A few years back, the exterminator who lived down the street asked me out. I’d said hello to him on occasion, the way one does with neighbors in a passing sort of way. And then, one morning, while I was walking my enormous pair of dogs, he took a left turn from the far right lane of our acquaintanceship and veered towards me. Pretending I hadn’t seen him, I crossed the street, but that did nothing to deter him. He was oblivious. He was also missing some teeth. And as he closed in, so too did an aroma reminiscent of ninth grade biology class, the semester we were dissecting frogs. This is not a smell you need to encounter twice in your lifetime.
Trying to smile through my gag reflex, I corralled my dogs as he shuffled ever-closer in his ill-fitting jeans and drawled his opening line in an accent so thick it should have come with subtitles. “Do you live alone?” He leaned in for punctuation. I leaned back.
Was this his idea of a logical segue from our previous conversations about the weather? Before I could even take a breath I shook my head and yelled “NO!” Actually, I did live alone but I couldn’t be too careful. I didn’t know this guy. Maybe he just wanted to invite me over for an innocent beer. But there was always the possibility that he wanted to invite me over and make a suit out of my skin.
“Well…,” he replied looking down at his bright orange trainers, a color even a dead mouse could see at forty paces. I guessed ‘surprise attack’ was not in this exterminator’s handbook. “I just thought we might could have lunch sometime,” he drawled, spittle escaping his lips – a by-product of the missing teeth, I think.
My first reaction was to shout “NO!” again. But instead, I hesitated. Maybe I was being too picky, I chided myself. Who was I to say no to this guy? If I squinted, he almost looked jaunty in his stained trucker ball cap. He was a man wasn’t he? He was breathing. He was upright. And he’d approached me. What more did I want?
Luckily, this detour into madness was followed by the sane realization that this dude who smelled like the inside of a raid can, was not the peanut butter to my Reese’s, so I said, “Uh… well…I have a boyfriend,” which I absolutely did not! But I sounded so convincing I believed it myself for a second.
Before I could say another word, thank God!, my neighbor’s chunky Chihuahua, saved the day by escaping his yard. My girls had a running feud with that dog and thinking this was just the moment to settle the score they gave chase yanking me from the tres awkward encounter.
As my 200 pounds of hound continued to charge ahead, I realized that I had just escaped a moment of lunacy. I’d almost considered going out with some guy who had the breath of a moose and teeth the color of a Burnt Siena Crayola crayon. What was wrong with me? Evidently I had reached a new pinnacle of self-loathing. I hadn’t felt this embarrassed for myself since that time my ex-boyfriend’s cat had left her bowl of wet food half-eaten and I, being on a starvation diet, looked at that bowl and wondered, ‘Is she gonna finish that?’ But in my defense, the exterminator had been the first guy to ask me out in a really long time; we’re talking Game of Thrones, the winter is coming, really long time.
I didn’t think about the exterminator again until the middle of summer when I was faced with the Great Flea Invasion of 2008. Upon finding the little vampires everywhere I immediately Googled fleas, and discovered two things. First of all, when you magnify a flea to 1,000 times its size, it looks just like the creature that bursts out of that guy’s stomach in Alien. Second, those suckers can procreate faster than a couple of born-again virgins on their wedding night. I powdered and sprayed and flea bombed with abandon but after several days the joint was still jumpin’. It was time to call in a professional. And I knew just who I was gonna call.
It wasn’t hard to track down the exterminator as his phone number was painted on the side of his beat-to-shit pickup in what was clearly red house paint.
“This is your neighbor from down the street,” I told him as he answered the phone. “I live in the mint green Victorian with the red door?” He said nothing but I could hear him breathing so I went on. “You remember,” I said, praying to God he didn’t. “You asked me out?”
“I only asked you to lunch,” he whined.
Crap, I thought. He remembered! Still wishing for subtitles, I pressed on. “My house has been overtaken by fleas. I was wondering if you might be able to come by and, you know, exterminate them?”
“Sure,” he said. “I can come tomorrow. I’ll even give you the neighbor discount.” I was afraid to ask what that meant.
The next day, the exterminator drove the 300 yards from his house to mine in his Bondoed blue pickup, a large opaque, plastic barrel fitted with a thin, green hose perched in the well, his liquid, lethal-tender sloshing with abandon inside. He lumbered from the cab, pulled the hose into place and as he began to spray the perimeter of my house, with abandon and without a face mask, I wondered how many brain cells this guy could possibly have left. He began to regale me with a host of fun fumigation facts and I could tell he was really trying to impress me when he began to explain the life-cycle of the flea, like he was the Stephen Hawking of the Exterminator set. But all I could think about was that old TV commercial where this Raid can comes slamming down on top of a cartoon ant while the voiceover reverberates: “KILLS. BUGS. DEAD.”
The fleas met their maker that day and the exterminator was, once again, just a distant memory. I noticed he’d taken up with a woman who, interestingly enough had about as many teeth as he did and I thought how true it is that there’s a lid for every pot. And then, one cold, windy November night, I was driving home and as I rounded my corner I narrowly escaped a head on collision with a slew of fire trucks, police cars and ambulances. As I pulled up to my house I could hear raised voices coming from the exterminator’s and there he was, standing on his porch holding a shotgun, a dead man at his feet, screaming at the police at the top of his lungs and gesticulating wildly.
My neighbors came running towards me, frantically shouting that the exterminator had shot his girlfriend’s gang-banger brother, supposedly in self-defense. Everyone was freaked out and shaken to their core and we stood in the chilly evening breeze trying to make sense of it all and clinging to one another for warmth and reassurance. And in that moment, three thoughts ran abreast through my horror-stricken mind. First of all, someone had been shot to death just three doors from my own. Second, not only did I know the guy who’d pulled the trigger but he had asked me out! And last, but certainly not least, I thought, Damn! I miss all the good ones!