The upper-middle-class house was spotless. Newly inhabited by a professional couple and their young daughter in Long Island, N.Y., it was an unlikely place to find German cockroaches (Blattella germanica). Yet, here and there, one would show up.
The husband motioned with his thumb and remarked, “They’re coming from over there.”
I looked out the window in the direction he was pointing, at a house roughly 100 ft. away.
“Well, I suppose anything is possible,” I replied. “But I really doubt it. It’s kind of far away, and your neighbor would have to have some major cockroach problem for them to be showing up over here.”
That’s when he sidled up next to me and began to talk confidentially: “They’re kind of nuts over there. I think they’ve got some issues.”
A month later, the spotless homeowners are on the phone pleading for me to come over right away. They now have more German cockroaches showing up, and in different areas of their home.
They are also certain the problem is coming from their neighbor’s house.
The house next door looked like most houses on the block: Reasonably well kept, but with a bit of clutter on the front porch. I climbed the porch steps and knocked on the door. A middle-aged man answered the door, and we began to chat. While I don’t remember how I conned my way inside, I was invited in.
That in itself might have been my greatest sales close. I suspect I was the first outsider admitted into the home in years.
The dwelling was owned by an 89-year-old gentleman who spent most of his time in bed. Two adult daughters and a son-in-law lived there with him, and it was evident they each had disabilities of their own.
The son-in-law led me inside, then wandered off to leave me to inspect the premises. As I walked around, I began to realize why German cockroaches were seen in the house next door.
Spider webs hung from the ceiling 2 to 3 ft. deep. It looked like something you might see in a horror movie. Dead German cockroaches filled the webs.
The kitchen was literally moving. Worse, it was a hoarder situation, with items stacked on tables, chairs, counters, floors, sink, and even appliances. Garbage was everywhere. The refrigerator apparently stopped working years ago and was unplugged, but never emptied. The food inside was so old it ceased to smell; it just turned black from age.
The bathroom was stacked with clothes from tub to wall. Living areas were similar, with piles of clothing, garbage, debris and cockroaches everywhere. I felt a crunch-crunch under each footstep.
It was the kind of house that would send an average person screaming into the street. But not me. After all, I’m a pest management professional (PMP). I’m used to seeing all sorts of weird stuff, like hordes of blood-sucking mosquitoes biting the tellers at a bank branch.
Instead, I told the son-in-law I was going to help his family with their cockroach problem. He very politely thanked me and agreed it was time to do something. But he was concerned about cost.
He was barely getting by working at a minimum-wage job, and he was the only one working in the household. When I learned of this, I donated my service.
One lesson to be learned here is that you must take each home individually. There was significant contrast between the two families living next door to each other in a relatively upscale neighborhood. The family with the ultra-clean home would have been knocked flat if they saw the conditions in the house right next door to them. While they suspected a problem, they never knew how serious the situation was next door.
My story concludes with a reasonable level of success. I was able to achieve a large measure of control in the house, which lends credence to the claim that you can rid a dwelling of German cockroaches, even with a sanitation problem in the dead of summer.
Contributor Robert Hieney is the Midwest regional technical manager for B&G Equipment Co./Curtis Dynafog, Jackson, Ga. From 1989 to 2002, he owned Ants & Things Pest Control, Long Island, N.Y. He can be reached at email@example.com.