Pest auditor leads life of danger

Wednesday, April 8, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Don't call him a bugman. Or an exterminator.

Joe Brock prefers "pest auditor."

"I hate those other names," he said, chomping on a french fry. And with that, he settled into his "Lunch with Cliff." That's where I treat and people tell me what's on their minds.

The place Joe picked to eat and chat was his regular haunt, the Queensgate Frisch's.

"I'm just a working stiff," he said, devouring another french fry. "Been working all my life."

Joe usually eats alone, pest auditors being a solitary lot.

So he uses his lunch time to relax. "I need it. I lead a life of danger."

At first, I thought Joe had inhaled too much bug spray. But then I got to thinking about his job. Rats and mice carry deadly diseases. Wasps and yellow jackets can sting you into the hereafter. Bug sprays are so lethal they can exterminate the exterminator, er, pest auditor. "I don't use those sprays anymore," Joe noted. "The pest-control industry is moving into baits and traps, keeping things clean and keeping the pests out.

"I used to use insecticides," he admitted. "Fourteen years ago, when I got into the business, everybody did. That's when I was a pest control technician, a spray jockey."

While he relaxes, Joe also reflects. The 42-year-old Los Angeles native -- "my parents moved back here when I was 12" -- reads newspapers and wonders where Cincinnati's headed.

"This is such a two-lane, go-slow town," Joe said. He meant that both literally and figuratively.

"Detroit -- where I recently worked for a month -- would never let a street like Colerain be just four lanes. It would be six or eight lanes and have a divider down the middle. Traffic would really move. In Detroit, everybody wants to get everywhere in a hurry.

"But in Cincinnati, everybody wants to go slow. Be cautious. We debate about everything. It's taken forever to decide where to put the two new stadiums. That's crazy."

Saying that, he scanned the restaurant's dining room. Seconds later, his jaw dropped.

"Hey!' he exclaimed. "There's Mike Brown!"

Indeed it was. The Bengals' potentate sat at an adjoining booth. Joe shot him a two-thumbs up salute. Mike waved.

"Way to go, Mike!" Joe called out. "Glad you're getting that stadium."

Mike Brown returned his salute with a slightly embarrassed grin from the Charlie Brown school of uncomfortable facial expressions. "Imagine that," Joe said in a surprised whisper. "Mike Brown eating in Frisch's.

"He looks more like a Morton's of Chicago man."

Joe Brock is a fast food of Cincinnati guy. He often eats where he works.

"I've gained 30 pounds since I've been in this business," he said. He'll go into a restaurant to see what's crawling around. "I even check their garbage dumps. When I'm finished, someone always offers me dessert."

Joe knows his job gives some people the creeps. He thinks about this often at lunch. He goes over in his mind how people whisper around him, as if he's Dr. Death.

He whispers right back. In a calm quiet voice, he says, "I'm like you're favorite uncle. Do what I say, and I will help you." That line's going to be repeated often this summer. Joe figures "with the stupid winter we had and the cold weather we didn't get, summer is going to be bad. I've already seen wasps and hornets. They're two months early. Termites will be really bad, too.

"But," he added, gleefully rubbing his hands together, "it's going to be a stellar year for us."

To Joe, killing is his life. "This is not a job," he said. "It's a career.

"You're always on the hunt. And you can't be afraid.

"I've had other jobs. But this one's exciting. I don't know if I love it. But I like it a lot."

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.