By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“But how does it work? Do you create a vacuum?” I ask. “Does its head explode? Do its eyes bug out?”
“No! This isn’t Red Planet. This isn’t Total Recall.”
The exterminator business, as I understand it, comes with an innate image problem: the business of exterminating. Cleanliness is next to godliness, but it’s also next to deadliness. People hire you to get rid of the critters, but then despise you for doing it. They hate the thought of rats, but then hate the thought of pesticides. Killing is mostly fine for ants and roaches and fleas — surely an insect has no feelings — but what about a skunk? Crossing the invertebrate-vertebrate zone, things get hazy. Animal-rights activists call you a murderer, but who among them wants to bed down with a rat? You channel other people’s bad karma. You absorb their guilt. You keep their restaurants in the clear, keep them safe from the plague and from things going squeak in the night.
“Do you ever feel bad about the killing?” I ask.
“Never. We hate rats. We feel no mercy. Look,” he sighs, “if I ran over a dog in my truck, I’d probably stop and take it to the hospital.”
“Okay, what if you ran over a skunk?”
“I’d back right over it,” he counters, half-joking. “Because a skunk is a varmint.”
“And a dog isn’t?”
“No,” he says with finality, “a dog isn’t.” I ask him where he draws the line. “I’m not gonna have sympathy for a rat. It’s not a human. It’s a rat!”
This is the Chamber process as Bob describes it: He flips the switch on a pump attached to the tank. The oxygen is removed. Bob won’t say how, but on the Web sites of various manufacturers it’s done by pumping in either carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide or other poison gases. It takes three to five minutes. The animal suffocates and dies. It’s supposed to be the easiest, quickest, most humane way to go. Easier (for skunk, exterminator and corporate image alike) and more effective than, say, getting bashed on the head with a big hammer.
By midafternoon, we’re at a bird job on the roof of a dental clinic: Operation Pigeon Out. When they see Bob coming, the other exterminators hoot, “Hey, Bob, get that dead rat out of your teeth!” and “Hey, Bob, clean the mice outta your truck!” Tin pans of poison corn were stationed at each of the building’s four cardinal points: north, east, south, west. “Pigeon LSD. They get confused after they eat it and don’t remember how to get back home,” says Bob from the floor, where he lies curled in a fetal position, his beached-whale stomach lolling under a vent. “Want a pigeon skeleton?” he adds, chucking a clump of bird vertebrae at my feet. With a six-pack of beer, the exterminators could be just a crew of neighborhood dads, patching the roof on a Sunday afternoon. I could see the manly-man appeal of the job — no suits, no ties, no fluorescent lights. And you get to do Boy Scouty things with hardware supplies.
It was his dad, Bob confides with a touch of bitterness, who knew somebody who knew somebody who killed bugs, who “dropped him off in pest control” 12 years ago when Bob was unemployed and suffering through one of his divorces. The money was good. Bob stayed.
Bob is full of tall tales. We’re at Subway, where he has lunch and dinner every day. Once, he tells me, he stared down a huge Norway in a pizza parlor, snout to snout, grabbed it by the tail and swished it into a garbage can. Once he was driving home from a cleanout and he found a cockroach hitching a ride on his neck. Once he got to a place and there were so many roaches that the walls seemed to ripple.
And once, Bob was called in to wrangle a rat in a grocery store that was chewing through the foil wrappers on the candy bars. He and the store’s owner had corralled the rat into the back aisle. “I told the guy, ‘Okay, this rat’s gonna run down the aisle towards you. When it gets to you, you step on its tail and I’ll come get it.’” Bob made a loud noise, and, sure enough, the rat ran where Bob had predicted. The tiny booth into which Bob had squeezed suddenly seemed too small a place — here was a king of pests, a rodent Svengali. “The guy started screaming, ‘Arrgh!’” Bob tells me. “Like a girl! Like a little girl . . . So then the rat ran to me and I stepped on its back. Trapped it right under my boot. ‘Do you hear that?’ I asked the guy as I held down this squealing rat. ‘Do you hear it?’” Bob said, leaning over for emphasis in between bites of his turkey on white.
“‘What?’ the guy said.
“Crrrrrrickkkk!!” said Bob, gently putting down his foot, “That was its skull.”