Q: How did you become a pest control salesman?
A: I was in Alaska and I called my buddy who was in California, and he told me he was doing a job as a door to door salesman. He told me to come join him, so I did.
The company put us up in this small apartment complex in Thousand Oaks. They gave us like a $500 stipend, which was like a loan until we could pay it back. And the apartment, utilities, and cable were all paid for. The place was really nice too—it had like two gyms, two pools—it was posh. I almost felt like I ripped them off.
All of the people I lived with were devout Mormons. I’m not Mormon, I’m not religious, I’m nothing. It was like one giant social experiment. I learned a shitload about Mormons. This company recruited Mormons through the wazoo. Mormons are born and bred salesmen—once you’ve sold religion, pest control is nothing.
Anyway I didn’t know what to expect. I shared a room with my buddy—with Mitch. Mitch dropped out two weeks later though.
Q: So what kind of thing did you do on a daily basis?
A: First thing we do, we drive to Chatsworth, like 45 minutes away. I live in a small town that is like 18 miles of road, so driving 45 minutes just seems fucking insane to me.
You knock on doors till noon, and then start again at 4:30 when people are coming home from work. You knock till around 8.
Q: How did you know where you were going to sell each day?
A: The team leaders had map books and they would mark off the areas where we should go. They give you each an area and then we knocked alone.
Q: What did the bosses do all day?
A: My main boss, I think he chilled at home all day.
There’s the potential to make a lot of money—like 30 or 40 grand in a summer. My boss made 80 grand.
You try to attach people to these yearly contracts and that’s where you make the money.
We had this other sleazebag boss who told us how to improve our sales, but it basically consisted of him telling us how great he had done the summer before.
Q: So what’s your spiel when someone answers the door?
A: Basically you open and close with a lie. Like, “Hi, I’m a pest control inspector and we’re working on your neighbor’s yard, and they have lots of ants or black widows…”
Q: Which is a lie? What if they ask you which neighbor?
A: You say, “Oh, Dave Johnson down the road,” unless you actually have contracts from the neighbor in your hand.
Q: Are the Mormons allowed to lie?
A: They can’t have caffeine and can’t watch R-rated movies but they didn’t have problems throwing down a few.
Q: And what qualified you to be a pest control inspector?
A: You’re gonna love this. You have to take a class, a one-day class where you had to identify bugs.
They give you a little certification card and everything. In California you’re not legally allowed to identify bugs unless you have this card.
Q: Do you remember the names of any of the bugs?
A: Oh man… lots of ants… carpenter ants, red carpenter ants, Spanish flies… Oh wait, that’s like a male aphrodisiac or something. Scratch that. Umm… cockroaches, black widows…
Q: Aren’t black widows dangerous?
A: Oh, people are vindictive as hell. There are people who just want to fuck with you. They’ll show you a black widow’s nest, like come on in, look at this…
I can spot back widows a mile away. There is no pattern to their web and once in a while one will crawl up your leg and bite you.
Q: Can’t they kill you if they bite you?
A: I think if they bite you close to your heart or something. But you can get it treated. It happened to me twice over the summer.
Q: What did you do?
A: You’re like, “Bye, I gotta go.” Then I call my boss, he comes to pick me up and I gotta go to the hospital.
Q: Ok, so you knock on someone’s door and they let you in.
A: Unless you’re an attractive female they won’t let you in. You always stay on the front porch.
I’ll look around the doorway to see if I can spot a trail of ants, or a gecko floating around is a good indicator that there’s lots of bugs around.
Everyone has an ant problem in California. California is one big anthill.
A: It’s absolutely true—it’s an anthill. That was always a big selling point.
If I found somebody who had cockroaches I was set—nobody fucking likes cockroaches. My catchphrase pretty much used to be, “If someone tells me they have cockroaches, I’ve already made the sale.”
Anyway, ninety nine out of a hundred people tell you to get lost. If I ever met people and they said, “Describe your job,” I would say, “I’m the guy whose door you’re slamming in his face.”
Rejection was my constant companion. But I was never afraid to ask a girl for a date again.
Q: This sounds depressing.
A: Yeah, there were like thirty people at the beginning of summer and seventeen at the end. It takes a LOT of will power to keep doing it. Sometimes my buddies and I would always just take off and drive to the beach…
Q: So if someone said yes to your services, did you have the pesticides strapped to your back and then you started spraying or something?
A: No, we’re just salesmen. We carry a clipboard of information and a pen and wear our company shirts.
Q: Did people ever do anything meaner than just slamming the door?
A: One old man called the cops on me.
Q: Why? What did you do?
A: In Simi Valley you had to have a solicitor’s license to sell door-to-door but our boss would send us anyway. Sometimes people there would ask us for our license and if we didn’t have one they’d call the cops.
The same cop picked me up three or four times. His name was Dean—I got to know him on a first name basis. He’d drive me to the city limits and drop me off.
Q: Did he put handcuffs on you?
A: The first time he cuffed me, straight up. But no prosecutor would take that case. The second or third time he was like, “Get in the back.”
Q: I don’t think I’ve ever been in the back of a cop car.
A: Oh man, those seats were as uncomfortable as you can get. They were like these molded plastic seats—like elementary school plastic seats. And there was the fence in front, and of course you can’t open the back doors from the inside.
Q: The more you describe this whole thing, the more I think maybe I signed up for this kind of thing a few years ago. And now I feel like a bit of an idiot.
A: Well you are giving people a service but you are also lying to them. It’s really the same service no matter who you call though. The chemicals are all the same.
If it makes you feel better, it made me feel bad. I mean, I’m not THAT guy. I did it for the summer but in September I didn’t want to continue so I packed up and went home.