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Father’s day is around the corner and it’s time to sing the praises of dear old dad. Well, to be honest, I don’t have many praises to sing. Dad never started a business, let alone a pest business; he never had to drum up money for payroll in the dead of winter; he couldn’t write a newspaper article if he hired a hundred monkeys with a hundred typewriters working night and day. Dad had no skill at fixing anything—he even struggled to change the oil in our family car. When my scoutmaster assigned us kids to build little wooden race cars with our dads, Team Nolan came in dead last. 

So, did my dad teach me any practical skills? Absolutely. From the time we could walk, Dad threw batting practice and hit fly balls to all the kids in the neighborhood. Dad taught baseball.

I loved judging the arc of those fly balls and I would call out to Dad, “Hit the ball higher!” But after I was about twelve he couldn’t hit it high enough. Dad taught us the game mostly by pointing out our mistakes, and his words are burned in my brain: “You’re stepping in the bucket … you threw your head out … your shoulders aren’t square.” After games, he’d go over what I did right and what I did wrong—with an emphasis on what I did wrong. He wasn’t mean about it, that was just his way of coaching.

Now I’m a grown man and I realize that Dad did actually teach me practical skills beyond baseball. He taught me to take criticism and see my own mistakes. What could be more practical than that? From that tiny seed, I grew my own company, Home Defenders.

No, my dad didn’t teach me how to build little wooden race cars, but the lessons he taught me on those green Illinois fields could take a man to the top of the world.

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Haven’t we all burned down a barn or two? Maybe not. Last week I wrote about Uncle Keith burning down a barn on my grandparent’s Illinois farm. Well, when I was a kid, I too caused a barn fire on the farm. Here’s the story: 

At a July 4th family gathering, my younger brother and I were horsing around and lighting fireworks in an abandoned chicken house near the main farmhouse. The small structure was Uncle Keith’s old clubhouse, and it came furnished with a ratty old couch. Suddenly, we saw a mouse run under the couch. Well, this was our clubhouse and that critter’s impudence would not stand! After dangerously short deliberation, I decided to smoke the invader out. I pulled some stuffing from the couch, got it smoldering with a match, then shoved the smoking wad under the couch. Adios, mouse! We headed to Grandma’s house—her homemade peach cobbler and chocolate chip cookies beckoned.

Twenty minutes later, just as I savored that last morsel of peach cobbler, Grandpa burst through the kitchen door bellowing, “Who set the chicken house on fire?” Aunts, uncles, cousins and toddlers all stopped what they were doing and rushed outside and watched as the flames violently whipped skyward. My brother and I stood far behind our astonished kinfolk, guilt written all over our faces. Luckily, no one looked back.

Everyone knew we had been playing in the chicken house, so they sat us down at the kitchen table and the grilling began. We just kept blaming it on the fireworks. After a short trial, Grandpa rendered his verdict: not guilty, for lack of evidence. Dan and I breathed a sigh of relief, grabbed a handful of cookies, and went back to playing with fireworks. Life on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm was always good.

 And now, here’s this week’s punchline, sponsored by Home Defenders, “We’re not just bug guys, we’re Home Defenders!” And the punchline is: Well, at least I got that mouse out!

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Why do mothers and fathers hog all the love? Shouldn’t they share? Mother’s Day is around the corner, Father’s Day is coming, and I’m wondering why we can’t have an Uncle’s Day. Don’t those guys deserve their day in the sun, too?

My most colorful uncle is Mom’s youngest brother, Keith. When he was a kid back on my grandparent’s Illinois farm, Keith once lit a fire in the barn to keep warm … and burned it to the ground. A few years later, he made a homemade bomb out of gasoline, then detonated it in a secluded field. Grandpa saw the fireball and, despite his bad knees, took off after him. Keith won that chase, but he had to come home eventually. That was one fireworks show I was happy to miss.

I mostly remember Keith as the leader of his own private club, called the Mud Pud Club, comprised of Keith and my rowdy older cousins. I was just a little kid and I avoided those Puds, but that doesn’t mean they avoided me. One time, in full Mud Pudlian fever, Keith caught me and my older brother, Dave, and tied us to a metal pole in the basement. Then he went upstairs and turned out the lights. We screamed in the dark until Grandma came to our rescue. The last thing I remember seeing was Grandma chasing Keith with her big leather belt in hand. Keith won that race, too.

Hey, homeowners, are rowdy pests invading your own Mud Pud clubhouse? Is grandma not around to protect you? Then call Home Defenders and we’ll chase your pests like Grandpa chased Keith after he detonated that homemade bomb. Only we don’t have bum knees and we’ll catch those critters and belt ‘em good!

Well, I guess I just made a sound argument against having an Uncle’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day to all. And momma, don’t let your babies grow up to be Mud Puds. Please!

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This is it. This is my moment of truth. I’m seconds away from discovering the silver bullet against gophers I’ve been searching for my whole career at Home Defenders. Fame and fortune, here I come!  

My parents are here visiting from Illinois; Mom, unlike me, never left home seeking fame and fortune, grew up on a farm back there and has gardened her whole life. Won’t she have the answer for gopher control? I decided to ask her.

Mom and I are on my back deck looking at my yard when I dare pose the life-changing question: “Mom, look at all those gopher mounds littering my yard. How did Grandma get rid of gophers?” 

Mom’s learned eyes are gazing over the kidney-shaped piles of dirt. She’s as silent as a Buddha statue … her eyes gaze skyward in reflection … the tension is building. Finally, she’s ready to speak: “Gophers? What the heck are gophers?” 

“Uh, well, Mom, gophers are … gophers. They’re furry rodents that live underground, dig tunnels, and eat plant roots. They’re the scourge of every gardener west of the Rockies.” 

“Well, I’ll be dogged,” she says in her country accent. “They sure made a mess of your yard.”

Well, Mom’s no gopher expert, but that doesn’t matter. Back home, she’s always kept a big garden, growing sweet corn, green beans, tomatoes, asparagus, blackberries, you name it. She even has a strawberry patch—yum, fresh candy on the vine—so I was brought up on garden vegetables and homemade jam. Yep. I’ve been to the mountaintop, folks, before I moved to our San Bernardino Mountains.

Mom breaks my reverie, “Mike, I have to get back to the kitchen. The peach cobbler is almost done cooking and oh, I got some vanilla ice cream to go with that.” 

“Oh, boy, Mom … one slice of fame and fortune coming up, ha, ha!”

“What the heck does that mean, Mike?”

“Oh, nothing, Mom. It was just a dream I once had.”

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 Help Wanted: Job duties include typing termite reports, scheduling service calls, answering the phone … and telling the boss he’s wrong. Contact Home Defenders Pest Management.  

Writing these articles is fun, but it takes a lot of hard work. I learned to write them the same way I learned to be a professional exterminator: Being told that I hadn’t gotten the job done. 

A paying customer will readily tell you if those ants are still raiding her sugar bowl, but finding someone to critique my articles is difficult. My secretaries proofread them, but Alejandra, Nicole, and Isamar usually play it safe with a mechanical, “It’s good.” I learn nothing from that. Luckily, I have a secret weapon secretary. Her name is Erika.

Erika has worked for me for fifteen years and she cuts me no slack. One time she read a rough draft and as soon as she finished she handed it back to me and said, “You can come up with a better punchline than that!” Deep down, I knew she was right, so I came up a stronger punchline; the article was better for it.

Another time, Erika argued that the whole premise of an article was weak. This time I had her, though, and I explained in painstaking detail why she was wrong. She sat at her desk with a smug smile that declared, “You’re wrong, Mike.“ The next morning I reread the article and realized Erika had been right all along. I scrapped it and wrote a new one. I had gotten the ants out of that metaphorical sugar bowl.

As a small business owner, I have no boss correcting my mistakes and I make my living getting things right—a man like that had better admit it when he’s wrong. Thanks, Erika, for having the guts to critique the man who signs your paycheck.

(Hi everyone, this is Erika, and I approve this article … but Mike could have made it a little better.) 

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Have you ever noticed how quickly gray squirrels can eat a pile of sunflower seeds? Those critters can rip through a hundred seeds like a kindergarten class through a bowl of M&M’s. And then the bravest of the bunch is peeking in my sliding glass door as if to say, “Hey, Mr. Human Man, cute squirrel here—more seeds, please!” And then, still dressed in my pajamas, I put out more seeds. I fall for that trick every time.

Have you ever wondered how squirrels eat seeds so fast. Think about it. They pick up a seed, chew off the hull, grab the meaty part, then eat it. And they do it all in about a second. Squirrels are to eating sunflower seeds what the Dodgers are to smacking home runs.

Squirrels breathe life into our forest, and they’re fun to watch, but when they gain entry into homes, especially attics, they go for the jugular. The beasties seem to take pleasure in chewing the insulation off of electrical wires—though there’s not a morsel of food in an electrical wire. Outdoors, I’ve seen squirrels destroy deck handrails and roof shingles. Yeah, they’d better be cute for all the damage they can do.

If squirrels are turning your home into a chew toy, call us Home Defenders and we’ll give you a free estimate on stopping them in their toothy tracks. And don’t worry, animal lovers, we never harm them. Our furry friends have a right to live, too.

Tomorrow morning, the little beasties will be back on my deck running and fussing and waiting to see me in pajamas with black oil sunflower seeds in hand. I’ll put out a few piles and they’ll run some more and fuss some more and jump for joy warmed by the slow orange sunrise in our beautiful San Bernardino Mountains.

Now that’s the best part of waking up!

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OK, folks, after months of waiting, it’s finally here. I know I’m ready. The question is: Are you ready? Because after the wettest winter in decades, spring is busting out all over and randy bugs are makin’ bacon like makin’ bacon is going out of style. (Once in my high school we teens lost interest in makin’ bacon when an overzealous lunch lady was caught spiking our food with saltpeter. Big scandal.) Our phones are ringing off the hook and it’s work, work, work. The only fun I can have is teaching you readers how to help prevent pest invasions. I promise the lessons won’t be as boring as, well … sitting in high school Sex Ed class under the influence of saltpeter.

My first pest recommendation is to cut back tree branches that touch your home. I’ve found so many ant trails on branches we should change the words “tree branch” to “ant highway.” The folks at Webster’s might disagree, but if they rode along with us Home Defenders for a week, they’d be singing a different tune.

Now, for the love of Pete, put down that newspaper, grab a shovel, and dig accumulated soil away from the wood parts of your home. Wood keeps your home standing tall, and dirt rots wood. Dirt is the gift that keeps on giving … to contractors who repair homes damaged by wood rot. 

Finally, please clean those piles of pine needles off your roof. Competing ant colonies fight territorial wars for that prime real estate, then raid your kitchen. They’ll thank you for the mini Snickers and add, “Now get us some Hershey’s Kisses, too.”

Well, that was fun—as much fun as I have these days, anyhow. Happily, all that saltpeter has finally worked its way out of my system so at least I can drive down to the beach on Sundays and ogle pretty girls.

Hey, whaddya know, makin’ bacon is interesting after all!

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It was one of my first pest management lessons and it wasn’t even about pest management.

I was a rookie and my manager, Bill, and I were inspecting the exterior of a home that had bat issues. Suddenly, the next door neighbor lady appeared and asked what we were doing. Bill told her there was a colony of bats in the attic and that’s when she freaked out. “Those things suck your blood!” she screamed as she ran into her home. Bill and I just looked at each other and he said, “Uh-oh.”

Sure enough, the next morning the homeowner called and he was furious, “My neighbor called and said that if I don’t get those bloodsucking bats out of our neighborhood she’ll sue me to kingdom come.” Bill grabbed the phone, apologized profusely, and offered the homeowner a discount. A week later we had gotten the bats out of the attic—and dodged a bullet.

Nowadays, whenever I’m treating a home and a neighbor says, “What’re ya guys doin’ over there?” I go on and on about how great the weather is. But there’s nothing wrong with healthy curiosity, so here’s my spring report card on which pests might be active in your neighborhood:

Rodents have been busy and those eager breeders will remain active until, well, doomsday. Spiders are laying low, but on warm days they come out to play. Bats—which do not suck blood—are vacationing in Cancun, but they’ll be back soon. We’ll need every one of them to gobble all those mosquitoes coming our way. 

Finally, speaking of neighbors and pests, I’m often jokingly asked, “My neighbor’s a pest—can you help me deal with him?” Sorry, but that question calls for an expert in the genteel world of the social graces. Try asking Miss Manners. 

Back in my domain, next week I’ll discuss the proper way to clean mouse poop. That’s about as genteel as I get.

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I’ve been back from India for a month now, but I can still give out free advice to those about to travel. Here are some phrases you may hear from the locals wherever you may be; I’ll translate what they really mean.

“That is not possible” — (Note: this advice mainly applies to India.) Translation: “That is absolutely possible if you slip me some cash while my boss isn’t looking.”

“Oh, it’s easy to find” — Translation: “I’ve lived here my whole life and it’s beyond my imagination how anyone could get lost in this thousand-year-old city that was intentionally built to confuse foreigners like you.”

“Well, I don’t see why you can’t” — Translation: “Our constitution grants me the right to have an opinion on anything and I’m going to exercise that right and make something up, especially since it won’t be me blundering into the seedy part of town late at night.”

“What could possibly go wrong?” — This common phrase needs no translation; it really means that the speaker is that guy who: has a pet python, monkey or tiger; goes hiking in the Grand Canyon in summer with no water; freely gives his credit card info to adult sites on the internet; thinks the freeway is a motorcycle race track; remodels his own home while still living in it (I’m doing that right now and questioning my own sanity); celebrates a Super Bowl victory by getting drunk and climbing a power pole and/or the Statue of Liberty (Still not as crazy as remodeling your own home while living in it.)

Finally, if this article seems pessimistic, then I say this: Bravo! You have absolutely gotten my point. Stay home, call Home Defenders when you have pests, and laugh at all those tourists blundering into the seedy part of town. Hey, it was you who sent them there because that place is easy to find and what could possibly go wrong?

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Sorry readers, I’m about to dredge up some bad memories, but it’s for a good cause. More on that in a bit. And since bad news sells, here’s a bitter morsel: We’ve had the wettest winter since the space shuttle Atlantis was soaring the stratosphere, and pests are drawing blueprints and getting permits from Mother Nature to invade your home. You know who to call, right? You have the phone number handy, right? Because soon you’ll be needing your local pest management professional.

I know tooting your own horn is considered bad form, but where would homeowners be without us pest professionals? Overrun with crawling, food-stealing, biting critters, that’s where.

Today’s pest professionals are light years beyond those cigar chomping, stubble-faced chemical blasters of old. You remember those grouchy guys, don’t you? Remember how they fired up noisy, smoke-spewing spray rigs bolted in the bed of their rusty old Dodge trucks? Remember how those guys smelled like a pile of oily rags? No wonder they were so grumpy—no woman would touch them with a Teflon-coated ten foot pole.

These days, we pest professionals are highly trained, mostly sweet-smelling men and women equipped with safe, high-tech products that have a big impact on pests, but little impact on people, pets and the environment. Yes, we’ve joined the green revolution, but that doesn’t mean we’re green at it—we’ve been beating bugs with modern tools for decades. (How do you like my slick, corporate style ad copy?)

This is our golden age of pest management and that means this is your golden age of having a safe, pest-free home. That’s reason to celebrate because, sooner or later, everybody needs a Home Defender.

And if anyone thinks I can’t write a straight, no-nonsense pest ad, I submit this article as proof that I can. (Except for that Teflon-coated pole wise-crack, but hey, as us slick corporate ad writers know, sex sells.)