Although I didn’t get off to a great start instilling any real confidence in the man of the house, the fact that the mouse was gone & the screaming had for now stopped, gave me just enough wiggle room with his wife that she, through her red and tear soaked eyes gave me the go ahead to do whatever it took to rid her of the furry demons that haunted her home. Not yet aware of the entire situation I looked the husband square in the eyes, extended my hand and as we shook I boldly proclaimed, “I am your man. I’ll get rid of your problem!” Whether with unbelief or desperation I couldn’t really say- but his words to me were as I look back very prophetic and should’ve been a warning of what I was in for….Sadly, my youth and inexperience did not let me see.
“ Son, I’m an old man and fought in WWII and have had plenty of harrowing experiences. But this non stop terror and screaming that has infested my home is beyond anything I’ve ever seen. My bones are rattled & I’m just about ready to surrender. You really don’t have any idea what you’re in for–I’m hoping I won’t be disappointed.”
Shock and Awe
As the wife tried to get on with a normal day the old man and I walked through the home inspecting the situation. I was amazed at the amount of traps he had set around the house. On window ledges, on chairs, counter tops, two on the stove top, one on each side of every doorway, near the phone, TV, under the dining room table, ON TOP of the table, and of course along each and every wall of the home spaced no more than three or four feet apart. He even had glue boards and a wind up ketch-all trap which were things I didn’t even carry on my truck. There were baits galore and it was obvious this battle had gone on for quite some time and that the ‘good guys,’ weren’t winning.
I guess I may have come off as a little bit cocky pointing out all the flaws of the old mans placements. Nothing was set against the walls and stale dried up cheese was used as his bait but it wasn’t luring a thing. He even had traps on each and every stair of this three story home and he obviously wasn’t happy about my comment of the unsafe hazard this presented and he let me know. “ Son, when you’ve gotten rid of my problem once and for all, then, you can tell me how terrible I am at your job.” A bit red faced and embarrassed I nodded my head realizing how brash I must’ve seemed. I got the message loud and clear. Then, just at that moment, a loud and piercing shrill cut through the home like a hot knife and it sent shivers up my body. Without missing a beat the old man stated, “when that stops, you win,” and we hurried down the stairs to once again try and help this frail and battle fatigued woman from the terror that besieged her.
Committed For The Year
Like any other client on my route this couple had to sign a one year contract for monthly service and if any extra visits were needed, it was free of charge. The monthly fee was $22.00 (that was the going rate for almost all residential service at the time) which meant at my commissioned rate, I made $3.30 cents per regular visit. Looking back, it should’ve been obvious with the first ‘complaint’ call that came in that I was in for a rough ride and a drain on my production–that call came in just an hour or so after I left on the first day. Still, I felt so sorry for this woman that I vowed to do my dead level best for her and whenever they called (which was at least once extra per month) I shot out there that same day. Always coming to the door with the high pitched screams filling the air with this frightened frail woman standing on a chair or table top frozen in fear and always accompanied step by step with the wearied old man who made sure I didn’t skip a step.
As the months went on we had some successes but frustratingly, more failures. On numerous occasions I sought help from my service manager but he never once came out. All I was told was to keep putting out the bait and was even introduced for the first time to the use of ZP tracking powder. Zinc phosphide was/is some nasty stuff and it did account for some of the successes we had. However, it wasn’t the silver bullet and the mice kept coming and along with the screams, I was about at my wits end and now dreaded the calls that were also non stop.
A New Plan
I was killing and catching a ton of mice but nothing I did seemed to matter. Being a rookie I had run out of ideas and was tired of the non response from the office and so I sought out advice from another tech who also ran an inner city route. This was my first introduction to rodent exclusion and it did give me a spark of hope but I’ll admit, I was still a little doubtful. I told my colleague I never saw any holes or entry points and that’s when he sat me down and gave me a crash course on the finer points of rodent control and exclusion. These lessons have stayed with me ever since.
There were about two months left on the contract when I told my client of my new plan. He too, seemed skeptical but was willing to do just about anything at this point. I had also ran the idea past my boss but not surprisingly I got the same monotoned, dull low voice response but sadly he added one line that forced my hand into something I don’t condone anyone into doing but felt I had no choice. “Just keep putting out the bait- they’re almost done with their year & we can dump em in a couple of months.” That, set me off and it was then I decided to do a side job which was and is completely against any companies policy. If caught I could’ve been fired but at this point I was more angry that we weren’t doing anything and everything for this customer so I decided to take the risk & do it myself.
Armed with my new knowledge I made a list of the things my client needed to buy to seal up his home. A roll of hardware cloth, door sweeps, steel wool, cement, a small sheet of metal and a few other items. It was the Saturday after his eleventh service of the one year contract and I pulled up to an eager and waiting client. The old man was still a bit unsure of this approach but both he and I were at least a tad hopeful that it had a chance. Over all I think he spent about one hundred dollars for materials and paid me a total of one hundred and twenty for a full days work. It’s a price he most likely would have paid the company but they never even wanted to give him the opportunity. Perhaps they would have if they ever heard those piercing screams that I heard all too often.
The older home turned out to have quite a number of entry points that up until now I had not really noticed (or been trained to look for). The basement walls were made of old irregular stones held together with somewhat porous and brittle mortar type material. I was amazed at just how many entry points I found once up on a ladder and inspecting where the floor joists and sill plate rested on the top of the foundation. Each door desperately need the sweeps and even the seal around the frames. Using tin snips I fashioned many a guard that sealed off around hose spigots and gaps while my steel wool put a stop to any and every pipe coming from the wall from being an easy thoroughfare for our tiny demon mice. Except for the one time I ran out of cement and needed more steel wool I worked all day…. well, we also stopped once or twice for the all now too familiar screams as the mice seemed oblivious to our efforts and went about as just a normal day of terrorizing this sweet elderly woman.
Every Friday I grabbed that next weeks stack of tickets so I could make all my calls and schedule my week. It was the twelfth and final month of this clients contract and attached to their ticket was a copy of a cancelation of services letter. The note didn’t really mention me too much (which was a bit disappointing after all I had done) but the old man took the time to write out a few choice lines describing his dismay for our company. My service manager barely looked up from his desk as I was reading and with that low methodical tone said, “ well I guess it’s good riddance to them, don’t load them up with a bunch of extra bait-they’re canceling and we don’t need to waste anymore time or money on them.” Part of me got a bit irked when he said that but seeing the end of this account….well, there could be worse things. But it was then I realized that this month I hadn’t gotten any calls from them for extra service, not one. I wondered if he had just finally given up or, could my exclusion service really have worked?
Pulling up for the last time I must say I was a bit relieved that I wouldn’t be coming back. The year had been a long hard one and although I felt so sorry for the elderly lady, the monthly shrill piercing my skull was just about all I could take. When the old man met me at the door he was in an unusually happy mood. He smiled as he let me in and I immediately saw the lady of the house sitting at the table quietly sewing a button on a shirt. She looked very at ease and I think she was even humming. The scene was totally different then anything I experienced all year, it was almost surreal. Although we all thought we had finally conquered our enemy we did not take anything for granted. There were still a zillion traps all around the place and contrary to my bosses order, I loaded the place up with all the new and fresh stuff I had.
Saying goodbye the old man gave me a wink and with a 1/2 smile he said, “you did good kid, Thanks.” As I loaded up my gear I thought of the long hard battle and could only hope our efforts would last. Pulling away from the curb and on to my next big challenge I could still see the old man standing at his door waving & I felt a real sense of accomplishment. I learned quite a bit that year about trapping, the behavior of mice, human psychology, exclusion and yes even the all important lesson of failure yet persevering.
As I turned my truck at the end of the block a cold shiver went up my spine as I swear I could hear just as plain as day, that bone rattling, skull piercing scream that I had come to expect and to dread. A quick look in my mirror expecting to see the worst but the man was gone and the door shut. With a quick shiver as if to shake off the whole years ordeal, I eased on the gas and quickly drove away.