next few weeks I would look at my inch-thick mattress on a plywood bed and know that an army of bed bugs waits to suck my blood as I sleep. How I dream of a brand new saatva mattress.

That first morning I noticed a series of bites on my right arm and wondered if it might be a mosquito. But the second morning I had bites on my arms, back and neck.

This was not the work of a lone mosquito and carnies confirmed the bites when I showed them my arms. It seemed like every carny had suffered the wrath of the bed bugs.

Once rare, Cimex lectularius are making a comeback in the last couple decades. They once were considered helpful for treating hysteria.

So I did some investigation on the Web and found this by Jon Stewart—beyond

Before my bed bug saga subsided, bites would spread to my inner thigh and head. A bite on my forehead swelled so much my hard hat fit more smugly.

I moved the second day to another bunkhouse and decided to wash all my clothes, hoping against the odds that I wouldn’t bring “guests” to the new abode.

A thief, a hooker and drug dealers

I had to fit the washing of clothes into my two-hour work break. So I loaded up my bicycle with all my clothes/sleeping bag and rode about two miles to the Laundromat at High Street and International Avenue. It is behind a check cashing store in a strip mall, with a convenience store, Hispanic grocery and a beauty shop.

Carnies told me High Street is a dangerous area so I was on my guard. I washed my laundry and sat beside my bicycle. But when I rose to empty the drier, a bike thief jumped my bicycle and rode away.

It was a Panasonic LX that I had recently tuned up. I’d owned it since the 1980s. So it stung when I realized how stupid I had been to leave it unlocked, even for a few fleeting moments.

Here too, is when the shame in my story enters.

I was washing my tennis shoes and waiting in my socks for the laundry. So when my bicycle was stolen, I ran into the parking lot in my socks stupidly asking strangers, “did you see someone riding away on a black bicycle?”

Was I really going to run down a bicycle thief in my socks?

I ran into the local convenience store, the local Hispanic market and then around the corner.

The side street corner revealed what I instantly guessed might be a drug dealing corner. Then I heard an exotic bird call and thought, “there aren’t any exotic birds in East Oakland. That sounds like a warning call.”

I stood frozen for a few seconds, realizing I had more to lose than an old bicycle. A skinny, Black teenager on a small bicycle came riding out of the crowd and up to me saying, “you better get out of here, those guys over there think you’re a cop.”

By the time the rider got to me, I had already turned on my heels and begun speed-walking away in my socks like a British mime.

As I left, a wizened, old prostitute waved me down from across the street.

“I know you, you picked me up last week. How are you.”

I didn’t know if I was more sorry for my fleeing ass or my doppelganger who is wandering drug-infested neighborhoods in East Oakland picking up wizened, old prostitutes.

When I got back to the laundromat, I realized I had just a half hour before my shift started at the carnival. So I loaded up a bag of laundry under each arm and grabbed my large sleeping bag. I ran the two miles back to the carnival.

I must have made quite a sight along the side of the busy Oakland streets awkwardly, hurriedly running with bags of laundry and a sleeping bag.

Making it in time for the shift, I later retold the story to the great amusement of the more streetwise carnies.

“Hey, ‘High Street,’ going back tonight for a date, can you pick me up some dope?”

I was afraid my carny nickname would forever be, “High Street.”

Head scratchers

The third morning I woke up to more bed bug bites. The laundromat which had cost me so dearly, did not pay off.

I told The Carnival management and got little sympathy.

“You brought bed bugs to another bunkhouse?” said Robert E., a carnival supervisor. “You’ll fit right in here.”

All the stories about how impossible it is to get rid of bed bugs had me worried. I worried I might also bring the bed bugs to the next carnival.

The bed bugs did follow me to a couple jumps, to Hayward and Martinez. I washed the clothes several more times and used industrial pesticides on my room that gave me headaches. I sprayed the pesticide on my mattress and clothes, which I feared might be poisoning me. Finally, I used a bed bug “bomb,” to release a spray into my cabin for a couple hours the morning after a slough (the breaking down of a carnival and transfer of sites).

The bite tracks have cleared up and I sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite.

On the bright side, I still have my wallet, cell phone and camera. I no longer have a bicycle to lug across the country on my “Eyes Like Carnivals” project. Walking is better exercise.

The day after my bicycle was stolen, I walked up to a group of three supervisors and a part-owner. I told them the story of giving blood, the bike thief, the hooker, the drug dealers and my theory on involuntary donations – they can be head scratchers.

They laughed. I was lucky, they said, one year a carny roamed off in that part of Oakland and, “was hung.”


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