October 01, 2010

The Exterminator Appointment

There were bugs hiding somewhere in the house. An appointment was made with an exterminator. And then they called me.

“You’ll want to be out of the house for about five hours after the exterminator is there,” I said. “And you can’t have any piles of anything on the floor. That would keep the insecticides from working — they wouldn’t reach the floor. It would give the bugs a place to hide.” A minute later, I was saying, “You’re going to need my help.”

That’s how I came to spend most of the last two days helping get a house ready for an exterminator. There was nothing glamorous about the work. I was laundering bedding and clothes. Putting things in boxes. Carrying out trash bags. You get the idea.

It mostly wasn’t my task to throw things away, but I saw that just the thought of hidden insect larvae made those decisions easier. The “sentimental value” of a bed cover that grandma made doesn’t cancel out even a small amount of “ick.” The floors were cleared, and the house was transformed in time for the exterminator appointment. Today, everyone is recovering from sore muscles.

Every house will eventually find itself with insects or small mammals, and anywhere stuff is stored away in an attic, basement, or closet, there is a chance that this has already occurred. This point was brought home yesterday when I discovered large amounts of rat droppings in a pile of boxes and bags where Christmas decorations had been sitting for ages. On further inspection, there was no mistaking it: a rat colony had occupied that corner of the house for an extended period of time about 15 years ago. We were cleaning up because of bugs, but there had been rats too, another problem just as serious that had come and gone, undetected.

That wasn’t bad luck — that’s the kind of thing that happens when you store stuff away. You don’t have to wait till you suspect a problem. Pick any day, and go through things that have been stored for more than two or three years, and there is a high chance that you’ll find signs of small animal activity. If you find only dust, you can sweep the dust away and count yourself lucky — but check again before too much time goes by.

Of course, it’s better not to store things away if there isn’t a very good reason for it. It’s the idea that you’re preserving the value of things that makes you put them in a box and keep them, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, in the end, you’re just creating more work for an exterminator.

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