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99-year-old bedbug expert has ideas on how to deal with pigeons, too

Updated: March 2, 2013 7:31AM

If Chicago aldermen are serious about ridding the city of bedbugs, they ought to consider consulting with Anna Easter, proprietor of N&L Pest Control in West Humboldt Park.

I can’t promise them Anna is the city’s most knowledgeable pest-control expert, but at four months shy of her 100th birthday, I’m fairly sure she’s the oldest active member of her profession here — and has outlived quite a few more bedbugs than her competitors as well.

Plus, Anna has some ideas about how to deal with the pigeon problem, too.

My thoughts immediately turned to Anna on Tuesday when I read reporter Fran Spielman’s online account of how the City Council is considering tough new measures for landlords, hotels and businesses to deal with a growing bedbug problem that has been called an epidemic.

What caught my eye in particular was an assertion by Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th), a former deputy buildings commissioner, that bedbugs are “difficult to detect during the daytime, normal working hours,” when most city inspectors are doing their inspecting.

How about it, Anna? Could that be true? Do you really have to wait until after dark to find the bedbugs, or are the inspectors making excuses?

Anna paused to consider this a moment. At first, I was afraid she hadn’t heard the question. Her hearing isn’t what it used to be, and she had insisted I drive out to see her in person so she could read my lips.

Then her assistant Mary offered helpfully that wasn’t it true that bedbugs only come out at night to feed after people go to bed.

“They don’t say it’s ten o’clock at night. Time to go,” Anna corrected her. “They’ll feed when they’re hungry.”

Anna did allow that bedbugs can be difficult for a layman to spot any time of day, maybe even for a city inspector.

“It might be impossible for a homeowner to find them. They hide in cracks,” Anna explained, pulling out a drawing of a typical bedroom to show all the places bedbugs might be hiding.

“There’s a sweet odor. If you go into a bedroom infested by bedbugs, you can smell it,” she said.

It’s the odor of human blood, Anna said.

“It’s not a bad odor,” she added.

If I’m making you itch just reading this, I’m sorry. I get that way, too, but it’ll pass.

As you might guess, Anna doesn’t go out on exterminating calls at this point in her life. In fact, her business just sells pest-control products to professionals and do-it-yourselfers.

For service calls, Anna can refer you to either of two sons who have exterminating businesses of their own. But she’s not giving up a sale that easily.

“If you do it yourself, you’ll save $200 to $300,” she suggested.

Anna didn’t get into pest control until she was 62, when another son died and she took over his business. Before then, she had worked at Continental Bank.

She keeps boxes of bedbug-eradicating chemicals stacked in the rear of the store, nearby many of the collectible items that Anna has accumulated for what used to be her adjoining business, Anna’s Attic, which she considers more of a museum at this juncture.

Her collections include 3,000 sheets of piano music.

“I can play anything. Just ask me,” Anna offers.

Anna is a bit of a character, in case I’m not making it clear, and a charming one at that. Harry Porterfield once featured Anna as “someone you should know,” and I second the notion.

We met a year or so ago when she was concerned about the slow pace of a road construction project in front of her store. I paid her a visit. We ended up talking about bedbugs.

This time we ended up talking about pigeons. As a loyal Chicago Sun-Times reader, Anna was familiar with the story of Ald. James Cappleman (46th) and his controversial efforts to rid his ward of pigeons.

Anna has some ideas about reducing the pigeon population more humanely than allowing Indiana hunters to use them for target practice, but she admits she’s not entirely sure whether her “birth control method” is permissible — another reason to get her together with the aldermen.

Anna noted that bedbugs are a cyclical problem, and that as a child her mother taught her to rub baby powder on her wrists and ankles to ward off the pests and to wash bed linens with vinegar.

“I’m not sure I should let you give away our secrets,” she said with a laugh.

Maybe just this once.

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