Bugged!

Ever wanted to rub out every single insect in your home? Rent a tent!

"We did a two-story, four-block-long apartment building on 95th Street," Weinberg chimes in. "St. Patrick's Church on the Beach. We've done a lot of big jobs." He produces a handful of Polaroids of Guarantee crews swarming over the Carlyle Hotel on Ocean Drive. "This is a job we did on the Beach," he narrates. "Really big job. Needed a cherry picker or a crane. Dangerous stuff. Our insurance company don't want me to do that kind of job any more. Yeah, that was the Carlyle. And I never got paid for that job. I got stuck on that job. Remember this guy who was buying up a lot of hotels right as the Art Deco district cranked up? He bought like four or five hotels and then he went bankrupt? He owned the Carlyle. He owned the Cardozo. Stiffed everybody."

Once termites have been discovered and an estimate agreed to, Guarantee supplies homeowners with a list of house-preparation requirements. They range from the common-sensical ("All people must leave") to the less obvious ("Remove all mattresses and pillows with waterproof covers such as 'can't wet' mattresses for infants and sickrooms; if the waterproof cover is removable, it is only necessary to remove the cover"). Once a tenting has been scheduled and the homeowner's preparations completed, the actual setting up of the tent takes a little less than an hour. That's followed by a visit from a licensed fumigator such as Dominguez, who inspects the property one last time. Then he turns on the gas.

Weinberg, who rules his empire from behind a cluttered desk in a functional wood- and cork-paneled North Miami office, speaks in an unhurried monotone that occasionally calls to mind actor Walter Matthau. Sixtyish and balding on top with white hair along the sides, Weinberg sizes up visitors through hooded but discerning light blue eyes. His manner is polite but no-nonsense. In his left shirt pocket -- close to his heart -- he carries an unusual pen. It looks like a normal ballpoint, except that it's inscribed with the Vikane gas logo and contains an inch-long plastic tube half-filled with real termite pellets.

Photos of Weinberg's family vie for wall space with snapshots of tented buildings and certificates and citations from the Florida Pest Control Association, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Structural Pest Control Board, and the Vikane Gas Fumigation Seminar. Clearly, Larry Weinberg takes pest control very seriously.

"I try to train my people not to say tenting is gonna kill everything," Weinberg cautions. "For the most part, Vikane does kill everything. Rats it'll kill. Cats it'll kill. But insects are another story. It doesn't take much of this gas to kill a rat or a mouse or a cat or a dog, but insects are different. I mean, if you have a nest of carpenter ants, the gas could kill 90 percent of them and they'll be layin' around dead. But there might be 10 percent of them still walkin' around. That's Vikane. Now, if you use methyl bromide, you'll probably get a better kill, but they're phasing that out because the EPA says it causes damage to the ozone layer. They're going to stop making it after the year 2000. Everybody's pretty much going with Vikane now.

"So what we tell people is that the gas is designed to kill termites," the veteran bug battler asserts. "Because there's no residual, the other bugs -- ants, palmetto bugs -- can come right back in the minute the tent comes down. Just like the people can come back in."

Still, the perception lingers that tenting a house is the pest-control equivalent of dropping the H-bomb. According to Dominguez, although the gas disperses quickly and there are no lingering zapping vapors once the tent is removed, the Vikane dispenses with more than just termites. "We sometimes find thousands of roaches," he says, describing fumigation's aftermath. "You can get rid of roaches for much cheaper, but the Vikane will pretty much kill whatever's in there. The most common thing we find after a tent is removed are carpenter ants. Recently we did a house in North Miami Beach and the entire perimeter of the house was covered with dead carpenter ants. They [the homeowners] didn't even know they had them. You could pick them up with a shovel."

And that's not all. "When you take the tent off, you never find dead termites [because they remain where they expire -- inside their tunnels in the wood]," Dominguez explains. "But once in Davie I found a nest of about 35 dead scorpions."

Both Dominguez and his boss have a warning for pet owners considering fumigation: Round up tabby well in advance of the exterminator's visit. "I fumigated this house one time and this lady had a bunch of cats she was feeding," Weinberg recalls. "The house was on piers, these little posts. Three days after we fumigated, she calls to complain about an odor. There was like 20 dead cats under there. I couldn't stand the smell. I started to gag. I had to run out into the street to breathe."

"I tell homeowners to secure their pets the day before we arrive," says Dominguez. "Especially cats. Once we arrive, they go crazy. Sometimes even the homeowners can't find them. If the family says, 'Well, I think my cat's outside,' forget it. In a case like that, I'll stop the process if there's any question."

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