I always knew you had to be a character to work in a field like pest control. But when our bugman showed up recently to take care of a nagging ant problem, I was reminded of just how singular folks in the profession can be.
He was stocky, with a blond ponytail tucked up neatly under an official-looking blue cap. His eyes were a lighter shade of the same color, and his skin was ruddy. He was late to our house because of some problems with an earlier call in Carrboro (we didn't press him for details), but he arrived full of energy and chat. After spraying outside and laying some gooey-looking traps inside, he hung out for a good while under the whirr of our living-room ceiling fan, talking and telling tales.
This summer's rains apparently caused a population explosion among the creepy crawlers in the Triangle. We heard about a spot under someone's porch that's become a virtual Lower East Side of brown recluse spiders. About copperheads and fire ants and which hospital to race to in the event of a bite. (Duke is our bugman's crisis center of choice, though he warned that no hospital has a generous supply of antidote to the deadly spider venom).
He was quick to point out that pests are not solely a problem for neighborhoods full of older houses like ours. Fire ants, for example, are an unadvertised feature of many of the region's fancy new developments because of all the dirt that's been moved around during construction. He said the fighting red ants are also common on the playgrounds of newly-built schools.
His parting tale involved a Wake County customer who'd found a snake in his drainage system. The bugman dutifully pulled a menacing-looking, but harmless, black snake out of the pipes and was taking it out to the woods in back of the house. Unfortunately, the customer had hoped for a more aggressive remedy. He pitched a fit when the bugman refused to kill the snake on the spot ("I mean, that critter was helping me do my job."). In the end, the homeowner called a nearby relative who came roaring up the drive, hauled out a shotgun and plugged the poor reptile between the eyes.
We all sat silent for a moment, shaking our heads at the contrariness of life in our teeming climate. Then, the bugman took off his cap, wiped his brow and headed out the door to his next call.