My native-New Yorker coworker never heard of chiggers. I, having grown up in the hot, hot heat of Texas summers, playing outside about 99% of the time, have a vast knowledge of the tiny beasts.
Chiggers and mosquitos and all sorts of evil pests are incredibly fond of me. I mean, these critters want a piece of me, and they take it at every opportunity. My mosquito bites become enormous red welts and chigger bites are smaller but equally hideous – and I can’t help but scratch that mighty itch. It’s bad. When my boyfriend and I went to Mexico, I forgot to put on bug spray the first night, and the next day my legs looked so bad that a woman stopped me to ask what happened.
Chiggers don’t technically bite; per Wikipedia: “After crawling onto their hosts, they inject digestive enzymes into the skin that break down skin cells. They do not actually “bite” but instead form a hole in the skin called a stylostome and chew up tiny parts of the inner skin, thus causing severe irritation and swelling. The severe itching is accompanied by red, pimple-like bumps (papules) or hives and skin rash or lesions on a sun-exposed area. For humans, itching usually occurs after the larvae detach from the skin.” Mmm, lovely.
I recently came back from visiting friends in Austin, where the chiggers ate me alive. Upon my return, despite the muggy misery of Manhattan, where 80 degrees and humid feels worse than 105 in the blazing Texas sun, I was completely covered every day – no skirts, no shorts, and no sleeveless anything, due to the hideousness of my chigger-bitten body. I complained about the heat as we were stepping out to lunch one day, and my coworker asked why I wasn’t wearing something more weather-appropriate. I lifted a pant leg, and she recoiled in horror.
“Chiggers,” I explained.
“Chiggers?” she repeated, frowning.
The Evil Chigs must have feasted on me either when we ate at the food truck park, while we were outside waiting for a table at The Salt Lick, or while we were sitting on my friend Michelle’s patio drinking copious amounts of wine. (Side note: Michelle introduced me to Becker Vineyards, a winery in Fredricksburg, TX, and the Malbec we had was wonderful). I woke up my second day in Austin with disgusting bites and a wretched bitch of an itch. Even my Texan friends were a bit shocked at the extraordinary number of bites, particularly since no one else had a single one. I got some Benadryl, and my friend Debby suggested the old home remedy of covering the bites with nail polish, which doesn’t do anything to help in healing, but the thought is that it seals off the bite and seems to reduce the itching. I tried that when I got back home; another reason I kept my legs covered – weird little shiny dots of clear polish covering weird little red bites.
In further explanation to my northeastern colleague, I offered, “Chiggers are teeny tiny bugs that you can hardly even see and their bites itch like crazy. They got me while I was in Texas.”
“Oh,” said Repulsed Coworker, “I see.”
“You don’t have chiggers here?” I don’t know why I was surprised.
“Uh, no. It does sound like something from Texas.” Condescending, yet accurate.
I’m not going to ask, but I imagine my co-worker has never had the Scabies either. But in all fairness to the South, I never knew anyone who had bed bugs before moving to the Big Apple, so I suppose we all have our special breeds of bugs to bear. My bites have healed (well, mostly) but the memories of friends and barbecue and country dive-bar karaoke remain. I can deal with a few chiggers if it means I get to visit Austin.
(Despite the chigger scourge, Austin remains one of my very favorite cities, and on the short list of places I can imagine myself living, if I ever leave NYC. Keep on keeping it weird, folks.)