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Ready to Do Battle With Cockroaches

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Armed with sticky traps and tubes of poison bait, a team of publicity-savvy pest control company representatives rolled into town Thursday to do battle in Los Angeles--one of the nation’s leading roach-infested markets.

They drove to South-Central Los Angeles, where they parked in front of Kenji Jones’ house, one of this year’s winners in Combat’s annual “Search and Rescue Mission” contest.

“Jones lives under siege,” a release by the San Francisco-based company read. “She can’t eat, sleep or cook without a disruption from roaches. Roaches crawl over her food and have invaded her refrigerator, ice trays in the freezer, coffee machine and washer/dryer. . . . Armies of roaches appear on the walls when company arrive.”

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Jones, 21, who has a 6-month-old child and lives in the house with her mother and grandmother, won a $1,000 prize, a one-year supply of Combat products and a company guarantee to rid her house of the bugs for a year.

Combat’s field scientist Austin Frishman, an entomologist, was flown in from New York to supervise the assault. Glossy press packets were handed out to the media.

Everything went off with military precision, except one thing: Somebody forgot to invite the roaches.

Rather than the thousands the company was anticipating, only a hundred or so were crawling about.

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“Sometimes they come out and embarrass you and sometimes they don’t,” Jones said, shrugging her shoulders. “Roaches are like that.”

It was nothing like the 75,000 roaches the Combat team found at an Atlanta contestant’s house, or the thousand of bugs at the other winners’ homes in Miami, Dallas, San Antonio and Winnsboro, S.C.

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“Well it’s not exactly like an Indiana Jones movie,” admitted Sandra Holbrook, a spokeswoman for Combat, whose skin still crawls at the sight of a bug, despite her travels around the country promoting the company’s products.

“Where are the beasts?” asked a cameraman from a local television station as he walked into the house.

On display were a number of roaches stopped in their tracks on the sticky surfaces of traps. But to see them running free in the wild required a tour of the underworld of the cabinets, sinks, dresser drawers and other furnishings in Jones’ house.

That was Frishman’s job. He pulled out a kitchen cutting board sprinkled with black granules. “That’s not pepper,” said Frishman, calmly directing a flashlight to an area beneath the counter top. “That’s droppings--they are up there.”

Searching other areas of the house, he pointed to likely nesting areas behind pictures in the living room, behind the bedroom headboard and in the bathroom medicine cabinet.

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“It’s not a lot of cockroaches,” said an unimpressed reporter from Brazil. “In my country, we really have cockroaches. This is a commercial.”

Red-faced and at a loss to explain why the house did not meet the standards of infestation, Frishman said the reason may have something to do with the fact that Jones routinely sprays to rid the house of pests. She eliminates 95%, but the remaining 5% comes back, he said. The numbers are low because “she hasn’t given up the fight,” said Frishman. But she hasn’t eliminated the source.

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Frishman showed Jones what to do to avoid the vicious cycle--"the build up, the thrill of the kill and then the eventual build up of roaches again.”

He said taking out the garbage, sealing cracks around plumbing, putting away toothbrushes, and not leaving pet food out all night would cut down the problem.

Changing lifestyles have also added to the problem. Unlike years ago, he said, people ate their meals in the kitchen, but today people eat in front of the television, making the living room and bedrooms key areas for infestation.

“Human behavior favors the cockroach,” he said.

Recent medical studies show that cockroaches have become a major culprit in the spread of asthma and allergies in urban youths.

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It was out of concern for her son that Jones wrote Combat seeking help. “It’s embarrassing when company comes, but I don’t want roaches around my baby,” she said.


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