A Good One from My Friend Peter Gregutt

Homing in on lodgings can be challenging in its own right (see Vol. 39A – Going Horizontal), but once this has been accomplished, the traveler’s task is far from over. Ideally, the proffered premises should be surveyed (with particular attention to the bed, assuming that there is one) before any commitment is made. And while solo travelers often team up with an eye toward cost-cutting, it goes without saying that even if you can’t hunt up a willing roommate, they will certainly find you.
A good place to begin is by observing the overall shape of the bedding, inspecting (and perhaps prodding) any suspicious humps or lumps to determine whether they are a) the previous occupant, still sleeping it off; b) their forgotten socks or underwear, abandoned in a random heap; or c) some other, perhaps less identifiable (and at least formerly motile) organic matter. (Note: In such cases, the mirror test is critical, to see if said entity is breathing.)
Assuming that the coast is clear, the next step is peeling back the covers to scrutinize what lies beneath in that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns unscarred. For starters, the ubiquitous mousy tinge of the sheets is your assurance that they’ve been ably put to the test by the legions of those who’ve preceded you, whose doubtless essential contributions to the mise en scène have not been disrupted by any allegedly hygienic interventions. And to a trained eye, the multichrome amalgam of stains, smears and spatters one may thereon encounter amounts to nothing less than a map of the mattress’s entire prior history.
Some incidental glyphs, of course, may simply bear mute testimony to the sort of diurnal and/or nocturnal adventures the azygous wayfarer only dreams of enjoying him- or herself (see Vol. 69 – Liaisons Dangereuses). Other indices, however, may hint at less auspicious contingencies (foul-smelling, spray-shaped brown or yellow blotches should be considered a particular red flag).
Discouraging, albeit less life-threatening, are those arresting configurations of pointillistic ochre that betray the fateful presence of bedbugs. Unwelcome as these diminutively vampiric creatures may be, it bears remembering that, at bottom, they aspire to nothing more sinister than becoming one’s entomological blood brothers. Besides, they at least have the decency to be readily detectable. (Cockroaches of diverse design and magnitude go these high-minded predators one better, charitably refraining from biting altogether, though their Pearyesque perambulations across one’s flesh at all hours may create a ticklish situation of a different sort.)
Not all uninvited fellow lodgers display the same degree of courtesy, however, and in this vein, once the visible inspection is complete, it’s a good idea to give the pallet several hearty smacks. Should this elicit a flurry of subtly meteoric activity, it most likely means you’ve either a) inexplicably developed X-ray vision, or b) uncovered a resident flea population.
Of all the torturers one is likely to confront this side of Abu Ghraib, few are as formidable as fleas. Difficult to spot; impossible to escape or overcome; able, like the Man of Steel, to leap tall buildings in a single bound; fleas are to sleeping what methamphetamine is to tranquillity. Notwithstanding a swift remove to less populous quarters, the hallucinatory tickling that will nonetheless erupt across the Gaussian curvatures of one’s corpus at uncertain intervals throughout the day will eventually drive even the most impecunious itinerant in frigid mountain climes to submit to the only reliable remedy: a protracted, glacial bathe to flush out the invaders, followed by a limbo of shivering miserably while awaiting the return of one’s freshly washed clothing and other thoroughly-aired-out possessions. And despite these extreme measures, the threat will yet linger for weeks, as the bites (doubtless in compliance with some arcane biological chronometry) mysteriously begin itching every evening around sundown.
In tropical locales, a lack of screens or netting raises the further specter of what certain terminal masochists are said to consider the ultimate thrill: lying in a flea-ridden bed while being dive-bombed all night by kamikaze mosquitoes. (Ceiling fans may offer a degree of protection, though they carry an increased risk of decapitation should the decaying plaster choose this particular instant to give way.) And while some desperate souls resort to huddling beneath the sheets, this approach pretty quickly devolves into the Morton’s Fork of being serially devoured versus succumbing to heat stroke.
Not all unwelcome bunkmates are agents of mallophaga or siphonaptera, either, and the larger interlopers may ultimately have a more emphatic effect on both one’s person and one’s immediate surroundings. Mice are generally relatively harmless (provided you remember to rinse the chocolate sprinkles off your toothbrush in the a.m.). Rats, on the other hand, may well leave more persistent calling cards in the form of holes in the wall, gnawed floorboards or a penetrating scent of rotting meat.
In the end, however, the gravest threat may prove to be not animal terrorists so much as excessive pessimism. Distracted by the prospect of such minor inconveniences as stabbing bites, excruciating itches and crippling disease, the hypochondriac traveler may regrettably lose sight of the many advantages such zoological discoveries can confer.
Thus, before succumbing to the raging temptation to simply run screaming in some distal direction, one ought to consider the additional leverage potential roommates may convey in concluding a favorable negotiation. (Exceptionally resolute Scrooges have been known to carry a supply of some appropriate critter with them for surreptitious release on the premises — perhaps the ultimate ploy in strengthening one’s bargaining hand.)
And, finance aside, the hopelessly lovelorn may derive a certain (admittedly muted) satisfaction in tracing the lineaments of former occupants’ ostensibly gratified desires.
Meanwhile, the desperate bibliophile, beached without a book to read, may nonetheless weather the interminable nighttime hours by neurologically charting the engaging saga of assorted predations upon their own belabored flesh…
— My compliments to Peter Gregutt, my friend who wrote this.

Homing in on lodgings can be challenging in its own right (see Vol. 39A – Going Horizontal), but once this has been accomplished, the traveler’s task is far from over. Ideally, the proffered premises should be surveyed (with particular attention to the bed, assuming that there is one) before any commitment is made. And while solo travelers often team up with an eye toward cost-cutting, it goes without saying that even if you can’t hunt up a willing roommate, they will certainly find you.
A good place to begin is by observing the overall shape of the bedding, inspecting (and perhaps prodding) any suspicious humps or lumps to determine whether they are a) the previous occupant, still sleeping it off; b) their forgotten socks or underwear, abandoned in a random heap; or c) some other, perhaps less identifiable (and at least formerly motile) organic matter. (Note: In such cases, the mirror test is critical, to see if said entity is breathing.)
Assuming that the coast is clear, the next step is peeling back the covers to scrutinize what lies beneath in that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns unscarred. For starters, the ubiquitous mousy tinge of the sheets is your assurance that they’ve been ably put to the test by the legions of those who’ve preceded you, whose doubtless essential contributions to the mise en scène have not been disrupted by any allegedly hygienic interventions. And to a trained eye, the multichrome amalgam of stains, smears and spatters one may thereon encounter amounts to nothing less than a map of the mattress’s entire prior history.
Some incidental glyphs, of course, may simply bear mute testimony to the sort of diurnal and/or nocturnal adventures the azygous wayfarer only dreams of enjoying him- or herself (see Vol. 69 – Liaisons Dangereuses). Other indices, however, may hint at less auspicious contingencies (foul-smelling, spray-shaped brown or yellow blotches should be considered a particular red flag).
Discouraging, albeit less life-threatening, are those arresting configurations of pointillistic ochre that betray the fateful presence of bedbugs. Unwelcome as these diminutively vampiric creatures may be, it bears remembering that, at bottom, they aspire to nothing more sinister than becoming one’s entomological blood brothers. Besides, they at least have the decency to be readily detectable. (Cockroaches of diverse design and magnitude go these high-minded predators one better, charitably refraining from biting altogether, though their Pearyesque perambulations across one’s flesh at all hours may create a ticklish situation of a different sort.)
Not all uninvited fellow lodgers display the same degree of courtesy, however, and in this vein, once the visible inspection is complete, it’s a good idea to give the pallet several hearty smacks. Should this elicit a flurry of subtly meteoric activity, it most likely means you’ve either a) inexplicably developed X-ray vision, or b) uncovered a resident flea population.
Of all the torturers one is likely to confront this side of Abu Ghraib, few are as formidable as fleas. Difficult to spot; impossible to escape or overcome; able, like the Man of Steel, to leap tall buildings in a single bound; fleas are to sleeping what methamphetamine is to tranquillity. Notwithstanding a swift remove to less populous quarters, the hallucinatory tickling that will nonetheless erupt across the Gaussian curvatures of one’s corpus at uncertain intervals throughout the day will eventually drive even the most impecunious itinerant in frigid mountain climes to submit to the only reliable remedy: a protracted, glacial bathe to flush out the invaders, followed by a limbo of shivering miserably while awaiting the return of one’s freshly washed clothing and other thoroughly-aired-out possessions. And despite these extreme measures, the threat will yet linger for weeks, as the bites (doubtless in compliance with some arcane biological chronometry) mysteriously begin itching every evening around sundown.
In tropical locales, a lack of screens or netting raises the further specter of what certain terminal masochists are said to consider the ultimate thrill: lying in a flea-ridden bed while being dive-bombed all night by kamikaze mosquitoes. (Ceiling fans may offer a degree of protection, though they carry an increased risk of decapitation should the decaying plaster choose this particular instant to give way.) And while some desperate souls resort to huddling beneath the sheets, this approach pretty quickly devolves into the Morton’s Fork of being serially devoured versus succumbing to heat stroke.
Not all unwelcome bunkmates are agents of mallophaga or siphonaptera, either, and the larger interlopers may ultimately have a more emphatic effect on both one’s person and one’s immediate surroundings. Mice are generally relatively harmless (provided you remember to rinse the chocolate sprinkles off your toothbrush in the a.m.). Rats, on the other hand, may well leave more persistent calling cards in the form of holes in the wall, gnawed floorboards or a penetrating scent of rotting meat.
In the end, however, the gravest threat may prove to be not animal terrorists so much as excessive pessimism. Distracted by the prospect of such minor inconveniences as stabbing bites, excruciating itches and crippling disease, the hypochondriac traveler may regrettably lose sight of the many advantages such zoological discoveries can confer.
Thus, before succumbing to the raging temptation to simply run screaming in some distal direction, one ought to consider the additional leverage potential roommates may convey in concluding a favorable negotiation. (Exceptionally resolute Scrooges have been known to carry a supply of some appropriate critter with them for surreptitious release on the premises — perhaps the ultimate ploy in strengthening one’s bargaining hand.)
And, finance aside, the hopelessly lovelorn may derive a certain (admittedly muted) satisfaction in tracing the lineaments of former occupants’ ostensibly gratified desires.
Meanwhile, the desperate bibliophile, beached without a book to read, may nonetheless weather the interminable nighttime hours by neurologically charting the engaging saga of assorted predations upon their own belabored flesh…
— My compliments to Peter Gregutt, my friend who wrote this.

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