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This week I have one of those “you won’t believe how they treat small business owners” stories that is all too common in today’s world. Just another day in paradise.

Every year a county inspector comes to our office and performs a thorough inspection of our operations. This year a rookie showed up and you probably see where this is going. “I need to see your annual pesticide training records,” he declared, official clipboard in hand. I rummaged through my paperwork but couldn’t find those particular records, and I had no idea how I could have screwed up so royally.

“If you don’t have them,” he said, short and sweet, “I’ll have to issue a cease and desist order right now.” He was literally going to shut down my business. But, he took pity and gave me until the next morning to get the training done. He left and I scrambled to get everything in order. 

But, as I thought it over, something wasn’t adding up. I have a checklist of required training and that item isn’t on it. How could I have gotten it wrong for over a decade? Then it hit me: annual pesticide training isn’t required for my workers because they have a grade of license that exempts them. I knew that, but in my panic I had just forgotten. I called the inspector and told him my guys were exempt. “Uh, well, my boss isn’t here,” he mumbled. “I’ll have to check with him first. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

The next morning, tired of waiting for his call, I called him. “Uh, yeah,” he said awkwardly, “you don’t have to worry about that training.” And if anyone thinks he apologized, then say hi to Peter and Tink and Captain Hook. Hah! 

My secretary Alejandra, unfamiliar with legal jargon, got it right when she called the cease and desist order a ‘decease and resist’ order. “You know, Alejandra,” I said dryly, “it hasn’t gotten to that point yet…. but just give them a few years.” Have a decease and resist week, everyone! 

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Today I have a story about my recent showdown with a creature that sends chills down many people’s spines. If you’re squeamish, you had better stop reading now. For everyone else, proceed with caution and have some smelling salts close at hand.

I was squirming through a cobweb-infested crawl space yesterday when I felt the pitter-patter of eight legs running on my neck. Yes, it was a spider and the beast was running like Seabiscuit in the home stretch. I flicked it off before it could sink its fangs into my jugular, but the message from the Spider Kingdom was crystal clear: “Beware, bug man, we’re out to get you… when you least expect it, expect it… and if you’re expecting it all the time then we own you, man!”

I wasn’t worried because Black Widows are the only dangerous spider on the mountain and they don’t run like racehorses—they crawl in super slow motion just to magnify the horror.  My “neck runner” was likely a harmless house spider, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing but a quick shot of adrenalin. Who needs coffee when you have spiders crawling all over you. Thanks, Mother Nature, for the free “arachnid espresso.” 

It’s fall and spiders are making a beeline for our warm homes. If you fear the pitter-patter of eight prickly feet, call us and we’ll send a technician to huff and puff and blow the spiders out of your house. At Home Defenders, we ain’t afraid of no fangs!

I don’t normally scare readers with graphic descriptions of life in the pest trenches, but every so often I go full reality TV mode… keeps people on their toes. Don’t worry, squeamish folks, the odds of having a spider crawl on your neck are almost zero. Unless you’re in a crawl space and then the odds skyrocket to near certainty. Have an arachnid espresso free week, everyone!

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I give up. After thirty-five years of pleading with homeowners to block rodents out of their cabins, I’m throwing in the towel. No, I’m not retiring from pest management—I’ll battle pests til I drop dead—I’m just giving up my role as “adviser-in-chief.” Why? Because—other than the houses us Home Defenders have professionally sealed—almost every mountain cabin I visit has dozens of rodent entry holes. I am the only one who sees the fun and challenge of rodent-proofing a home? Wait, I have an idea…

Since my pleas to block rodent openings don’t appear to be working, I’m going to try reverse psychology and teach you how to invite mice into your home. Yep, you read that right. Here’s three surefire tips:

>> Insist that plumbers and electricians drill big holes when they run utility pipes into your home. The openings need a minimum half-inch gap around the pipe so rodents can easily dart inside. Do not allow the workers to simply caulk around the openings! Where’s the sport in that? 

>> Ask a contractor to build lots of dormers on your roof. They look elegant and there’s always a little gap where the roof lines meet that allows mice, rats, chipmunks, and squirrels to run into the attic. If the contractor insists on sealing the openings, say, “No way, man! Rodents need a home, too… so what if they chew up my electrical wires. Live and let live!”

>> Never, ever walk around the exterior foundation of your home and look for holes that allow rodents to enter. Instead, grab a cold brew, kick back and watch a ballgame. Those Rams sure are looking strong, huh? Your La-Z-Boy awaits, sire!

Finally, if my reverse psychology has backfired and you don’t want filthy, wire-chewing rodents running wild in your house, give us Home Defenders a call and we’ll kick the critters out and block their entry holes. That will leave you plenty of time to relax and watch the Dodgers in the World Series. Have a championship week, everyone!

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Get ready for a shock, because, after weighing the pros and cons, I am determined to go ahead with my annual vacation in India this January. (If travel restrictions are lifted.) Sure, flying across the planet while travel rules are changing day by day is risky, but, what’s wrong with doing something a little brainless once in a while? Isn’t that the real “pause that refreshes?” 

Am I off my rocker? Maybe. But have you ever heard of the “theory of hormesis?” That’s the brainy way of saying that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If you want to grow mold in a petri dish, scientists say, add a tiny bit of mold poison. Well, if you want to get smarter, shouldn’t you do something a little stupid from time to time? What doesn’t kill you makes you smarter? Sounds good to me. 

I travel to India every January just to blow the cobwebs out of my life. Every December, I’m bursting with anticipation as I count down the days to takeoff. Then, after two rotten days sitting in planes and airports, I’m thrilled to see that beautiful “Welcome to India” sign at passport control.  From that moment on, I learn new words and taste new foods and think new thoughts. When I return home, I’m a new man. Only a fool would turn down the gift of rejuvenation just because there’s, well, a chance he could be quarantined in, I dunno, a sweltering airplane hangar. And, say what you will about forced confinement in airplane hangars, atleast it blasts out those cobwebs.

So if you see me on the news this January, begging the U.S. government for help, I hope you feel a double shot of mountain pride. “Sure, he’s a bonehead,” you can brag, “but he’s the wisest bonehead around!” Oh, and if I end up getting smart and canceling the trip, I give you permission to smack me for being so stupid. Have a boneheaded week, everyone!

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Today I want to showcase my two favorite things in life. One is arrived at through years of blood, sweat, and tears. The other, like so many of the best things in life, is absolutely free. These two things might seem contradictory, but I don’t think they are. One leads to the other.

First, I love being very experienced and skilled at something. I started working in pest management in 1986 and I’ve successfully completed thousands of ant, rodent and bat jobs. I’ve made hundreds of rookie mistakes—like the time I sprayed the wrong house and got chewed out for it—and overcome those mistakes to become a seasoned pest management professional. When I drive to a customer’s home to solve a pest riddle, I go with a quiet confidence that feels no need to boast. Being really good at something feels really good.

Second, I love that blessed gift of childhood: being a beginner. I love the excitement of, say, studying a new language. I love the thrill of learning those first few words. I love the adventure of traveling to a foreign country and working up the nerve to speak those words. Sure, I may sound clumsy, but they don’t throw you in jail for butchering a language. (Though I’ve come close in France!) If I won the lottery, I would spend the rest of my life learning new things just for the fun of it.  

If the devil made me choose between my two loves, I would always pick being a beginner. Knowledge and skills are finite, but learning is eternal and adventure is forever. Children are the luckiest people in the world… until they get their first job and spray the wrong house. Have an adventurous week, everyone!

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What is happening on this mountain? Are bugs still invading homes? Are rodents still running rampant? Or have we done something to offend all critters? Like the nutty old guy in the original Dracula movie says: “If this is true, it’s the most fantastic thing in the world!” 

But, no, it’s not true—pests are running all over the mountain, as usual. I just haven’t written about them lately because it’s more fun to review Dr. Fu-Manchu books. But, our annual fall rodent invasion is almost here, so goodbye, Fu-Manchu, hello advice for homeowners:

Cold, warm home—Cold fall nights drive rodents into your nice warm home. If you see rodent droppings, don’t worry, you’re not the only one. And if you don’t see rodent droppings, well… have you been to the eye doctor lately? 

Wave goodbye to webs—When homeowners tell me: “Mike, I’ve got mice” they are usually correct. They have either seen mice or droppings. But when homeowners theorize on how mice get inside the home, oh my, what tangled webs they weave! Don’t worry, folks, we’ll figure out how rodents are getting inside, then we will solve the problem. Guaranteed.

Proceed with poop—If you see droppings, proceed with extreme caution. Rodent droppings carry diseases—they really, really do—so put on gloves, safety goggles, an N95 mask or a half-face respirator, and clean them using a bleach solution (1 part bleach to 10 parts water). You won’t be called a hero to your family, but you will be. 

As for you Fu Manchu fans, don’t worry, I’m currently reading President Fu-Manchu. Yes, folks, he’s running for president and yes, folks, he’s hellbent on disrupting American society. Well, well, well, Dr. Fu-Manchu… good luck with that. Have a rodent free week, everyone!

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I recently completed a one-month personal experiment where I avoided forms of entertainment that were created after 1945—that benchmark year when our nervous, frenetic world was born in a mushroom cloud. I came up with the idea after reading a 1950s essay by E.B. White (Stuart Little) decrying modern media and entertainment. (Ironically, Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols had just been born.)

Abandoning Rock & Roll, I embraced Classical music, both Western and Indian. (Pandit Shivkumar Sharma’s The Valley Recalls was mygo-to Indian classical piece.) I watched little TV, reading books instead. I dusted off my copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes and rooted for Holmes and Watson as they battled the villainous Dr. Moriarty in 1890s London. Speaking of villains, I sat on the edge of my easy chair as Dr. Petrie and Nayland Smith matched wits against Dr. Fu-Manchu. Fu-Manchu! There’s an evil genius to haunt your dreams. I also sailed on a schooner to Treasure Island with young Jim Hawley and Long John Silver in search of buried pirate treasure. Shiver me timbers, indeed!

I cheated a little. I watched some Dodgers games, turning off the TV during commercials, and I listened to Friday Night Blues on Big Bear’s radio station, KBHR. DJ Rick tells good stories and a little bit of Blues never hurt anyone.

Result: I felt more relaxed during my pre-atomic month; I went to bed in a calm state of mind and slept well. Also, I had more patience with tedious activities, like yoga. Normally I hate doing yoga, but it at least it became more tolerable. Did I have more energy? I didn’t notice, but when the month ended, I listened to Social Distortion’s hard-rocking White Light, White Heat, White Trash and when the last track came to a crashing finale, I felt exhausted. Conclusion: Rock music doesn’t give energy, but rather drains it. Have a calm week, everyone, secure in the knowledge that the fiendish Dr. Fu-Manchu is finally vanquished forever. (Though The Bomb lives on.)

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“Do you guys treat bed bugs?” An Airbnb owner called me recently, saying one of his tenants had woken in the morning with itchy red marks on her arms and legs. She blamed bed bugs. Many people think the blood-sucking insects don’t live on the mountain, but we do see them every so often. I remember one bed bug customer who told me that his daughter had a drug problem and she would hang out at a drug house for days, then come home. Well, that’s one way bed bugs can infest a mountain cabin.

I sent my manager, Gil, to the Airbnb, but he found no bed bugs. So, what could have caused the red marks? There can be many causes, such as mites, or a rash, or a reaction to a poisonous plant and so on. In my experience, one of the most common causes of red marks on skin is an allergic reaction to laundry detergent, especially natural ones made with flower extracts. Sleeping with your skin pressed against flowers may sound romantic, but every rose has its (itchy) thorns.

The word “natural” is vague and it certainly doesn’t guarantee that something is safe. Having a big boulder fall on your head is a natural experience, as is being stung by a nest of yellow-jackets. Now, I’ve been stung by a nest of yellow-jackets—while walking on the big hollow log they called home—and I can confirm reports that it is, indeed, a 100% natural experience… a very painful, potentially deadly, natural experience.

I’m not knocking natural products, but I do recommend buying the unscented, hypoallergenic kind. If you find red marks on your skin, I recommend you call your doctor. If you see ants, spiders or rodents, I recommend calling us. If you see a big boulder teetering on a ledge, I recommend running. Have a safe and natural week, everyone!

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It’s spring and that means it’s time for my annual “You might be getting old” test. Ready? So, you might just be getting old if… 

>> … your favorite part of the day is that glorious after lunch nap. (My score: Fail. I’m grumpy if I don’t get my nap.)

>> … you eat a modest slice of pizza and you’re not hungry again for eight hours. (My score: Fail, darn it.)

>> … you can sit through all nine innings of an excruciatingly boring  baseball game, second-guessing the manager’s decisions all the way. (My score: Pass!)

>> … you tacked a list of foods you can’t eat any more to your fridge. (My lists: foods that cause kidney stones and acid reflux.)

>> … you’ve run the gamut of being stressed about having a few gray hairs, to being worried that you’ll soon be completely gray, to being absolutely thrilled that you still have hair. (I still have hair and that’s all I care about.)

>> … you haven’t said “mind over matter” ever since getting out of that easy chair ain’t so easy any more. (Fail. My torn meniscus sees to that.)

>> … you’ve come to hate thinking “It’s been years since I’ve…” because that now means “It’s been decades since I’ve…” (Who knew decades could fly by so fast.)

>> … though you enjoy incredible health that would be the envy of people half your age…  people half your age are starting to have health issues. (My score: It’s a draw. For now.)

>> … you’ve made peace with the shocking realization that you’re no longer an oldish young person, but rather a youngish old person. (I realized I was a youngish old man on August 16, 2017 at 9:23 a.m.)

Well, I failed, but I hope you passed. If you didn’t, don’t worry, I’m still your friendly neighborhood pest professional and I’ll always love you just the way you are… as long you pay your bill. Have a mind over matter week, everybody!