Natural Born Killer

at 11:35 PM

Victor kills for a living. His victims number in the thousands. And when he was in my classroom doing his deadly work, my students were fascinated. "How do you catch a mouse?" one asked.

Yes, Victor is an exterminator. Didn't set out to be one.  Victor's family -- and he traces his line back to slavery -- always worked around animals. He was a gardener 35 years ago when he heard a pest control company was hiring for good wages. He has been a professional killer ever since.

Not all Victor's victims have gone quietly. He has been sniffed by skunks, hissed at by snakes. He has trapped raccoons, possums and one furious fox. He has found scorpions in his shoes, been stung by wasps, and once -- very carefully -- removed a porcupine, just part of a day's work.

And as my 4th graders watched Victor check for ants, I recognized a teachable moment. I let them close their story books and listen to Victor's real-life stories.

In his baritone voice, he told about the mouse living in the Bentley car, eating the leather upholstery, sleeping in the soft stuffing. He told about that fancy downtown restaurant that called him to inspect their basement, boarded off for 50 years. Descending the stairs, shining his flashlight, he found every surface covered with scuttling rats with passersby on the sunny street above oblivious to the parallel rodent universe not 10 feet below.

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"It's an adventure every day," he said.

The kids asked him if he feels bad killing animals. "I respect all creatures," he told them. "There is a place for everything in nature. We are all children of God."  He meant it, too. He removes rats all day but loves the squirrels in his yard, feeding them walnuts. And he stops every morning to feed stray cats.

When kids asked what was the most dangerous animal he ever encountered, he didn't hesitate. "People," he said, "People are the worst pest there ever was. They cause more harm than any other pest on the planet."

He finished placing his ant traps and left. The kids sat thoughtfully, more quiet than they'd been in a long time.

Sometimes the best moments in a classroom aren't planned, and the best stories aren't in books. And sometimes the best teachers aren't teachers at all. They may even kill for a living.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

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