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The Moth Man Tragedy

David Colman Meets the Monsters in the Closet

2 27 2012


Keep your bedbugs. Please.

The unpleasant comeback of that old-time scourge, Cimex lectularius, stoked paranoia and horror stories among frequent flyers, fashion stylists and friends with benefits everywhere. And while I am definitely impressed by the renaissance of this little monster, I can’t get too worked up about it.

I’ve had my hands full. A few months ago, I was the victim of a vicious and devastating attack by another familiar face on Raid’s Most Wanted list: Tineola bisselliella, the common clothes moth.

Like most of us, I have had my share of damage over the years. Some autumns come round, and I find a little hole here, a flea bite there. But 2011 was no ordinary year. This was a bloodbath. Except the blood was wool and cashmere.

They attacked on two fronts; these guys were not kidding around. Two different closets. Two different rooms. They got everything. Vests. Jackets. Suits. Overcoats. One wound struck particularly deep: a hole I could put my thumb through, right in the thorax of a seriously stylish, knee-length white wool-cashmere coat designed by Hedi Slimane for Yves Saint Laurent (and, thus, historically significant enough that the little monsters were basically defacing a public monument).

And the sweaters . . . I can’t even go into what had happened. It’s too gruesome. It looked like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. I didn’t want to call an exterminator. I wanted to call the police. It felt like a pack of schoolyard bullies had broken in and gouged holes in my best pieces of fashion armor—which would now protect my carefully tended self-image about as well as a sieve would work for bailing out a boat. Or a bank.

I mourned, I raged, I cursed the gods. But eventually you have to pick up the pieces and stitch yourself back together somehow—in ways both spiritual and mundane. The good news, spiritually speaking, is that New York is the world capital of the “People with Too Many Clothes” confraternity, and plenty of them are ready to empathize and share their own stories. You are not alone.

Talking to them at the places they meet—cocktail parties, art openings, the dressing rooms at Bergdorf Goodman Men—I began to see the Kübler-Ross five-stage progression of grief applied perfectly to victims of moth destruction. To wit:

1. Denial. “Is that a clothes moth? Hmm—nah.
Probably just a big mosquito.”
2. Anger. “Oh my God, that Margiela sweater—
and it fit so well! And this one too? And this
one? And here? And HERE? My God, I am
going to kill you little moth!!!&%$#@ers!!!!!”
3. Bargaining. “So if I bring you thirty-five
sweaters, fifteen suits and ten overcoats to
dry-clean, could you give me maybe fifteen
percent off the total? You know—a volume
discount? Come on, we’re talking about like
a thousand dollars here.”
4. Depression. “My entire closet. . . . My entire
life. . . . My entire paycheck.”
5. Acceptance. “Thanks for all this info, it’s very
helpful. But so . . . how about if, instead of choosing
just one of these insecticides, I buy all seven? Then
this will really, really, really be all over, right?”


As this fifth and final stage of the moth-grief journey suggests, part of successfully getting through a moth infestation means coming to truly understand your enemy. You’ll come to know what moths eat (wool, fur, feathers and Colman Quotationanything made of keratin, the same protein our own hair and nails are made from)—and what they don’t (cotton, rayon, anything synthetic and broccoli). You’ll learn what clothes moths look like (very small and silvery-tan) and how they fly (aimlessly fluttering, which makes them easy to swat). You’ll also learn that killing them is meaningless: Their very presence means your clothes are probably already being chewed up by their offspring—it is, after all, their larvae that eat your clothes and wreak havoc, not the moths themselves.

Best of all, you will learn how to lay waste to your enemy—and if you haven’t quite felt like Sigourney Weaver in Alien, this is as close as you’re going to get, so listen up. This is the information that separates the real moth survivor from the poseur. For one, as anyone who has been through it knows too well, cedar is a joke. Say it with me. CEDAR IS A JOKE. Two, mothballs ONLY kill moth larvae if you bundle a box or two of them and your woolens into a completely airtight container for a minimum of six weeks. Otherwise, it’s like leaving a scented candle burning outside and hoping the world will smell better tomorrow. (Speaking of smell: While lavender oil sachets are “natural,” they smell like lavender—as will you—and there’s no hard evidence that they do anything about moths.) Three, you will learn about various other techniques to ferret out and kill the little buggers—dry-cleaning, freezing, obsessive vacuuming, even dry-ice fumigation—all of which have their uses. And last but not least, you will learn about chemicals like pyrethrin, the key ingredient in aerosol sprays like CB-80 and Ultracide, which promise “fast knockdown and kill.”

The magic words. Kill, ladies and gentleman, is what we are after.

Do you want to breathe it in? You do not. But you can breathe anywhere. If you’ve been through what I’ve been through, you’ll keep a can under the pillow. You just never know. BG

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