It's a Living

Dwayne Hartzell works at Total Exterminating in Anaheim

Have you been stung a lot?

Yeah. I'm allergic to bees now. I wasn't before, but your body chemistry changes every seven years, and now I am. I got stung and my system came unglued. My face was all swelled up. I know a guy who got stung, and it hurt so bad he said he'd rather jump off a bridge with a bungee cord tied to his nuts. I fought a raccoon on a roof a while ago. It can be a dangerous business.

What's the worst infestation you've ever seen?

I went to this one-bedroom condo, and a manic-depressive lady lived there with her son. Western had been there, Terminex had been there, but those guys, they're nothing. The place was covered with German roaches—the floors were black with them, you could hardly walk. They were all over the VCR even, because it'd been running and it was warm. There was a cage with a dead animal in the bedroom. I think it'd been a rabbit. When we're facing a job that overwhelming we give them an extra high bid so if we end up having to do it, it's worth our while. She eventually found some guy, a one-man show, and he did the whole thing for like $900, $1200.

Sounds like a bargain.

I called my old manager out to see that place. He couldn't believe it. People will have mazes made from piles of old newspapers. They'll have rooms full of milk cartons. Crazy.

I've heard exterminators sometimes get hate mail from hippies.

We don't get that, but we have to be very discreet when we work at UC Irvine.

The students will confront you?

They'll steal our traps. They think we kill the possums, but we release them into the wild. Possums are protected in California.

How do people generally react to what you do?

A while ago I was talking to a girl at a party, and when she found out what I do, she lost interest. I'm living with a lady now who is very touchy. She figures I'm around pesticides all day, and she doesn't wanna get exposed. She makes me take off my shoes when I get home. I'm not even going on calls anymore. I'm just here in the office . . . and she still does that!

 
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