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Life's Rich Pageant

An Interview With The Professional Exterminator Who Defeated My Accursèd Roach Trunk

Disgusting cockroaches cover a paper structure.
Photo: Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty

A few weeks back my wife and I discovered that a massive old trunk we’d received as an heirloom after the death of a family member was hiding in its bowels a writhing, skittering mass of Florida cockroaches. We have known scarcely a moment of peace since then. It is simply impossible to relax once you have seen that volume of cockroaches inside a piece of furniture located tastefully beside your favorite couch. I have not used that couch for even one second in the days since.

Hope is on the horizon. A pest control professional has been to our house twice since October 9. The first time, to eradicate with extreme prejudice the galaxy of cockroaches inside the the trunk itself, and to treat the surrounding living room; the second time, to address my skin-crawling paranoia by loading up every dark place in my kitchen with every deadly chemical known to the extermination arts. We have seen no more cockroaches; with any luck, every cockroach within a 20-mile radius has heard tale of this incredible cockroach genocide and is migrating to some other part of the country. I have begun, tentatively, to once again use the interior of my home for more than a few consecutive minutes at a time.

The hero of this story is Drew James of Loudoun Pest Technologies. Drew has been with Loudoun Pest for eight years, and has run the operation from the top for the last two. His service area runs from the inner D.C. suburbs all the way out to bumfuck Charles Town, West Virginia, which means he has seen and treated a great diversity of horrifying infestations in this line of work. Recently he was generous enough to spend some time answering the many dumb questions of a deeply rattled blogger. This interview has been edited for length and clarity:

I do not feel real great about having brought a haunted trunk full of cockroaches into my living room.

That is one of the most common ways that roaches enter your home. Old furniture, old boxes, even a box that’s shipped with a package delivery service. That’s a very common way that roaches will enter your home. Sometimes if you spot the stowaways quick you can get out in front of it and kill them quick and get them out of there, versus if you don’t some people will have roaches everywhere, full-blown infestations. And roaches are attracted to crumbs and thrive in dirty situations where on top of killing them, to be frank, you have to clean things up.

Seems like maybe we should just not accept furniture or packages or even phone calls from the state of Florida.

[a period of silence]

Right, well, uhh, you’d be more concerned about things that come from old antique stores, stuff like that. If it’s older stuff, clean it out and disinfect it before it comes into the house. And business travelers, too, need to be careful. Business travelers, and travelers in general, are bringing bed bugs back from their hotels and getting them in their luggage, and they’ll just come on back to the house with you.

Bed bugs are a bad one, yeah? They’re pretty miserable to get rid of?

Yeah, because they’ll even get into the walls. In some cases you’ve got to pull out the wall outlets, treat inside the walls, all the baseboards around the house. They’ll get into the furniture real bad. In some cases, you’ll have to get rid of pieces of furniture and mattresses, stuff like that. So yeah, they’re real tough, real hard to get rid of.

I guess with pandemic restrictions and the collapse of the travel and hospitality industries, bed bugs are having a harder time getting around.

Mmm-hmm. But right now everyone’s at home, more aware of the bugs. I can’t complain! It keeps me busy. Especially the ants, regular old ants, sugar ants. We get calls on the ants all day, every day. Another bug that will swarm around a crumb, and those guys are everywhere.

You helped my wife and me deal with ants before, after we planted a bunch of peonies and suddenly there were ants everywhere. You also helped us deal with a possum and a groundhog that moved in under the porch. You had a novel, non-violent solution: You threw mothballs under the porch, and the groundhogs just moved on out.

That’s an old trick-of-the-trade that I got from my grandfather, actually. My family originated in upstate New York, outside Syracuse, in the town of Ithaca. My grandfather had a little farm up there and I just remember a lot of stuff that he would use. That was an old trick of the trade, mothballs. I know they don’t like it, the smell of it, it’s an irritant, they don’t want to hang around it. It works in some cases. In other cases, when it doesn’t, we’ll have to trap the critters and get them out of there.

That was a nice non-violent option. Is there a non-violent option for getting rid of the various bugs? A peaceful resolution with the bug enemy?

No. No. We can’t go in and gently remove all the termites, for example.

What about the small fuzzy pests? Can you negotiate a peaceful retreat with the mice? 

[a long sigh]

I’m not sure about that one. Mice can go from eight to 80 in three months. So if you don’t step out in front of that, mice will overrun you. I’ve seen on Youtube devices where you trick mice to fall into a bucket and you can walk them off into the distance and let them go, but I don’t know. We bait them away from the home, we seal the house, we seal up and cover any possible entry points. We keep them out and run them off as much as possible, but, you know, when they get in there, it’s nasty. They’re rodents.

A pest guy who is not Drew James demonstrates the mouse bucket deal.

But mice are sort of cute, aren’t they? Versus rats? When I think of mice, I think of delicate little fuzzy things that live in a field and come into my home when it’s cold because they’re attracted to the warmth. When I think of rats I think of some greasy thing leaping out at me from a pile of trash on the sidewalk. Rats are worse than mice, right?

Yeah, absolutely. When you think of rats you think of disease. You think of up in New York, some big rat hanging off of a dumpster. Like a two-foot rat. But you really don’t want either one of them.

Have you ever done battle with one of those big kaiju-sized rats? The ultimate test of strength?

No, I can’t say that I have. Although I did recently, just the other day, I trapped a huge groundhog, he was a fat old rascal. I should’ve weighed the cage! He was a big boy, probably the biggest I’ve caught. But we release them, we don’t harm them. We put the cage near wherever they’ve been digging, we like to put some nice vegetables in there. A nice tomato. Tomatoes work great. I’ll break a tomato open so he can see the juice and smell the juice, and toss it on in there for him. That usually gets them, and then we can just go on ahead and remove the groundhog the next day.

I assume that’s a happier reason for a housecall than, like, an evil trunk full of cockroaches. Are cockroaches the nightmare pest, where if you get a new call you do not want it to be about cockroaches?

I can tell you, the toughest are the roaches. Those guys reproduce so quick and they move so fast. They’re tough. You’ve gotta clean those guys out, you can’t mess with them. Those are the pests that are the worst to deal with because they hide, they get in the cracks and crevices and they can be hard to find.

Do you ever talk trash to the roaches when you’re battling them?

I do. I do. Roaches and mice. And spiders as well. I don’t like spiders. They make me, ugh. So I’ll get real aggressive with them.

I find that cockroaches have a satisfying crunch, when you stomp on them. I assume you are not marching around through someone’s home, smashing the cockroaches one at a time. Is there a particularly satisfying non-flattening way of smiting them?

I do have a spray, a knockdown spray that has a punch, if I spray them directly they are gonna fall. It’s called CB-80, it’s an aerosol, if I hit you with it, you’re done. I can spray the cracks and the crevices, the hard-to-reach areas with a gas that will drive them out, I can kill them many different ways. Yeah, I love it. If I have a wasp nest, I can spray the wasp nest directly, and they’ll drop. It has the knockdown power that I like.

Hell yeah. Toof-toof-toofing the cockroaches. What’s the worst infestation that you’ve seen?

It was roaches. A home in Sterling, Virginia. Pretty bad, pretty bad. The kitchen was horrible. Roaches everywhere. When you’d open up the refrigerator you’d see roaches. Dead ones, live ones. You’d pull stuff out and see the guck. Filth everywhere, it’s nothing that you’d want to live with. No condition to live in. We had to go in with a shop-vac. We had to pull everything out, vacuum everything, clean everything, disinfect everything, treat everything. Put the chemical spray down, use IGR everywhere, and just kill everything off. 

What is IGR?

It’s Insect Growth Regulator. It stops the maturation process, so they can’t reproduce anymore. The juveniles you spray can’t reproduce, so when they die off the infestation ends with their generation. It took a couple visits in this case to get rid of everything. We had to do a lot in there. The nice thing is we got the roaches out of there. A victory. We cleaned that up real nice.

Whenever someone learns that you have pests in your house, any pests, the first thing they say is to get a cat. Are cats an effective pest-control system?

Cats are probably the number-one killer! Regular house cats will kill spiders, crickets, silverfish, anything moving they will kill. You’ll see the cat fly across the room and you’re like, “The cat’s crazy!” The cat is probably hunting! The cat might’ve just killed something. They chase mice, they go after and kill everything. So that was good advice.

Have you ever thought about teaming up with some cats? Send in a squad of cats for the dirty work while you fill in the cracks and the various points of egress?

That’s not a bad idea. I live in a neighborhood where I always see cats outside, two or three cats a day out front just running around. And what you don’t see is any mice, whatsoever. Nothing. I’ve been living here for about four years now, and it’s the same cats. They’re a team. 

But you do not have a cat yourself?

No, no cat.

Is that because cats are, in fact, The Competition?

That is another way to think about it!