IT HAPPENED TO ME: A Bed Bug Saved Me From A Toxic Work Situation

I put up with mean-girl treatment at my nail-salon job, but a getting bit by a bed bug at my station was the last straw.
Publish date:
August 22, 2014
coworkers, jobs, quitting, bed bugs, nail salons, manicurists

Never in my life have I been more thankful for bed bugs.

It was a Friday morning, my scheduled day to work in the nail salon. I finished up with my client, a friend, when I felt a familiar itch on the top of my sandaled foot.

“Funny…” I thought as I bent down to scratch. “This feels disturbingly itch that can’t be scratched...”

Somewhere deep down, I knew what it was, but I dared not think the thought through for I knew that merely thinking about bed bugs could cause them to spontaneously appear like a creepy coworker who’s always mouth-breathing and keeping his dirty cans of Diet Coke in the community ice bin. So I ignored the thought and showed my friend to the door. After all, there are no bed bugs in Los Angeles!

My friendly client exited through the front door completely unaware that buzzing overhead was a hive of ceiling bees discovered earlier that morning between the insulation and the frosted light panels that made up the visible ceiling of the salon. The swarm of bees had appeared overnight. I looked up with concern as they wandered around on the smooth, man-made plastic surface, confused by their location and possibly also by the toxins from the salon below.

"We have to have someone come kill them," the owner said.

"I don’t think they’ll kill them. Don’t you know how much we need bees? I’m guessing they’ll move them to an apiary nearby."

"What? What is that? They should just kill them. You’re weird." (She might not have actually called me weird, but you know she thought it. I love worms, too, lady.)

I walked back to my station, sat down and started playing around with the new polish and stamping plates I’d just ordered when suddenly, it felt almost as if something was crawling up my thigh inside my new blue jumpsuit. I scratched my leg and went back to work. Funny -- there it was again. And again.

And then I grabbed a small something in between the fabric of my new blue jumpsuit, applied pressure, and it burst.

My heart sank. I knew what this was.

The itch was familiar because I am extremely allergic to bed bugs; I knew the blood on my new blue jumper was my own, extracted from my sandaled foot. I rolled up my pant leg and pulled out what so many of us have come to know as “Devil Insecta”: a single bed bug.

I immediately went into a flop sweat of Niagara proportions as I texted a photo to my husband. We had gone through four rounds of bed-bug infestation in our old Brooklyn apartment before realizing the calls were coming from inside the building and we were forced to move. The mere mention of bed bugs turns us as white as ghosts -- this was a code red situation.

"THAT is a bed bug," my husband replied, and with that I went back to the break room to have what was my first and final chat with owner one (of three) of the salon.

Of the three owners, only one had ever taken the time to check in with me, get to know me, and talk to me on a regular basis. The scariest of the three, the one I approached about the bed bug, had treated our relationship like a mean girl in high school treats the kid who can’t afford new clothes -- with whispers, snide comments and eye rolls. Things had been tense in the salon for a while, and no matter what I did to get her on my side, she just didn’t like me.

She was concerned about the bed bug, naturally. I gave her the Ziplock bag I’d trapped it in and told her to contact an exterminator ASAP.

Then, because we were talking and I felt bold, I asked her about a rumor she had confronted me with a day earlier about me leaving to join forces with the third, sane owner of the salon in October. I asked her about the brochure I’d left at my desk (nestled between the garbage can and towel bin behind my nail station, not visible to those not searching), which had mysteriously disappeared the day before she confronted me with this “rumor.” Strange.

She denied everything, refused to tell me where she’d heard this rumor, and yet, the brochure was nowhere to be found.

From there, our conversation became heated, as I assume she felt trapped. Soon she was blaming me for all the salon's problems: I was the one making the salon tense. It was because of me that the salon was not a fun, friendly environment -- not the two owners who have caused every employee they’ve ever had to quit… but ME. (I am still in contact with previous employees, so I know.)

I was floored. I turned around, walked back to my space, texted my husband to bring a few big boxes and started clearing out my desk; I quit.

It’s taken me a while to understand when people are treating me poorly. I was so used to putting up with negativity, jealousy, backstabbing from a woman I had worked with for five years that I was numb to it. I was also very good at blaming myself. I was the f--k up, not them. I was the one causing problems…right? Turns out, I was wrong and glad to be.

For the next 24 hours, I was bummed. I hadn’t wanted to quit. I didn’t have the money to quit. I had thrown thousands into starting my nail business, and now I’d have almost a month and a half without clients.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that when you can’t tell the shit from Shinola, the universe has a funny way of making it stank.

Without a doubt in my mind, I can tell you that the one and only thing that would cause me to exit so abruptly, breaking my contract in the process, is a bed bug. And what are the chances that in my little spot in the back of a little salon in Atwater with almost no clients, I would meet my motivator? Very, very slim. (The bees were a nice added incentive, too.)

I will have a new, private space in Glendale starting October 1st, and I swear to the universe that I will never again summon bed bugs to my feet with bad decisions or future alignments with terrible individuals.

Reprinted with permission from Glennis McCarthy's tumblr. Follow her on Twitter: @phantomglennis