A story of survival with self-quarantine and driveway camping
“I don’t have a coverall to go into the crawl space,” said the technician.
He said that with a straight face too. I was watching him closely.
You may not think much of it, except, he was the one the extermination company, let’s call X, sent precisely to deal with our situation. A stinky one at that.
I mean it literally. The stink in the air was unmistakable. However, it was building for a few days and it took my wife and me a couple of days to make sure it was reason enough to call X.
We put through the call on a Friday. Big mistake. Extermination needs are supposed to arise just on weekdays, during working hours. How dare we hope for prompt service when all the overworked technicians were more than ready to throw in the towel on the work week and were dreaming of a cold beer to ring in the weekend!
We got graciously pencilled in for a visit by the gentleman who stood in front of us. Not on the Friday when we called, but on Saturday, in the afternoon. In the meantime, the stink was getting meaner.
At the point when the technician declared his inability to visit our crawl space, we got into a staring contest. He was hoping for a quick and easy resolution where we’d excuse him and he could go his merry way home. And we were incredulous at his preposterous declaration and were also waiting for a resolution that would make him relent.
The silence was deafening and seemed interminable.
We won that battle in the end (the war was another matter). He mumbled something to the effect that he’d try and find a dirty coverall from a previous job and go down to take a look. He vanished for a few minutes and returned, clad in a coverall. The garment didn’t look dirty!
We were relieved to have someone finally go into that crawl space and get rid of that pesky rodent that was stinking up the place. We were sure that our problems would be solved in a matter of a few minutes, once the technician went under there.
Little did we know.
Literally a couple of minutes were all it took for him to resurface, but with no gift in hand. We learned why.
“I can’t go through your crawl space. I’m too big,” was his report. Again, he was very sincere and apologetic. He went on to explain, “You have some duct work down there. I can’t get under them. I’m too big. We need to have a skinny person go through the space.”
Now, what are the chances that X would send someone matching the body size requirements on a Saturday evening when this determination was made around 5pm? Our hearts sank. But we put up a brave face and tried to appeal to his sensibility.
Our technician, let me call him Mr. Too Big, was a master of apologies. He profusely expressed how sorry he was, all the while reinforcing the idea that the best we can hope for was attention by the company on Monday. To prevent our despair in his presence, Mr. Too Big threw in a last ditch hope: he could try and see if one last technician still on duty could swing by and take care of us on that Saturday evening.
A few minutes later, he came back and reported that he had made contact with that lone technician, let’s say Mr. Phantom (we never saw him). Mr. Phantom would come by if he could. Mr. Too Big also said that he had arranged for a follow up appointment on Monday by another technician. And then he split.
A few minutes later, we got email notification that the service call was complete. Panicked, I texted Mr. Too Big who then assured me that’s how the business protocol worked!
Later in the evening, when I tried to communicate with him about Mr. Phantom, I discovered that Mr. Too Big had turned his phone off for the weekend.
Needless to say, we never saw Mr. Phantom on Saturday.
Between Saturday and Monday, the stink had a field day, and was starting to permeate the whole house. The saving grace was that the bedrooms were still odor-free and we quickly sealed them off with their doors shut to keep them that way.
Mid-day Monday, another technician came by to investigate. He came properly equipped, and went into the crawl space as we would expect. A little while later, he came back up, empty-handed.
“I found no dead rodent down there. But I found rat infestation with a lot of droppings,” was his report. His recommendation was to sign up for a special service to rodent-proof the house, with a 10-year warranty. No short-term solution for the problem at hand.
Since the stench was the most in the kitchen, we had him scrutinize that area as well. He spotted some droppings and found some hair.
He asked, “Do you have pets?”
“We don’t have pets, but our cousin’s dog had visited us a year ago for a few days.”
The technician was satisfied. “That can explain it.”
He found no other evidence of any dead rodent in the kitchen.
When I pressed him to take care of the problem rather than talk about it, he was visibly surprised. He offered, “I am an inspector. I diagnose the issue and propose a solution, but the actual work is done by a specialist.” Mr. Inspector’s solution? Purchase of the (expensive) service.
His persuasive argument? There was an infestation of rodents in the crawl space. Finding and removing one rodent was not going to fix it. We needed to seal the house and the (expensive) service would include vacuuming of all the droppings in the crawl space to give it a fresh start. And we were so lucky…we could have a technician come by and take care of it first thing in the morning the next day, Tuesday. These slots are normally not so quickly available.
We were at our wits’ end, and of course thought the mental peace was worth it, so we signed on to that (expensive) service. Chalk it up to clever salesmanship. It worked. We lost the war.
As it became clear that the trouble spot was likely the kitchen and not the crawl space, and the stench was becoming unbearable, we had stopped cooking altogether and would self-quarantine ourselves in our bedrooms. When meal time arrived, we would hold our nose and dash out the side door that minimized our exposure to the odor, and drive the van over to a take-out place of our choice. With COVID-19 hanging over our heads, no sit down meals anywhere either. We would drive back home, park the van in our driveway, and consume our food, sitting in the van! Camping in our own driveway! Then, of course, we’d dash back into a bedroom.
Just as we were consoling ourselves that the ordeal would at least be over on Tuesday, Monday evening handed the bombshell: X had a mix-up with their appointment calendar and the specialist technician could only come on Wednesday, not Tuesday. Our only choices were to accept the new appointment or cancel the whole deal.
Guess which option won? One more day of eating out, COVID-style.
The False Hope
Surprises never cease. Tuesday morning brought us a phone call from an X technician—I’ll call him Mr. Tuesday—who said he would be seeing us soon. Excited, we got into a dialog and pretty soon got very confused.
Each of us didn’t understand what the other was saying. In the end, he excused himself, checked with X, and got back with the finding. “I will NOT be seeing you soon,” was his witty retort and explained that yet another snafu at X caused him to contact us.
Wednesday was our day.
Wednesday brought in a breath of fresh air. No, not literally in our kitchen. Arriving earlier than the appointed time (how often does that happen!), the specialist technician, Mr. Fixer, got down to business. He went around, sealed off all rodent access points, and went into the crawl space to remove the dead animal.
Guess what! He emerged empty handed as well. No rodents in the crawl space.
No vacuuming of droppings either, because vacuuming only applies to droppings on the concrete blocks supporting the house; not the dirt. He was also surprised that he didn’t find the infestation reported by the inspector. Just a few droppings here and there.
Not finding anything, he was all set to leave! It didn’t make sense. I recalled Mr. Inspector’s vacillation and asked Mr. Fixer to look under the range for droppings and hair. He lay down on the floor and shone his flashlight under the range to take a peek.
That’s when I saw it.
The sparkle. The excitement of discovery. The mirth of diagnosis. “This is it,” he declared!
I was trying to recount Mr. Inspector’s uncertainty about what it could be.
“Nope, this is rat hair,” asserted Mr. Fixer. I could have never imagined how pleased I would be to find rat’s hair in our kitchen!
With a little effort, he pulled out the range from its housing. There was no sign of the rat! Sure there were droppings, and even hair, but no rat!
Mr. Fixer was visibly stumped. The back of the range was neatly sealed with metallic panels. It was designed to be pushed flush against the wall.
He started shining his flashlight into the teeny holes on the panels. Bingo! A rat was spotted inside the back panel. Mr. Fixer needed to run back to his truck to retrieve a special socket to unscrew the back panel to expose the innards and there he was, Mr. Rat!
When Mr. Fixer grabbed the carcass by the tail and gingerly dislodged it from its resting spot and dangled it in the air, I could see the rat’s eyes, face, and the whole lifeless body.
The rat got into a tight spot and couldn’t get itself out. It basically starved to death.
The real question is, how did it get there in the first place? Neither Mr. Fixer nor I could figure it out. I still don’t know.
Trapped it was, and trapped we were too.
Trapped, we felt when we couldn’t use most of our house and needed to quarantine ourselves in our bedrooms. Trapped, we felt when we had to eat in our van. But the feeling of a different trap slowly took shape in my mind.
I was running the whole experience through my mental video. Starting with our first call to X, it was mind boggling to realize how far we needed to go to get this resolved. Mr. Friday (the agent who set up the appointment for Mr. Too Big to show up the next day), Mr. Too Big, Mr. Phantom, Mr. Inspector, Mr. Tuesday, and finally, Mr. Fixer each played a role in shaping this journey.
Strangely, the one person, Mr. Inspector, who engineered the expensive solution, left me with a sense of feeling trapped.
As a marketer myself, I understand the perils of questionable marketing. Revelations from Mr. Fixer gave me pause.
The amount of droppings in the crawl space and the conclusion of a rat infestation there may have been exaggerated by Mr. Inspector.
The benefits of the expensive service agreement, as applicable to us, may have been played up. Mr. Fixer found nothing that could be vacuumed out from the crawl space, yet Mr. Inspector presented vacuuming out the droppings and having a clean start as one of the benefits for us.
Urgency is a big part of marketing, and I wonder if ‘availability’ of a slot first thing in the morning on Tuesday was a ploy to egg us to sign up for the service on Monday.
We’d never know for sure.
Do you think we were trapped?