Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Sleep Tight

If our seasonal hysteria for global warming, sharks and wildfire isn’t giving you the Summer Craze you need this year, might I suggest you consider freaking out about bed bugs? All the cool kids are doing it.

Bed bugs are ripe subjects for paranoid obsession. They’re too small to detect and too clever to be caught. They’re courteous enough to administer an anesthetic before they go to work on your body and they’re tough enough to go without food for a year. True to the name, they prefer the bedside buffet, but they’ll happily lodge anywhere: wood floors, carpet, furniture, clothing, even the wiring in your walls. They travel with you between cities, into and out of hotel rooms, on all manner of transportation: cars, busses, subways, trains, planes and so on. Fifty percent of all bed bug bite victims never know they’re being eaten. And once you do know, there’s little you can do to stop them. In short, they’re invisible, omnipresent, clever and patient. Commence freak-out.

Bed bugs present no tangible consequence except irritation. According to my research, the main problem with bed bugs is that they’re fucking creepy. They breed through a process called “traumatic insemination,” which is exactly what it sounds like -- the title of an Eve Sedgwick book. They spread like a disease, but do not act as carriers of disease. A small number of hosts suffer shock, asthma or severe skin rashes, but most victims suffer only itching, if they suffer anything at all. Essentially, then, they’re just ... a thing to be afraid of. Since you can never be sure you don’t have them (double-negative intended), you get to be as afraid as you want to be.

Sounds like the sort of summertime thrill we expect from bullshit movies like Inception (of which more below). Scan your forearm right now. See those two or three imperfections in your skin that you never noticed before? If you are of the right temperament, this is proof positive that you’ve been eaten by bed bugs! Now stare at all the bits of white lint on your sheets and clothing. Keep staring. Don’t they kinda look like … eggs? (NB: do not perform this examination stoned)

Fortunately, there are three guaranteed solutions to a bed bug infestation:

1. Levitation. Bed bugs can’t fly. You can only get bitten if you touch things, go places, or gather with other humans, so … time to break out that Vedanta book you kept on your shelf to seduce hippy girls in college.

2. Become independently wealthy. No, you’re not safe in your posh Union Square condo or Upper East Side mansion. Bed bugs have no class consciousness. But after you become independently wealthy, you can afford to burn everything you own and buy perfect replicas! This is actually the solution proffered by New York City’s public health officials right now, which leads one to wonder if bed bugs have done more to stimulate consumer demand than unemployment benefits.

3. Find a scapegoat. If bed bugs attack first in the venue of our imagination, surely they can be defeated there, too. All paranoid obsessions can be relieved by a good scapegoat. For example, John Stossel of Fox News blames the environmentalists! Turns out the pesticide DDT was great at killing bed bugs, but because it killed a great deal more than that, we stopped using it. Stossel would like us to resume DDT use because he has an itch in his knickers. Presumably, Stossel is aware that napalm is a great decongestant and that rape improves your resting heart rate.

I’m traditional when it comes to scapegoats, so I’ll fall back on the most generic PB&J one we have: Al Qaeda.

Consider: bed bugs are far less frightening if they’ve been deployed by another human. It would be the sort of half-sinister, half-pathetic attack we’ve come to expect from the likes of Captain Firecrotch or the Hatchback Douchebag of Times Square. “One day we will mildly annoy the American Empire! Moo-ha-ha!” So the next time you stay awake at night wondering if a swarm of nano-pests will bleed you while you dream … think about all those other jerks that get under your skin. And then scratch your balls with the refreshing vigor of a new moral imperative.

Or just, you know … be irritated every once in a while.


Speaking of nocturnal irritations, the movie Inception sucks your imagination the way bed bugs suck your blood. Christopher Nolan’s daisy-chain of migraines has been anointed by critics and crowds as the must-see thriller of 2010 and in these frugal times, it's easy to see why. For $11 you can watch four mediocre action movies smooshed into one ghastly palimpsest. And for another $11 you can buy four Taco Bell entrees and shake them up in your takeout bag.

The story follows Leonardo DiCaprio and an intrepid team of dream hijackers as they dig into the subconscious mind of a rich guy to traumatically inseminate him with an idea. Once dreaming, they induce sub-dreams and sub-sub-dreams and sub-sub-sub-dreams in order to bury the idea so deeply that the rich guy will take it as his own upon waking. This is an intriguing premise that calls to mind Poe’s famous lines:

All that we see or seem,
Is but a dream within a dream.

This would make a fascinating multi-dimensional flick, action or otherwise, but in Nolan’s treatment it looks like a lazy pile of noise, bullets, and blood. By the final stretch, he’s cutting between a van falling slo-mo into a river, some guys dressed in white shooting each other in the snow, and Joseph Gordon Levitt levitating in an elevator car. Oh, and there’s another storyline about Leo’s bitch ex-wife as well as some seaside confrontation with an elderly Ken Wanatanabe wherein Leo stands amidst the roar of a surf-tormented shore.

I can’t remember anything else because my date and I fell asleep halfway through. Why does willful chaos have this narcoleptic effect? Was this a brilliant gambit by Nolan? Last year, Avatar resurrected 3D. This year … Nolan offers an action movie about dream pirates that actually makes you feel like your dreams have been stolen as you doze in the theater. I guess that’s some kind of accomplishment.

The Taco Bell metaphor doesn’t quite capture the thrashing nausea of Inception. If Nolan were a chef, Inception would be a hotdog wrapped in an ├ęclair, dipped in mayonnaise, and sprinkled with crayon shavings. Though I doubt the food critics would ape their arts-section colleagues by praising: "Look how many layers!" Yes, this ingenious combo spares critics the need to sit through several bad movies in a row, so I can understand why they might be grateful in their reviews. And cash-strapped audiences may feel like they’re getting a lot for $11, but surely we don’t need to pay full price just to watch four more previews.

Then again, if the specter of bed bugs gives you insomnia at home, Inception is a great way to stop thinking and catch some shut-eye. Strap in. Sleep tight. Bite me.