A beautiful fall day in Baltimore that in my mind couldn’t get any better. Not quite a chill in the air but gone was the sweltering summer heat that my bug trucks ‘360’ air couldn’t relieve even with both windows down. With just about a year under my belt as an exterminator I really felt I was hitting my stride and enjoying every new day and amazing situation I encountered. By now I had conquered many huge bee and wasps nests, tackled roach and rodent infestations that would be the main scene in any horror movie and dealt with so many different people & from all walks of life. My route that was handed to me as a huge disastrous mess was now, finally, running like a finely tuned machine. I was at a point where I had so much confidence in my job & truly felt there wasn’t any problem I couldn’t handle.
It was a morning initial service as I recall. For mice, and the office said this one was a doozy! Normally these first services, (we called them “starts”) were reserved for the afternoons after you got your regular accounts done. However, I had things so organized and efficient that my month always finished up two or three days early. This was my gravy time and rather than sitting at home hiding from my office, I gladly volunteered for all the extra work I could get and even helped other route techs who were in danger of not getting their routes done.
Pulling into the drive of this upscale but older home I was busy getting my supplies when I heard a the loud penetrating shrill of a woman’s scream pierce through the morning air. It was a sound I would hear many more times and one I can still feel rattle my bones some 30 years later. I quickly ran to the door.
It Really Didn’t Start Off That Great
I had barely touched the bell when the door swung open with a swoosh. A look of disbelief, shock and disappointment all rolled into one stopped me right in my tracks as I came face to face with my new client. Struck by his look and he obviously by mine, frozen, we stayed silent for a moment as I guess this desperate man was quickly running through his options in his mind. The elderly man who obviously wasn’t surprised that I was coming, must’ve been taken off guard by what he was now looking at. I’m not sure what he expected but I guess my look of youth wasn’t very comforting. Another loud shriek shot through the air and with a sigh, this doubting senior stepped to the side extending his open hand out in the way I should go and said, “You have your work cut out for you young man, I hope you’re up for it.” I proceeded quickly to the source of the screams.
The kitchen was through a swinging door at the back of the home. With the elderly man right behind me I burst through the door which startled the woman and made her scream even louder. In her hysteria she almost lost her balance and fell from the chair she was standing on. Quickly I moved to her side and steadied her. Her body was trembling uncontrollably and she began to sob as she tried to bury her head on my shoulder but couldn’t due to our height difference. Awkwardly, I stood still as she pulled my head into her belly as if she were hanging onto a a life preserver thrown to an person who fell over board from a ship. With her apron half draped over my face my eyes locked onto the husbands who I guess by now really thought this situation was going downhill and I was in no way qualified to rectify it.
It took a few minutes of calming reassuring words for me to settle this sweet but frightened woman down. At least just enough for me to coax her off her perch and tell me where the source of her terror was. Her shaky finger pointed to the heat register which was close to the back door. With this, I gently guided her by the arm to her husband and they disappeared through the swinging door. It was time to kill a mouse.
Best Laid Plans
In those days we didn’t have ready made glue boards like we have today. Our glue came in a one gallon bucket and it was a long and somewhat messy process to spread it out on our crudely cut wax paper squares. I clearly didn’t have time for that. So my plan was to startle the rodent out from its hiding spot and just stomp on it and thereby ending his reign of terror. But by now I had some first hand experiences with mice and knew the amount of luck I’d need just to be able to match its speed. Still, it was just about my only option but as a ‘plan B,’ I propped the back door open just in case. I don’t know why but for some reason this little three or four ounce mammal had me nervous. For a moment I could completely empathize with my terrorized client. As I slowly and softly took the few steps toward the radiator I caught a glimpse of the mouses tail. I guess he too sensed he was exposed and quickly scooted deeper into his hiding spot. With a wide stance I faced the radiator, I paused long enough for him to just barely get comfortable again then quickly raised my left foot and stomped it right back down with a thud. I figured the rodent would shoot out of the right side of the heater and I’d either crush his tiny little body or with any luck, it would run out the back door, neither of which happened. Instead, the mouse simply froze with fright. At this point in my career I hadn’t learned of the response factors at play. Mice and other small rodents usually freeze with loud noises while larger animals quickly flee.
As I stood motionless I began to look around for a broom or handy pot or pan I could use as my flushing and killing tool. Suddenly, as if this mouse could read my mind and knew his demise was near it decided the time to go was now and that took me by surprise. Already at a disadvantage even with a fair start, my right foot was just a split second behind the furry critter as he bolted to my right. However, just as luck would have it my loud stomp caused the mouse to abruptly change direction like a ball on a bumper pool table. My little lightning fast nemesis shot out the back door and down the back stoop. As I was closing the back door the mouse stopped at the edge of the sidewalk and paused. He looked back at me as if I was just a small annoyance and purposely took off through the grass toward the side of the home. I knew, and the mouse knew, that he’d be back inside in a matter of moments. Closing the door and turning I saw the old man with his head and shoulders leaning through the swinging door. I could see his wife over his shoulder dabbing her eyes with a kleenex trying to hold back her tears. His look was just like the mouses. I was just a minor annoyance and nobody was really taking me seriously in this house, neither man nor beast.
But I wasn’t done yet.