The Parable of the Exterminator

Once upon a time, a nice lady and her young daughter looked around and noticed that they had accumulated so much stuff that they needed a bigger house. So the lady and the daughter looked around for a very long time trying to find a house that was just right. Finally, after much looking and many disappointments, they found a house that they thought was just right. It was a fine looking house, but unbeknown to them the building inspector had been paid off by the seller, and didn't mention that the house had a bad termite infestation. When the lady and her daughter tried to move into the nice house she had just bought, she saw termites everywhere going about their business of chewing down the house.

The lady ran to the corner pay phone and opened the yellow pages to "Exterminators." The first one she called said he was just too busy to help her, and the termites she had described weren't exactly the kind of termites he knew how to exterminate anyway, so he gave her the name of another exterminator he knew of that was familiar with her particular kind of termites. Even though she didn't really know the first exterminator, she didn't know who else to call for help since all the exterminators she had hired in the past really hadn't done a very good job and didn't seem particularly trustworthy. In desperation she called the second exterminator.

The second exterminator seemed very helpful. He said he knew just what to do, and would get to work right away to help her. He came to the lady's hotel room (she couldn't sleep in the house with all the loud chewing noises going on all night) and discussed the problem with her and her young daughter at some length, had them sign a big legal contract so they would know that he would do his job, and the exterminator would know that he would get paid. Unfortunately, the nice lady and her daughter were so worried about their new house, they didn't think about the danger of agreeing to pay the exterminator (that they really didn't know at all) by the hour when the exterminator didn't put in the contract just exactly how long he would take to exterminate all the termites. Oddly, the exterminator didn't even offer a guarantee that he could actually exterminate the termites. But the nice lady and her daughter were so upset about the termites, and the poor quality of toilet paper in the hotel, that they just signed the contract anyway, thinking that since the exterminator had been in business for a while, and that since he said he could do the job and he had passed the exterminators examination, that it must be all right. The exterminator took his contract, promised to start exterminating right away, and left the hotel.

 A few days later, the lady and her daughter were still living in the hotel, the termites were still eating their house, and the exterminator hadn't been seen or heard from. Finally, after leaving several messages on the exterminator's voice mail, they accidentally caught him without a secretary to make an excuse for him. He told the lady that he had spoken to the termite leader, and the leader had advised him he could only deal with the termite's union rep. The exterminator told the lady that this was the normal practice, and that he had composed and sent out a letter to the termite's representative asking that they leave the house alone, and that they compensate the lady for the damage they had done.

 After a couple more weeks went by and the lady and her daughter were still living in the hotel and the termites were still eating their house, they once again managed to get the exterminator on the phone. He told them that although he had spoken to the termite's representative a few times, and had exchanged a couple of letters with him, that the termites had so far refused to leave her house, and they were not willing to pay for the damage they had so far caused, and were still continuing to cause every day. The exterminator also said that because he was so busy and so tired from all the talking and letter writing, he was going to have to take a vacation -- even though he had not done his job and exterminated the termites. However, since the lady and her daughter really wanted to move into their new house, the exterminator agreed to turn the job over to another exterminator that worked with him so the extermination work could continue while he was on vacation. The new exterminator had never met the nice lady or her daughter, didn't know anything about what was going on with the extermination job, and didn't seem too bright about following instructions, but since the lady and her daughter were really anxious to move into their new house and since they didn't know what else to do, they let the new exterminator go to work.

Another two weeks passed, and still the lady was in the hotel, and still the termites were eating her house. The new exterminator couldn't seem to get anything done right, even though he called the termite's union rep and wrote a couple more letters. The termites were continuing to eat the house and refused to leave. The nice lady and her daughter were beginning to think maybe they had made a mistake in hiring an exterminator that didn't seem to get anything done except talking on the phone and writing letters. Several weeks had gone by and not a single termite had actually been exterminated.

During the next weeks, the termites diligently consumed the nice lady's house, and one or another exterminator talked with and wrote letters to the termite union. But finally, when the house had been chewed to the point where it had actually collapsed, the lady gave up and started looking for a different house -- even though it could never be as special as the house she had first picked out.

During all this time, the nice lady's' husband (where did you think she got a daughter?) had let matters be and stayed pretty much out if it as the lady and her daughter knew what they were doing and were perfectly capably of handling a simple termite problem. But, when the new house collapsed and the lady and her daughter spent all day weeping as they tried to find another house, the husband knew that something had to be done. And, he knew from watching the exterminators and the termite union rep talking back and forth and writing useless letters that trying to do something that way was going to take forever and probably accomplish nothing.

So, the husband spoke directly to the head termite and explained that since the exterminator was costing his wife a lot of money and accomplishing nothing, and since his union rep was wasting a lot of time and money talking and writing back to the exterminator -- which would certainly end up raising his union dues tremendously -- that perhaps it would be best for everyone if the termites left the house alone and the nice lady could move out of the hotel. The head termite thought about this for awhile, and said "I think you are right, but the house is now collapsed. If you will give me three thousand dollars dollars now, and another thousand dollars for the next three months, we termites will put the house back up and let your wife and daughter move in right away." The lady couldn't really afford to pay the termite all that money after paying hotel and restaurant bills for so long while waiting for the exterminator to do his job, but she was in such a desperate situation that she didn't really have any other good choice, so she agreed.

The lady and her daughter were very happy that the house they wanted was finally going to be theirs; the termites quickly got to work and rebuilt the house, and the husband called the exterminator to tell him that he had gone around the union rep and spoken directly to the head termite to work out a deal so he could stop trying to exterminate them. The exterminator was disappointed because he had thought he would be able to talk to the termite union rep and write letters several more times while charging by the hour. But he pretended to be happy so the lady would not be angry and tell someone from the exterminator's union (plus telling all her friends and business acquaintances in the various Chambers of Commerce and professional associations she belonged to) that the exterminator had not done the job he was hired to do, and in fact had made the situation worse and worse until the house had finally fallen down.

One day, after some considerable time had passed, the lady got a letter in the mail from the exterminator. The exterminator had sent her a bill for several thousand dollars, even though he hadn't exterminated a single termite, and he and his fellow exterminators had done nothing except make things worse until the house they were supposed to be protecting had totally collapsed. The lady was very angry, and swore the exterminator wouldn't get a penny for all the talking and letter writing since it actually did more harm than good -- and since the exterminator hadn't even noticed that the house was about to collapse until after it happened.

The exterminator was not happy about this, not happy at all. He advised the lady that the contract he had made her sign (which she thought was to make sure the exterminator did his job and the termites got exterminated) actually said that the exterminator expected to be paid his outrageous fees even though he hadn't managed to exterminate a single termite, and had even gotten some of his other exterminator friends to make most of the calls and write most of the letters to the termite union rep, and even though many of the claims he had made for time spent making calls or writing letters seemed to be very high for someone that had a computer with a word processing program and who supposedly knew how to go about the business of exterminating termites. The exterminator persisted in trying to get the lady to pay his bill (which somehow kept getting larger and larger) by writing letters and threatening to exterminate the lady and her daughter. The lady explained to the exterminator that she didn't feel she should pay him since he actually did more harm than good and hadn't exterminated even a single termite, but the exterminator was persistent. Even after the lady made an offer to settle the bill for what she thought was a fair portion of the time spent that might actually have been useful, the exterminator dunned her mercilessly, neglecting his other extermination jobs so he could try to collect his "money for nothing."

Eventually the exterminator got insistent enough to go to the lady's house and demand that she pay all the money he claimed she owed him. Unfortunately, although the termites were very good at chewing the house until it fell down, they weren't so good at rebuilding it and putting it back up. When the exterminator got to the door and started pounding on it demanding that the lady pay him, the house collapsed again killing the lady and her daughter. Needless to say, the exterminator never got a penny, even after he spent all the extra time writing letters and making calls trying to get the lady to pay him for the job he didn't do.

There are several lessons to be learned from this story. First, never hire an exterminator if you can just go to the hardware store and buy a can of Raid©. Second, never, ever, hire an exterminator that you don't know, or that someone you trust has recommended to you. Third, don't ever sign a contract with an exterminator without reading it very carefully and making sure it protects you as well as the exterminator. Fourth, once the house has collapsed, just let it go and find another one. Fifth, even if you have a contract with someone that says they must pay even if you don't do your job, you should be very careful trying to collect as it may be more expensive than settling it amicably or letting it go.

The end.