“Help Mike, it’s crawling on the screen door!” My secretary Erika called out frantically. “Quick, come get it!” I didn’t know what was scaring her, but it was a creature of some sort. I ran into the main office and quickly spotted a small animal crawling on the outside window screen. Wow, you don’t see that every day.
It looked like a mouse, but it was noon and mice mostly come out at night. As I got closer I saw that it was, indeed, a mouse. Why was it active during the daytime? That question must remain a mystery of the weird world of pests… there are many.
Here I go again, I’m writing about rodents again. But I can’t help myself because 2020 was the year of the rodent. Why were there so many rats and mice? Well, we’ve had wet winters the last few years and rodents thrive in green, fertile forests. Also, folks escaping C0VID came up here in droves, bringing lots of food, and they ate outside all summer long. Rodents pounced on the morsels and the rest is history.
Back at my office, I bolted outside as the rogue mouse jumped off the screen and ran straight up a stucco wall, then stopped in a corner and hung there like a spider. Surprised, I did what any pest professional would do: I pulled out my phone and took a picture. I then shooed the critter away. It belongs outside and it will stay outside because our office is fortified against rodent entry. At Home Defenders, we have proven solutions against mouse pollutions.
I strode back inside expecting a hero’s welcome, but Erika and the other secretaries were absorbed in paperwork. Oh well, we mice-shooing heroes don’t expect thanks, we’re just happy to save the day. Hold on! Is that a big, hairy spider on the venetian blind? Stand clear, ladies, I’ll battle the beast! Oh, wait, it’s just a harmless piece of fuzzy lint. Crisis averted. (Sigh)
Have a heroic week, everybody!
Love and Hate up the Hill
Today, I’ll continue my “lessons in surviving winter” for first-time mountain residents by looking at the four phases of human reaction to snowfall. After one snowy season, you’ll know exactly which phase you fall into. Be honest!
Phase One: “Oh boy, it’s snowing! … let’s have a snowball fight… I love snow!… let’s go sledding on the hill behind our house… daddy, daddy, carry me to the top of the hill.”
How old are they: Anywhere from one to forty years old, depending on whether they have someone to shovel that frozen berm in front of their driveway. Or carry them to the top of the hill.
What they fail to realize: (a) Lower backs start going on the fritz after forty. (b) Having a frozen snowball smack you in the face is more painful than passing a kidney stone.
Phase Two: “Please, for the love of Pete, stop snowing!… darn it, the snow plow just pushed a giant berm in front of my driveway after I spent two hours digging out the last one… god, I hate snow!”
How old: Forties to sixties.
What they fail to realize: (a) A winter snowstorm truly is a thing of beauty. (b) They have lots of hotels in Palm Springs.
Phase Three: “Oh, no, it’s snowing… I could fall, shatter my leg and spend months in a living hell. Or worse.”
How old: Sixty and up.
What they fail to realize: Not much.
Phase Four: “We finally came to our senses and bought a winter condo in Palm Springs… we have a guest bedroom if you want to escape from shoveling Paul Bunyan-sized berms in sub-freezing temperatures… let’s go outside and enjoy the warm desert sunshine!”
How old: Sixty-five and up.
What they fail to realize: Absolutely nothing. By the way, is there any chance I could take advantage of your guest bedroom… that darned Paul Bunyan just plowed another berm in front of my driveway.
Some of you readers might think that the following article is a sarcastic shot at first-time mountain residents. On the contrary, it’s based on real conversations I’ve had with real customers… real customers who grew up in Palm Springs or Miami or the Amazon Rainforest or wherever. No sarcasm here, folks.
“So, Mike,” Mrs Jones said to me. “Just to clarify our conversation… you’re saying that ants are affected by cold weather and they can’t just march out of the forest in a freezing snowstorm and invade my home?”
“That is correct,” I said. “Insects can’t regulate their body temperature like warm-blooded animals. When it’s freezing cold outside, ants go dormant. It’s kind of a law of physics.”
“Well, I learned something new today,’ Mrs Jones said, smiling with delight.
You see, first-time mountain residents, winter up here is fundamentally different from winter in Palm Springs. For example, when temperatures dip below thirty-two degrees, water turns into a solid… a phenomenon well known to physicists like Einstein. Well, it turns out that when your Camaro hits a sheet of solid water it starts spinning around and smashing into stuff. And then your insurance premium skyrockets. We mountain folk call that “cause-effect.” You’ll learn all about it during the next big snowstorm.
OK, maybe I’m being a little sarcastic. Is anyone offended yet? Of course not, most people have a sense of humor, but there’s always that one guy. Come on, one guy, I was just joking around… wipe that pout off your puss and let all those pretty mountain ladies see your million dollar smile. You can do it, just move both corners of your mouth back toward your ears… ah, there’s that smile. Wow, you look just like Brad Pitt! Now call my company for your pest control needs.
Seriously, welcome to the mountains, new residents, it’s a great place to live. Just, please, buy some tire chains for your Camaro. Have a smashing week, everybody!
Today, let’s talk about the serious subject of dryers causing home fires. Dryers may seem like an odd topic for a pest professional to tackle, but we deal with dryers—especially their vents—all the time.
Most people know that dryers can cause house fires, but I wonder how many people know that lint can build up past the screen in their dryer’s exhaust line. A few weeks ago, I pulled out the lint screen from my own dryer and looked down the throat of the exhaust line with a flashlight. I was shocked to see that a wad of highly flammable lint had gotten past the screen and accumulated in an unreachable corner. Not sure what to do, I looked on Amazon and found a “dryer vent cleaner kit.” It comes with a long, flexible vacuum attachment that reaches deep inside. I bought the kit and it works great.
Now, let’s talk about the dryer vent cover on the outside of your home. Have you inspected it lately? Are the louvers (or hinged flap) clogged with lint? Is the vent cover close to the ground where rodents have access? Have rodents chewed a hole in the louvers? Can you see telltale rodent droppings in the interior of the duct?
If the vent cover is clogged with lint, you need to take a screwdriver, or a shop vac, or something and remove the lint. If you think that rodents have gotten into the duct then you need to call us. We’ll get the rodents out and replace the plastic cover with a metal one, which is more chew resistant. Rats and mice go through plastic like a knife through water.
I rarely give my readers homework assignments, but after reading this, please carefully inspect your dryer, paying close attention to the dryer vent cover outside your home. A stitch in time saves nine… as well as a charred home. Have a lint free week, everybody.
The horrible news arrived to me via text message: Jeff Malcom, longtime Lake Arrowhead general contractor, had passed away. I was stunned. I couldn’t imagine our mountain without Jeff Malcom.
I first met Jeff in 1996. I had a customer with damage to their coated, waterproof deck and he wanted me to fix it. I had little experience with repairing coated decks, so I called Jeff and asked if he wanted the job. “I’m too busy to get to it,” he said. “But I’ll be glad to show you how.”
The next day, Jeff met me at the job site and went over, in painstaking detail, how to do the repair. He didn’t owe me a thing and he was giving away trade secrets just because, well, that’s the kind of man he was. To this day, when I look at a coated deck, I think of the lessons Jeff taught me.
Years later, a homeowner called me to complain about repairs my crew had done—working under a tight deadline to close escrow—on a two million dollar vacation home. “I already hired a contractor to redo the work,” the homeowner told me, “and I insist that you pay the bill or I’ll see you in court.” That contractor was Jeff Malcom. I breathed a giant sigh of relief.
“Don’t worry, Mike,” Jeff said to me. “I’ll look out for you.” Jeff did a masterful job of redoing the area of concern, then sent me a bill for half of what he could have charged. Half. Some men are natural born heroes.
Whenever I talked to Jeff, a third-generation builder, I knew that he had forgotten more construction than I would ever know. I always felt humble in his presence. Jeff, for all his construction knowledge, was ever gracious and down-to-earth. He had nothing to prove to anyone.
When tragedies happen, would-be philosophers sometimes say: “When one door closes, another one opens.” Perhaps. But there will never be another Jeff Malcom. Rest in peace, Jeff… building beautiful castles in the sky.
We had a busy year in 2020 and I met many first time mountain residents. Some of them asked me what tools they’ll need to tackle snowstorms. Here’s my favorites:
Snow Melt—Everyone knows what Snow Melt is, right? Wrong. I’ve talked to first time homeowners who’ve never heard of the stuff. For the record, Snow Melt is a bag of coarse granules that you throw on driveways to melt snow and ice. It’s best to have some on hand before the snow flies, as hardware stores can sell out of it during snowstorms.
McLeod Fire Tool—This is a trail-making tool that’s a hoe and rake put together. It’s awesome for breaking up berms and ice on driveways. I’d never want to go through winter without one. Available from Amazon.
Sleigh Shovel—This shovel looks like a sled with long handles; you never need to lift it so it’s easy on your back. The first time I saw this clever invention, I thought: “Why didn’t I think of it?” Available at Butcher’s Block Hardware in Big Bear or from Amazon.
Honda Snowblower—I don’t get paid to advertise for Honda, but they make awesome snowblowers. I have the 32” wide model and it goes through snow like a hot knife through butter. It does require some maintenance—oil change, shear pin replacement—but anyone with basic mechanical skills can handle it. Trust me: when Johnny Mountain is calling for a big snowstorm, having that machine gassed up and ready to go is the best feeling in the world. Available at authorized dealers, but likely sold out until next winter.
So, new mountain residents, those are four awesome tools for making it through a snowy winter. Of course, the greatest tool of all for getting through winter is, well… a home in Palm Springs. Have an awesome week everybody!
They say that advertisers should stick to the business of making money. They say that advertisers should never talk about their personal feelings. Well, I’m an advertiser, but I’m still human. And I have to get this off my chest.
Every January for the past twenty years I’ve flown to India for my annual vacation. This year I can’t go, thanks to our friend COVID. I consider India to be my winter home and I feel heartsick about being grounded. I feel like I’m letting people down.
I promised Murugan, the caretaker at my usual bed and breakfast in Pondicherrry, that this year I’d help him block mice out of the pavilion they call the “Karma Room.” But I won’t be much help from 10,000 miles away.
The B&B is run by a Korean woman named Ahnjong and about once a week she invites all her guests to have dinner together. “Mike, a bunch of us are eating at Surguru tonight,” she always tells me at check-in. “You’re coming, right?” I know she picked that day for my benefit. This year, though, the tables at Surguru will see few world travelers.
I won’t be renting a motorcycle from Shiva. He always teaches me new words in the local language, Tamil, but my Tamil is set to get rusty. I hope his business, heavily dependent on tourists, weathers the storm.
My rickshaw driver, Raju, will also be suffering for lack of tourist money. On my last day in India, he drives me to the Chennai airport, usually at 5 a.m. I give him a healthy tip and I know he relies on that income. He has a wife and kids and they eke out a very marginal existence. I can just picture his pained face.
COVID is raging, I can’t get home and people I care about are suffering. My thoughts are with them, but thoughts don’t pay the bills. Those people are survivors, though, and survivors… survive. That’s what I hope, anyway. Have a good week, everybody… just surviving.
>>Do you know what a (chimney) spark arrestor is? Did you know that animals can dislodge them and put a home at risk for fire? Do you know that tree branches should be cut at least fifteen feet away from chimneys?
>> Do you know the importance of going outside every few months and checking the dryer vent for blockage and/or rodent entry? Do you know how to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning by checking to see if the furnace and water heater vents are blocked? Do you know how often to change the furnace filter?
>> When looking at exterior decks, do you know the difference between composite (Trex/Fiberon), redwood and Douglas fir? Do you know the maintenance requirements for each of these? Are you aware that—excluding fire—water does the most damage to wood decks and siding?
>> Do you know the importance of checking eaves for small openings that allow bats/wasps/spiders/moths to enter? Do you know the difference between caulk and sealant? Do you know which local insects/animals are known to invade homes? Do you know if the home is prepared for the battle ahead?
>> Do you know how to shut the household water off from the street? Do you know how to stop water from flooding a home by turning off the angle stop valve under the sink? Do you know where the main gas turnoff valve is located? Do you have a wrench capable of shutting it off?
>> Do you know if the home is built on a concrete slab, or does it have a crawlspace/buildup? Do you know to have a trusted pest professional thoroughly check the crawlspace at least once a year for animal entry/termite infestation/plumbing leaks?
If you answered “no” to many of these questions, I strongly recommend you do some internet research on basic home maintenance. Owning a home is the most satisfying thing in the world… as long as you can master the art of turning a valve now and then.
>> Are you in touch with what’s happening around you? Can you ride a motorcycle without getting run over? Do you know who owns that vacation house two doors down? Are you aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your co-workers?
>> Can you laugh at yourself? Can you ignore insults? Do you see revenge as a big waste of time and energy? Do you handle threats with poise? Can you go home at the end of the day and not worry?
>> Can you admit when you’re wrong? Can you make a list of your own faults? Can you look from the other person’s point of view? Have you ever said to yourself: “That’s not good enough. I can do better”? Can you change lifelong habits?
>> Are you self-disciplined? Can you effortlessly say no to alcohol/drugs? Do you burn through money? Can you give up all types of fun—for years if necessary—to build your business?
>> Do you trust your gut instincts? Are you confident you can handle whatever challenges might come? Do you easily and naturally think for yourself? Are you an original?
>> Are you aware that we all have blind spots? Do you see the value of bouncing ideas off others? Can you spend an hour asking questions and listening? Do you have the patience to let answers come to you?
>> Are you a natural born leader? Are you comfortable saying: “OK, everybody, let’s get back to work.” Will you tell your workers what they don’t want to hear?
If you answered “no” to most of these questions, you may not be ready to start your own business. But, if you still think you’re ready, welcome to the club—misery loves company. (Did you laugh at that joke? If not, I recommend you keep a fully stocked liquor cabinet… better yet, don’t quit your day job.)
The Big Stink
It started out as a normal day in mountain pest control: The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and critters were invading homes. But, before the workday ended, I had an image in my head that would make some people lose their lunch. So, yeah, it was just a normal day in pest control.
As I was spraying along the baseboards in the house of one of my regular customers, I noticed a bad odor. Bad smells can have many causes—such as the homeowner’s cooking—so at first I didn’t think much of it. But, as I continued laying down bug juice, I knew this bad odor had nothing to do with Indian curry or cooked cabbage. (For the record, I love both.)
I wasn’t thrilled about drumming up extra work for myself—tracking down a mystery odor can take hours—but, the customer is king, so I asked the owner if she’d noticed a funny smell.
“Yes, I have,” she said. “But Mike, who do I call?”
“Don’t worry, Mrs Smith, I’ll get to the bottom of it.”
I suspected three common causes:
- Dead animal. From the strong smell I expected to find a raccoon.
- Sewer gases. Yes, toxic gas from sewers can enter your home due to plumbing issues.
- Natural gas leak. I know that smell and ruled it out early.
The smell was strongest downstairs, so I started my search on the dirt floor of the buildup. I scanned the ground for a dead animal, but saw none. Next, I slowly traced a toilet drain pipe until I saw it had a big crack. Near the pipe was—get ready—a pond of black sewage. Blecch!
When I told Mrs. Smith of my discovery, she was horrified, but, luckily, she knew a good plumber. And as that nasty image of bubbling raw sewage seeped out of my mind, I felt professional satisfaction that I had indeed kept my promise and gotten to the, ahem, bottom of the problem. Have a stink free week everybody.