Friday, October 15, 2010

Mysterious Doings under the Bed

On Monday, I was vacuuming under our bed, where there are eight large plastic storage tubs, along with a wooden file box and some other stuff, often including Wendy, who claimed the file box as her sleeping place. Everything is nicely hidden by a heavy cotton bedskirt, which is velcroed to the bed frame. This way, we have a ton of storage under our high antique bed.

To vacuum, I have to pull out all the tubs, which is no fun. As I pulled out the last one, from the area by the wall, under my pillow, I found about two tablespoons of bright, fresh sawdust on the lid.

The sawdust obviously came from our wood mattress frame — but how did it get there? It had been about 10 days since I'd last performed this cleaning maneuver. That's not enough time for a lot of dirt to accumulate between the mattress and the lids of the tubs. And nothing rubs against the bed frame to abrade it.

I mentioned this to some friends, and they said, "wood-boring beetles." Now, any sensible woman would take a flashlight and look under the bed for little holes that bugs would make, or other evidence. But I have a thing about bugs. I mean, I really have a thing about bugs, certain bugs. I can't help it. I just start screaming and lose my head, with no regard for life or limb. It's really bad if a spider happens along the dashboard when I'm in a fast-moving car.

I don't freak out about all bugs. I'm okay with lightning bugs and lady bugs. I don't mind killing clothes moths, kitchen ants, or mosquitoes. But things like roaches (which I haven't encountered in decades, thank god), millipedes, centipedes, and anything disgusting like a termite infestation? Forget it. I'm outta here.  Screaming.

We have large, biting millipedes in this building, although we rarely encounter them. One night, when I was home alone, lying on the sofa, one crawled out from under a basket in the living room and started to walk threateningly toward me with its thousand legs. I started screaming, which confused the millipede. As it paused, I grabbed the only weapon at hand, a thick issue of "In Style," with Katie Holmes on the cover. I threw Katie Holmes on top of the millipede and then bravely got off the sofa (after a while) and added a pile of other books, and a heavy statue for good measure. My husband cleaned up the smashed bug when he came home. He's used to this.**

All this is by way of saying that here was no way I was going to look for evidence of wood-boring beetles under our bed.

So I called an exterminator to come and look instead. He was just here with his flashlight. He didn't find anything. After he looked, I looked, and didn't find anything either.

Where did the sawdust come from? I saw it. It was real.  He suggested the cats. But they are all much too big to crawl between the tubs and the mattress. And cats don't make sawdust anyway. His next theory was that the sawdust was caused by friction between the tubs and the mattress. But I just put the tubs back, and they never touch the mattress frame. There's about 2 inches of clearance. The exterminator was very nice, and left without charging me. (We also discussed a lengthy, expensive treatment for moths, which is another story....)

So we have a mystery. Any thoughts?  What makes piles of shavings and isn't a bug?

Did you say mouse? Don't say that so loudly — several of us will get overexcited. (Not me: I don't freak out over mice. I throw bowls over them and carry them outside. But some of us are really into mice as entertainment.)

The next time I vacuum under the bed, I'm going to bag any evidence and take photos.


**My dad was always my bug-protector when I was a kid, even though he's so kind that he picks up any bug he finds and carries it out of the house. The night I killed the millipede, I called him. "Can you get up here, NOW?? I'm home alone and there's a millipede! There could be others!" He was then about 90 and living 350 miles from here, but at least he politely considered the possibility of making the late-night trip on my behalf. Then he confessed that he hates millipedes, too. While he'll carry a carpet beetle out to the garden, he keeps a can of some deadly, banned chemical to spray on millipedes. "They shrivel up and turn into powder!" he said. I asked him why he, the Saint Francis of the insect world, would do that. "Millipedes are nasty. They bite, and they can be dangerous. And it's interesting to watch." 

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