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My plane just landed in India, and I’m standing in the passport control line, waiting to see one of those stately passport agents. Like many Indians, they can be the sweetest people on earth, but sometimes the power goes to their heads—turning us tourists into fifth graders facing the principal. Here’s a synopsis of every Indian passport interview I’ve ever had:

Agent: Your passport and landing card.

Me: Here you are, Sir. I hope everything’s in order.

Agent: That’s my job to decide. Why are you visiting India?

Me: Oh, the usual—see your beautiful country, study yoga.

Agent: Yoga? Can’t you study yoga in America?

Me: Well, I can, Sir, but this is the birthplace of the great yoga teachers.

Agent: Humph. On your landing card, you spelled your hotel’s street name incorrectly. Radhakrishansalai is one word, not three.

Me: (Sweating now) Last year they told me it was three words, ha, ha.

Agent: (Not laughing) You wrote the hotel phone number wrong too. “91” is the country code, not the city code, which is “44,” unless calling from a landline from another city, in which case you add “0” to the city code.

Me: You know, Sir, I think you just summed up why I get the hotel phone number wrong every year.

Agent: (Hands me a blank form) Refill the landing card properly, then get back in line.

Me: There’s two thousand people in that line! Can’t I just go to that little table over there, fill it out, then walk back up to you. Please, Sir, please!

Agent: (Looks me right in the eye, deadpan. Waits three seconds to milk the suspense, then smiles) You may do that.

Me: Oh, thank you, Sir, you’re the best!

Like I said, Indians can be the sweetest people in the world.

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“What, Mike? You’re going to India next week. Why would you want to go there?” my plumber asked as he pulled a well-worn plunger from his truck.

“Well, Jim, I grew up in a small Illinois town where everyone looked the same and spoke the same midwestern English. But I always craved something different. I always wondered what it would be like to visit foreign countries. Since bugs mostly go dormant in winter, every January I vacation in India—that’s about as foreign as it gets.”

“I bet you’ve seen a lot of strange things over there.” he said as he plunged my drain with practiced precision.

“Yeah, but I’m the kind of guy who’d love to go to another planet and step off the spaceship into a world so fantastic that all I’d see is a spinning kaleidoscope of shapes and colors. I’d love to try and make sense of it all.”

“Is India hard to make sense of?” he said, as the drain gurgled to life.

“Yeah, kinda. The first time I landed there, the locals just assumed I knew the customs, so no one taught them to me. I made lots of mistakes. One time, I was exploring the grounds of a temple, and walked into an inner sanctum, filled with gold statues. As I walked out, an old man pointed at a ‘Hindus only’ sign and cried out, ‘Did you not see the sign?’ I apologized and headed straight for the big temple doors.”

Jim smiled and said, “Wow, Mike, I’m just happy to keep the water flowing.”

Yes, folks, by the time you read this, I’ll be on my way, flying to a world where every doorway is an adventure. No, it won’t be another planet, it’ll just be India. But that’s pretty much saying the same thing.

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“OK, critters, everybody gather ‘round. My name is Banye the
Raccoon King—pipe down you bats—and Mother Nature asked me to gather all you forest predators for a pep talk.

But first, I hope you all got the gifts you wanted for Winter Solstice. As for me, I got a half-eaten Snickers bar, a road-kill squirrel, and a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug my son stole off someone’s deck. It was a banner year at the Banye den!

Getting back to business, you animals did a yeoman job munching pests this summer. But Mother N. has promised a fresh crop for 2018, and she wants you to bring your A-game. Here’s her main points:

—You coyotes, snakes, bobcats, and owls will have a boatload of mice to munch. Those furry little protein bars will be breeding like humans after a Sinatra concert. I’ve seen that and it ain’t pretty.

—You spiders are in for a treat. The winter rains will hatch millions of flying bugs, and come spring you’ll be building webs like Hercules performing his Twelve Labors. Yeah, those lame “Herculean Labors” that any forest animal could easily do, but the human media won’t print that.

—When you bats return from winter hibernation you’ll have to hit the ground running because mosquitoes will be as thick as mold on Brie cheese. I love that stuff!

—Finally, as for you foxes…um, yeah, darn it! Every time I look at a fox, I lose my head—they’re so beautiful! Hubba hubba. Somebody throw cold water on me.

That’s a wrap everyone, see you at Summer Solstice. Now, let’s show those Home Defenders that we forest animals are the real pest control professionals. And hey, remember, I got dibs on any Brie you come across!

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If you won the lottery and could do anything you wanted, what would you do? I know what I’d do.

By the way, there’ll be no lesson in bug biology this week. (“Ah, nuts!” says that nerdy kid from science class.) Bugs mostly go dormant in January, and soon I’ll be heading on my yearly vacation to India. I’m in  a philosophical mood today.

Getting back to the lottery question, I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d keep running my company and writing my weekly articles. Why? First off, I’ve always loved words. I love words so much that I often remember the moment when I learn a new one. I collect words like music buffs collect old records.

I also love coming up with fresh images for readers to savor. I had a ball thinking up that title from a few weeks ago, “Mom Zaps the Zig Zags.” Those Z’s buzzed around my head for days afterwards.

I love writing real stories about what it’s like getting pests out of mountain homes. I love honing the final article—adding here, cutting there; finding just the right word. And I hate it when the deadline comes; I know I can make the article better. When I read it in the paper, I see flaws.

But there’s always a new article in my head itching to get out, and I can’t wait to start writing. I look forward to bringing the words to life on paper. I love seeing my fingers bridge the gap between abstract mind and concrete paper.

I doubt that I’ll ever win the lottery, but it doesn’t matter anyway. Because when an idea for a new article pops into my head, well, it feels just like I’ve hit the jackpot.

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“Mike, where are you? There’s a giant fire burning behind your house!”

My pest manager, Gil—who lives across the street from me—was on the phone. It was 6:25pm on Friday, December 1, and I was in front of the Catholic church in Lake Arrowhead, a mile from home, finishing my evening walk. That leisurely walk suddenly turned into a mad dash.

 “I’m up the street, Gil—come get me!” A  minute later I saw Gil’s car lights. He whipped around, I jumped inside. His face was white as he spoke. “I heard a big explosion, looked outside my bedroom window, and saw flames behind your house. I called the fire department, then you. But I didn’t have time to investigate.”

In seconds, we were parked in front of my house, lit from behind by a massive orange glow. Gil and I jumped out of the car and raced towards the glow, intent on finding the source.

The source was a home behind mine, completely engulfed in flames. As Gil and I stood back watching, I thought, “The forest is bone dry. The whole neighborhood could go.” But I knew my house had a chance to survive since I made a defensible space around it. And the fire department was on the way.

The fire trucks came with flashing lights and sirens blaring. The firefighters jumped off the trucks, unrolled hoses, hooked up nozzles, and quickly put out the fire. Thankfully, no people or pets were in the vacant home.

The next morning, inspecting the gutted structure and scorched trees, I was sure glad I created that defensible space. That space buys time. And when flames are knocking on your back door and fire trucks are racing to your home, five minutes is all the time in the world.

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When you were a kid, who got rid of pests at your home? Was it a cigar-chomping guy in coveralls blasting smelly chemicals from a spray rig that  blared like a 747 engine? Quite possibly. Well, at my home in the 1970’s, the “bug guy” hated cigars and wouldn’t have been caught dead in drab overalls. That bug guy was my mom.

And Mom was pretty good at zapping Mother Nature’s critters. She’d run down to Midland Farm Supply, buy a jug of chlordane, mix it up in a Hudson sprayer, treat the exterior perimeter of the house, then spray along the indoor baseboards. The stuff smelled like diesel fuel, but it kept the bugs at bay.

The Eighties came in with a legislative bang, and the EPA took chlordane off the shelves. Mom the bug guy was put out of business. From then on, she hired a pest professional to rid our home of ants and spiders.

Pest products have improved since those days, and with today’s rapid advances in technology, I’m wondering if futuristic, nanobot-based pesticides will soon hit the store shelves. Mom could be back in the game.

Hey reader, do you abhor bug guys blasting chemicals from an eardrum-busting 747 engine? So do we. Call us Home Defenders today and we’ll quietly get critters out of your home with nary a lingering odor. Thankfully, 1970’s pest control is as dead as those goofy bell bottoms I wore in high school.

So, am I concerned about highly effective nanobot pesticides getting in the hands of homeowners? Nah. It takes years of experience to read pesticide labels—then mix and properly apply those pesticides. Besides, ants and spiders are always outsmarting our scientists. When brainiacs zig, bugs zag.

Mother Nature is still the ultimate brainiac.

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There just had to be monsters in that black hole under our kitchen floor. Wouldn’t any sensible kid assume that?

These days, I’m a seasoned pest professional who’s inspected thousands of dark crawl spaces. But I still remember the first time I dared enter one. There was a hatch in our kitchen floor that led to an excavated storage area where my parents stored Christmas decorations and canned food. Mom called it the “root cellar.”

I was a preschooler and fascinated by the mystery of that door in the floor. I was sure there were monsters lurking down there, but maybe there was treasure, too. And I was dying to find out.

One day, Dad was in there and I begged him to lift me down. He reached up, grabbed me under the arms and set me down on the cold dirt floor. I looked around—no monsters popped out, that was a good start—but all I saw was my one mortal enemy in those days: pitch-black darkness. I cried out and Dad lifted me back into the kitchen. I never asked to go under there again.

Now I’m a pest professional and not afraid of crawl spaces anymore. But many homeowners find the dark underbelly of their house mysterious and scary. And well they should. It’s the realm of real-life monsters like rats, mice, skunks, raccoons, black widow spiders, termites, and carpenter ants. On my many travels under homes, I’ve seen the damage they can do, like destroyed insulation and damaged floor joists. If you need help rooting pests out of your root cellar, call us today for a free inspection. At Home Defenders, we ain’t afraid of no underbelly!

Hmm, I just realized something: I guess I did find treasure in crawl spaces after all.

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Jesse Adair was nervous and rightly so. Not only was he leaving our Catholic high school campus during school hours, he had a handful of cash and was going to buy contraband. The risk was great.

Twenty minutes later, he came sneaking in the back door, and no teacher was the wiser. He had white paper bags in hand and he dealt them out to a small gaggle of us gym class boys. I opened my bag and there it was—long, cylindrical, and rolled to perfection. It had an exotic name, one I’d never heard before. It was called a “burrito.”

I still remember the day the first ever Mexican restaurant opened in my hometown of Jacksonville, Illinois. Mexican cuisine exploded with color and spice and a big pinch of panache—and we teens went bananas. Heck, it even had salsa.

The exotic fare scared our parents and that only made it taste better. One day, feeling adventurous, my older brother, Dave, brought tacos home for supper. My dad eyeballed one suspiciously, then took his first bite. The taco gods surely watched in amusement as the crispy shell shattered into a dozen pieces. “So, do you like it, Dad?” my brother asked.  Dad’s verdict was short and sour. “I’m not a man who likes fighting his food.“

Just as Dad didn’t like fighting tacos, homeowners don’t like fighting pests. So, whatever’s making your world crumble—ants, spiders, rodents—call today and we’ll rush to your home like Jesse speeding to the taco shop. You can count on Home Defenders to deliver the goods.

Dad eventually came around and now enjoys Mexican food. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Mom loved Mexican food from the get-go. After all, it had the one quality she’s always loved in a meal: somebody else made it.

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Psst! Hey reader…has summer gone yet? I don’t know, because I write these articles a week in advance. Heaven knows summer has a temper. If he’s still hanging around, please distract him while I sing the praises of his arch-rival winter.

Last week, I thanked summer for all he’s done for us, and reminded him it’s time to hit the road. I’m assuming he’s gone, so I’d like to personally welcome winter to our mountain.

Wow, winter, we really missed you. You’re the best season of all! Thanks for bringing us all that snow last year, and we’re hoping you plan to flex your muscles again this year. Without you our mountain would just shrivel up and die. The ski resorts sure love you. I hope they’ll leave you a little something extra in your Christmas stocking. By the way, what’s your favorite food? Oh, mangoes, huh. Who knew.

So, how’s your husband, Surly, and your dog, Furball? Oh, so Surly wants to play racquetball with me? Well, uh, the thing is…I pulled a hamstring and my doctor told me not to play until March or so. Geez, I’ll miss playing against ol’ Surly…maybe next year.

Hey, reader, do you think that pests just blow away with the winter storms? Well, I’m here to say, “Oh, no they don’t!” Rats and mice will cozy up and raise their young’uns in your toasty warm home. So, when pests run in from the cold, call Home Defenders today for your free evaluation.

So welcome back, madame winter. Snuggle up and make yourself at home on our mountain. But…while your blasting us with ice and snow, uh, I’ll be heading to India, my Endless Summer winter vacation spot. Bye.

Come on now, don’t take it so personally!

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Hey, summer, how are you these days? I see you’re still hanging around. You even set a new heat record for the opening day of the World Series. Thanks for helping the Dodgers get a win—Kershaw pitches best on hot LA evenings. When you shine your light, good things happen.

Say, summer, have I told you lately how much I appreciate you? After all, you bring singing birds and lovely flowers and long days to our mountain. I got in some great bike rides in Big Bear thanks to you. You’re the best, summer!

But the thing is…uh, how do I put this delicately? It’s just that you need to know when to leave, buddy. We need winter to bring rain and snow. Those things bring life to the mountain, and that makes your return next year even better. Isn’t that how the big boss, Mother Nature, wants it? Sure, summer.

Aw, come on, man! Don’t get mad at me. I’m just the messenger, the schmuck who drew the short straw. Where’s that big, bright, bougainvillea smile? Yeah, there it is.

Hey, mountain residents, are late summer pests interfering with your holiday plans? Sure they are. Bugs are as unwelcome as a sweltering October heat wave. So call Home Defenders today and we’ll knock out those critters just like summer knocks out those depressing winter blues. And that’s just another reason to love our friend summer!

So, summer, have a good time down in Mexico, or wherever it is you go in winter. Say hi to your wife, Daisy, and your dog, Frisbee, for me. Adios, amigo. I’ll count the days till we meet again. Bye.

(Geez, considering how graciously winter leaves every year you’d think some seasons could take a hint.)