Chapter 4 is brought to you by the month of July. Don't forget there's still time to get the 2014 calendar and enjoy it for half the year at half the price!
As you will recall, from Chapter 3, The Packtite was locked inside and I was locked outside of my apartment.
It was 2 pm, my fiancé wasn’t due home from his office in New Jersey for another five hours and even if he left right now, he wouldn't make it back in less than an hour. And even if I wanted to reach him, how could I? My phone was locked upstairs and even if I borrowed one, somehow in the interlude between 2008 and the present I still had not yet memorized his phone number.
It all came crashing down on me, the overwhelming realization of my complete and total responsibility for the current predicament. How could I tell my friends and family that I burnt down an entire city block because I left an enormous patent-pending oven running full of BOOKS made of PAPER unattended while galavanting around East 5th street in a sports bra and yoga pants on March the 8th? (ok, for the sake of honesty, I did put on a tshirt before going outside, but was still drastically underdressed for being locked out) The panic was hammering me with waves of nausea as I realized the epic stupidity of my actions.
My first thought was selfish: If I burn my apartment down, would they cancel my wedding?
But then I began to ponder the bigger picture, like how I was endangering others. And how terrible of a person I was. I started to wonder if my actions might actually lead to criminal charges. Was this arson???? Was this how it all ends????
At that exact moment our delightfully oafish building super came striding up to the stoop, apparently on an errand run, born on the wings of the Holy Ghost himself. He had moved out of the building earlier that year and rarely stopped by. Especially when we needed something fixed. The sheer karmic beauty of this moment will never leave me and I am acutely aware that I have used up one of my three wishes and/or nine lives, never to be reclaimed.
He unlocked our building front door and then the apartment door for me, swinging the door open to release a torrent of humid air in both of our faces as the full firing potential of the packtite had finally been realized, but thankfully had not reached the critical point at which things become actually explosive.
I dashed in to stop the oven from heating further and I gave him a tour of my mad scientist’s workshop, thanked him profusely as he backed out the door in terror. I vowed to wear my keys around my neck for the remainder of bug-gate.
The next few days settled into a disturbingly functional routine. During the day I would wear my keys around my neck on a long pink ribbon while scurrying between dry cleaner, laundromat and apartment where I ran the Packtite like nobody’s business. I drove that Packtite nonstop for over 72 hours with slavish devotion. I would wake up in the middle of the night to change loads, determined not to let the temperature dip below 140 for fear of another 8 hour heat-up fiasco.
*In the movie version of An Impossible Story, there will be an inspiring montage scene of me relentlessly driving the Packtite, set to the training montage score from Rocky.
Come monday morning, our entire life had been sterilized, washed, dried and folded away into neatly organized bins. We were ready for Dante to return for round two of extermination and even more importantly, we were ready for the arrival of my mother and her white glove inspection.
I should point out now that this was no casual visit. This was THE visit for THE gown fitting. It was also my birthday. And in two days time, I was scheduled to depart for San Francisco and Sonoma wine country for my bachelorette party. It was a big week…
My mother, who operates under the instagram handle of @TheNancyBennett, is a woman about which an entire separate story could, and should, and will someday be written. Such a richly layered character deserves more than a mere chapter in this story, but I have a lot of impossiblness to get through here, so let’s just leave it at this: my mother is a marvel, there is no one else quite like her.
Among her myriad of skills, Cleaning and Not Giving Up are two of her most immediately apparent strengths. Just the woman I needed given the circumstances.
Upon arrival she did what any normal parent would do, she stripped out of her sweater and pants and sealed them in a double-reinforced plastic bag and unearthed a huge box of Swiffer wet mops out of her purse. I wondered momentarily whether or not the family sized container of Swiffers and vacuum-sealable bag were in her bag regularly, or if she’d packed them for the occasion. If this helps explain who she is any better, there’s a fairly good chance those items were in there anyway.
While I was still pondering her weaponry she had already unleashed the swiffers and was on all fours on the floor. She had deftly placed a swifter under both hands and and both knees and began roaming the floor furiously - part mother, part roomba - cleaning our apartment like it had never been cleaned before.
She was moving with the speed and agility of a woman a third her age. When presented with a cleaning challenge she flashes her true athleticism unapologetically. I had no choice but to join in. In no time, we were both roomba-ing around in bras and underwear, with swiffers under every point of contact we had with the floor, heaving with exhaustion and exhilaration at seeing how much disgustingness was coming off the floors. The joy she finds in cleaning is truly inspiring. It’s no wonder I love throwing things out so much, she taught me the beauty of creating a pristine environment. And what is more beautiful than stripping away excess, one blackened swifter at a time?
Once the apartment was deemed worthy of re-population and ready for round two of extermination she suggested we rewash all of my bedding. It had been washed and baked twice already since the last extermination but when @TheNancyBennett is involved, nothing escapes a victory lap in the washing machine. So we suited up and dragged trash bags of already fiercely clean sheets, pillow inserts, duvet and duvet cover and mattress pad back to the laundry.
Nancy took to my Laundry Routine like a fish to water. In no time we had multiple loads going, taking turns racing between home and laundromat with fat rolls of quarters. At one point we decided to break for lunch at The Smile to remind ourselves we were still ladies. We may have just wiped 50 years worth of grime from behind our radiator but we could still order arugula salads!
I remember leaving Nancy mid-meal to RUN the six blocks back to change a load of laundry. In my eagerness to get it all done in time, I bribed the laundry proprietress with $30 to babysit my cleaned bags of clothes for an hour so I didn't have to drag them back upstairs. I had started at $10 but she, like the wiley Packtite saleswoman, sensed my a Achilles heel for poor decisions on money spending had upped it to $30 and I had agreed. I think the week of bug-gate I put that Laundromat owner into a whole new tax bracket.
I returned to The Smile to find Nancy pounding a wheat beer, gearing up for more laundry. The only thing missing from the scene was her trainer massaging her shoulders before getting back in the game.
And then, another impossible thing happened.
After lunch, as I walked the now well-beaten path between Apartment 17 and the Laundromat, clutching another 30 pound bag of laundry, I glanced up and coming towards me in the grey late-winter light was non other than my idol, Garance Dore and yep, of course, trotting right behind her was the sartorialist.
I’m not kidding. I am not even kidding.
You can’t make this kind of impossible stuff up. What they were doing wandering down the dodgy end of east 5th street mid morning on a bleak day in March at the exact moment I was scouring my belongings of the idea of any contact with parasitic insects will always haunt me. My guess is that it was purely the universe’s way of further tormenting me.
"Don’t forget you’ll never be French AND an illustrator” the universe whispered in my ear.
By this point, I was completely exhausted by the cleaning marathon and repeat bedding washing, but it was time to change direction completely and attend my first wedding gown fitting at Vera Wang. But first - the universe has one more thing up it's sleeve.
Nancy had headed back to her hotel to sanitize and prepare for the transition from laundry wench to Mother of The Bride and I was alone in my sparkling apartment. I glanced over at one of the bags of laundry and there, crawling discretely but with stoic determination up the canvas of the bag was....
A bug. A very small bug, but a bug none-the-less. A BUG.
It was all for nothing. My heart broke into a million pieces.
The hours of relentless Packtiting, the naked roomba session, the fifty seven loads of laundry and thousands of dollars spent on hotels and dry-cleaning and cleaning supplies all for nothing. We had a bed bug in plain sight.
Through eyes filled with hot angry tears I trapped the bug in a ziplock bag and put it in our freezer and raced off to find Nancy. She recalls that my face when she opened the door of her hotel room was unlike any expression she'd ever seen before. White as a sheet and robbed of my last shred of hope.
I felt like the guy at the end of The Grey who lies down to let the wolf eat him as he watches the sunset, like the captain of the Titanic as the violinist played knee deep in icy water. My sharply felt awareness of my failure saturated every fiber of my being. I was done.
But, alas, the show must go on. We sterilized one last time, put on some makeup and our bravest faces and headed out to Gown Fitting Number One.
I sincerely hope I am the first and last bride who ever had to, on her birthday, freeze a bedbug to death the same day as trying on her horsehair veiled ball gown to discover that the asymmetrical sweetheart neckline and open back revealed just a few remaining bite scars.
After saying goodbye to the most beautiful gown in the world, we raced back down town to meet Dante to re-spray our apartment. I presented Dante with my frozen petrified bug and we compared it at length to various google images of bedbugs at each state of it's life cycle. Which - I might add - was a terrible experience. Googling "bedbug images" opens up a horrific vein of research. Do not ever do this unless you absolutely have to.
Dante, an expert in the field, could not confirm that this was actually a bedbug. Which was slightly comforting but mainly confusing. Kind of like OJ being found not guilty. In the end all he could say was that it was too small to be a bedbug proper but that I'd done the right thing by freezing it and overzealously cleaning everything and scheduling a second spraying.
All I could think was that perhaps our apartment was so tiny that the bedbugs had adjusted down to size? This was the kind of stress-induced paranoia I was sinking into. In retrospect, it was most likely an ant that had very unfortunately chosen that day to crawl into our apartment only to wind up dead in a freezer.
The polarizing highs and lows of the day were beginning to crack my sanity. One minute the Vera Wang staff is asking if I’d like a cathedral length or chapel length veil and the next Dante is asking me if I had noticed any new welts on my body or blood in my sheets. (I had not)
I may have been wavering on the edge of a mental breakdown but @TheNancyBennett was just getting warmed up. As soon as Dante finished his duties she turned to me with a glint in her eye, a glint that can only mean one thing. We were going to Bergdorfs.
By the end of her visit we had purchased everything on our bridal shopping list, my apartment was as clean and organized and bug free as it was ever going to get and my bags were packed for a bachelorette weekend.
We’ve turned the corner! I thought to myself contentedly as I waved goodbye to the victorious Nancy. Now all I need to do is get married! What a piece of cake!