Wednesday, May 6, 2015



By: Joe Amero

Talking with a friend last night before a show we somehow got onto the topic of bugs.  Later I thought about how much I must have grossed her out, and how much more I could have if she knew the whole story.

When I was a little boy I woke one morning to discover I had an itchy bum.  I couldn’t stop scratching even after my mother noticed and insisted that I did.  We went to the doctor who gave me medicine that tasted like chemicals and bananas and the very next day there were worms in my poop!  Actual living worms poking out and squirming around in my poop!  This blew my little mind and must have been mildly traumatic as the image has been burned into my brain like a Seinfeld rerun.  I don’t know how the pin worms came to be inside my body or where one contracts whatever causes them.  Could it be from consuming undercooked meat or doing regular kid stuff like maybe licking a dirty rock in the park that a dog pooped on?  Who cares, it was gross and scary and it was my first experience with parasites.  Unfortunately, it was not to be my last.

A couple years later there was a letter sent home with all the kids in my school notifying parents about cases of head lice that had been detected.  My mom literally checked my head with a fine tooth comb and I was clean.  She warned me to stay the hell away from everybody, signed the letter and sent me back to class.  The next day, I could feel them crawling on my scalp as we made our way home on the bus.  I told my mom when she got home from work and she was so pissed off when she discovered the little eggs in my hair that she shaved my head right there on the spot.  She then bagged up every last item of cloth in the entire house; dirty clothes, clean clothes, blankets, sheets, pillows, pillow cases, tea towels, even the curtains, and we drove to the laundry mat like we were fleeing from the police in a high speed chase.  After she got all of our worldly possessions into the machines she sent me to the pharmacy to buy the lice shampoo, by myself!  I thought I knew what embarrassment was when I had to ask the pharmacist for the treatment until I brought it back to my mom and she washed my head right there in the sink at the laundry mat.  As soon as I went back to school with my short hair, everybody knew I had lice, even though I got it from someone else, the whole thing became my fault and even the teachers shook their heads and looked at me with disgust.  I don’t know who gave it to me in the first place and escaped the blame and ridicule, but you’re welcome.

We stayed with friends of my mom during my parents’ separation/divorce to hide from my father, who was threatening to kidnap me.  My mom’s friend sent me into the kitchen one evening to grab a big bag of cheddar popcorn out of the cupboard to enjoy with a late great movie we were about to watch.  I ran through her apartment like a flash to the kitchen cupboards and stopped when I realized that I didn’t know which one held the treat.  I whipped open the first door and sent a gang of strange bugs that lived inside scurrying out of sight, seemingly as surprised as me.  I opened another and another, each time discovering new batches of these weird critters until I found the popcorn in its already opened bag.  I retrieved it and walked back to join mom and her friend on the couch.  They started throwing back fistfuls of the cheesy treat and licking their fingers clean but all I could think about was the fast little bugs that must’ve enjoyed this feast before us.  This was the first time I saw cockroaches and the last time I ate cheddar popcorn.  Later that night I felt one run across my face as I lay awake in the dark on that couch. 

When I was a teenager I hung around dirty places with dirty people for a dirty period of time.  We would sometimes break into abandoned houses and live there, rent free!  One day I was hanging out in one of these squats with some friends sitting around and partaking in some libations.  One guy was telling a detailed story and casually took off his shoe, then his sock and began scratching around what can only be described as the hole in the top of his foot.  I was shocked by the sight of it and more so by the lack of reaction from the others.  I had to ask him what in the name of Christ was wrong with him.  This was the day I discovered what scabies are, and that I was infested with them along with all the other dirty people in this dirty place.  These things live under your skin and weave in and out forming lines of dots on the surface.  They are itchy as all get out and the more you scratch the worse they get until, eventually, you get nice big craters like the one in buddy’s foot.  You have to wash everything, a skill I was lucky enough to learn early in life from my mother.  You also have to treat your body with an extremely toxic shampoo that is so strong and bad for you it can only be used a maximum of twice a year.  I left this squat immediately and ran into my little brother and his friend on my way to the laundry mat.  They were living in a bank machine and picking body lice off of themselves and forcing them to fight to the death in a bottle cap on the floor like some sick and twisted miniature prize fight of filth.  I never had body lice, thankfully I didn’t hang around my brother too much at the time; his friend was weird.  Scabies are horrifying; they infest your entire body except your face and genitalia.  I think they’re from outer space. 

Years later I got my life together and used my lived experience to become a Social Worker.  My job title is Community Mental Health Worker and I work with consumer survivors living with mental health issues, on the street they call these people “bugs”.  One day when I got to work my boss handed me a haz-mat suit and told me to go and clean out a tenants’ room in our supportive housing unit.  I went up and bagged all of his clothes and bedding to once again do the old marathon laundry service.  When I got to his mattress, which I was asked to put on the curb with the garbage, I was introduced to the infamous bed beg.  These suckers are nocturnal, they’re attracted to the carbon dioxide you exhale and feed on your blood while you sleep.  Bed bugs are a nasty bit of business and difficult to get rid of with steam treatments and extreme heat.  I put my own mattress at home in a protective cover and lived in fear of bringing these pests home with me for the last 5 years.  I never have, but I see them all the time crawling on people and in peoples’ units.  The next time you see a mattress on the curb look for black stains made of tiny spots and blood markings, that’s the evidence of this epidemic.  It’s not only poor and dirty people who get them either, these things don’t know prejudice and even public movie theatres have had to be closed down and treated.  The dogs that are specially trained to detect them are in such high demand they get paid more than you and I.  ‘Night, night, don’t let the bed bugs bite’?  It’s more like ‘you won’t sleep because of the anxiety and they will feed from you like hundreds of tiny babies drinking their mother’s milk and life force’.

Fast forward a bit and I’m doing pretty good thinking the bugs were all behind me.  My girlfriend was very pregnant so I put a new air conditioner in our bedroom window to battle that summers’ brutal heat wave. The next morning my girlfriend wakes up and has some strange tiny bites on her arms.  I didn’t have any evidence on me so I assumed it was mosquitos or a spider and didn’t give it a second thought.  A couple days later and she awakens to fresh bites, still I have none and she is convinced I had brought bed bugs home from work.  I checked and had not.  She was uncomfortable already and now she was going insane from these mysterious bites.  We were lying in bed googling images of different bug bites and not having any luck matching her tiny, pin prick markings.  Just as we came to bird mites, a tiny grain of salt walked across the glowing screen of her iPhone.  Once we knew what we were looking for, closer examination of the window sill revealed millions of almost microscopic white mites, everywhere!  We quickly checked the bed and it was covered!  The walls, the floor, everything was crawling with barely visible bird mites.  Bird mites go into your eyeballs and eat your brain, that’s where the expression ‘bird brain’ comes from.  I knew the drill, first thing was bag and wash everything cloth.  Next it was showers, I removed the brand new air conditioner, threw it away and sealed the bedroom window with thick plastic and duct tape while my girlfriend scrubbed up.  When I put the unit in it scared away the infested pigeons roosting there and the mites went straight through the a.c. and onto my girlfriend.  I was bypassed in favour of her delicious pregnant pheromone and blood-filled body.  Next it was my turn in the shower then we leashed up the dogs and were out of there.  We called our landlord from the park while we washed the dogs with a hose.  The cheap prick tried to bargain basement some DDT and said we could be home in 4 hours.  I had already talked to the tele-health professionals and knew what pregnancy-safe pesticide to request and there was no way we were going back in less than 48 hours from extermination.  I made him show me the stuff and read the label but he refused to clean the front of the building and the eavestroughs which was the source so we moved out.  I left a secret note for the new tenants not to open the windows and the address to a disturbing site called

 We live in a nice little house far away from all of this now.  We got married and our baby is doing great, sometimes there is a moth that flies against the light on the back porch.  We never worry about any infestations, or dirty people and we sleep soundly in our brand new bed.  It took some time to recall all of these incidents as they now seem like a bad dream.  I never worry about bugs anymore, not the organic type anyways.  Sometimes I do get the sneaking suspicion that some unknown government agency has somehow managed to implant a small microchip transmitter/recording device in my brain; but that’s a different story.