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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rat Patrol


According to a USA Today report, a New Mexico man rendered himself homeless after catching a live mouse in his house, taking it outside, and tossing it on a pile of burning leaves. The mouse, engulfed in flames, ran back inside, ignited the curtains and burned the house down. Sad story, but a great opening sequence for The Simpsons. D’oh!

Rodents, I’ve been told, are not indicative of an unkempt household, but rather, a sign of winter. They come inside to stay warm. Since this is the case, I am not ashamed to admit that every winter I get a rat-or-twoie in my attic crawlspace. I don’t know where these rats reside the rest of the year, but since their appearance always coincides with tourist season, I have concluded that they come from Quebec.

The first time I was awoken by the undeniable scratching of rat claws in the ceiling was four years ago, and I did the logical thing any studly, fearless man would do: I called an exterminator. When I was told their “Roof Rat Eradication Program” fee started at $500, I was reluctantly forced to take matters into my own squeamish, eek-a-mouse, hands.

Roof rats, the species I harbor, get into your house through (duh) the roof. So I searched and plugged every possible clandestine entrance place, but this improved nothing. Rodents are smarter than I am. Stuart Little, if you recall, could even drive a car. So I bravely crawled up into the musty attic and tossed around some packets of rat poison.

Don’t do this.

Rats eat the poison and then hemorrhage to death. We would prefer that they, like children eating ice cream cones, go outside to do that. Instead, they sometimes they just die right there on the ceiling, and in addition to stinking, they can also leave a stain up there that’s similar to a crime scene chalk outline. I had to prime and paint over my rodent silhouette, but I can still tell where the furry little soldier fell. It’s always included in the New Visitor Tour of the House. “Now look up and you’ll see the crown molding I installed that caused me to start taking medication, and right next to that you’ll see a slight difference in the paint. That’s because…” Now that I think of it, this could be the reason new visitors seldom return.

The following winter I switched to traps. None of those humane, catch-and-release traps for me. With my luck, I’d catch them, drop them off in the Everglades, and they’d rent a car (or borrow Stuart Little’s) and come back and suicide-bomb my house. I wanted death traps. Being a rat neophyte, I thought it necessary to put the traps close to where I heard them scratching. This was in the bedroom ceiling, which couldn’t have been farther away from the attic entrance. I climbed the ladder, hoisted myself into the narrow crawl space, and awkwardly crept to the opposite side of the house. I baited the traps with crunchy Jif, but when I tried to leave, I couldn’t. I was stuck, my foot wedged under a roof truss. Great, I thought. This is how I’m going to die. I knew Other Bill wouldn’t come up to extract me. The only reason I was there instead of him was because he’s claustrophobic and insisted I would “fit better up there.” I don’t know if that was an insult to his weight or my ratty personality. So I’m going to expire, I thought, and my last meal is going to be a quarter teaspoonful of name brand peanut butter. Think of the stain I’m going to leave on the ceiling.

Fortunately, I finally pulled out of my shoe and got free. The next day the rat traps were missing. Not just the bait, but the entire traps. A quick internet search revealed that rats can get parts of themselves stuck in the trap and will chew off the affected appendage or just run away with the trap attached. Spring traps have to be screwed down to prevent this. I also found out that if you don’t check the traps every day, live rats can eat the dead ones stuck in the trap. How lovely. So in addition to being disgusting, filthy, cannibal-arsonists, rodents are also trap-stealing thieves.

Returning to the attic after buying new weapons of rat destruction, I screwed the traps down, baited them, and left. The next day, dressed in full hazmat gear, I returned. This time: jackpot. Two big, dead, hairy rodents. So now what, I’m going to touch those things with my gloved hands? Hold up the spring-loaded, neck-breaker thing and pull them out? I don’t think so. Even a Silkwood-style shower afterwards would still render me unable to eat. So I just unscrewed the traps, tossed the mess—trap, latex gloves and all —into a grocery bag, and went outside and gave them a proper trash can funeral. Then I made one last trip to the do-it-yourself store and stocked up on more traps.

These days, it’s much simpler. I’ve learned that cannibalistic, thieving, suicide-bombing, arsonist rats, despite their bad qualities, are in fact, quite cooperative. It turns out you don’t have to travel to them to kill them. I can just set a trap at the entrance to the attic, and the rats will find it. Now being a seasoned exterminator, I can fearlessly loosen the trap and yank out by the tail what’s left. The payoff is that I seem to have fewer furry tourists in my attic with each winter that passes. Word has apparently gotten around in Quebec to not mess with me. Nevertheless, I still keep the matches locked up, just in case. Rats can’t be trusted; it’s why they’re called rats.

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