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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Rat Bastards


Nothing, absolutely nothing – not even the government promise of a chicken in every pot and an oil pump in every back yard – makes me long for Alberta more than rats, or rather the lack of rats. Seeing as Alberta is the only rat-free province (it’s true!) and I’m guessing one of the largest rat-free piece of land not at one of the poles, it’s a vermin-hater paradise I’d long taken for granted.
Before moving to Ontario, I’d seen exactly one rat that wasn’t in a lab or kept as someone’s pet, and that was beneath a dumpster on the UBC campus in Vancouver. Even then, it was from far away and I was in the car, so it could’ve been a mouse dressed up in one of those inflatable Missy Elliot suits. I didn’t even see one when I visited NYC a few years ago. I almost wished I’d see one in Toronto, just to prove that they existed. Well, as Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Be careful what you wish for*.”
(*note: Abraham Lincoln probably never said that).
My odyssey of disgust and revulsion began this past December at work when a hole was made in the wall to run some wires. Soon after I recall our office manager stopping dead in the hallway, saying, “I think I just saw a rat – something big just ran down the hall,” to which the rest of us in the office gently scoffed and told her it couldn’t have been a rat. After all, we’d worked there for about two years without seeing anything other than a few mice that were promptly trapped. A rat? I don’t think so. But then she said she saw it again, and a couple days after that, another co-worker saw something dart out from behind a set of drawers near the hole. We moved the drawers to reveal some turds nearly as big as those of a rabbit. I was kind of aghast, but not having actually seen anything, it was hard to get too worked up. We moved a filing cabinet up against the hole and put out some rat traps (classic-style mouse traps but on steroids) yet nothing – no sign of any rats. No more sightings, so we assumed whatever it was had left and we weren’t too concerned as it was our month-off. This was the beginning of December.
When we returned to work in early January there was still no sight of anything, and we’d forgotten about it. Then I started hearing things in the walls. Scratching and scuttling – coming from inside the walls and the ceiling. I mentioned it to the mag’s owners, who live in the building above the office, and they kinda laughed, saying I was imagining things. They had family visiting and assumed it was someone moving around upstairs; it became kind of an ongoing joke for a while. But, I kept hearing it, mostly when working late, and other co-workers would hear it too sometimes, even during the day. Scratch… scratch…
It would take something drastic to get everyone’s attention, which happened the day my co-worker found a pile of rat shit in the middle of her desk, right in front of her monitor. It was kinds of a big “fuck you!” from the rat world. Clearly, they were calling us out. Would it come down to a humans/rat West Side Story-style knife fight in the alley?
I moved one of the rat traps and re-baited it, fully expecting a kill the next day, but nothing. They hadn’t gone for the piece of Caramilk bar, clearly blasé about the whole Caramilk Secret thing. (I learned later that when baiting a mouse or rat trap, you need to use gloves, as the scent of humans makes them suspicious and they won’t go near it until the aroma of human wears off.)
The next day I came to work to find a big motherfucking disgusting and thankfully stone-cold dead rat in the trap. Not including its gross worm of a tail, the thing was about the size of really large burrito – not those little fey burritos they make at Taco Bell, but the two-handers you get at a restaurant. I shoveled it into a garbage bag, feeling simultaneous disgust and triumph at putting a notch in the man-vs.-nature belt.
I thought and hoped that the one rat was it, that it was one errant pest causing all the commotion and now the problem was taken care of and I wouldn’t have to move into a biosphere somewhere in the Antarctic.
Wrong! A couple days later, I’m working away when something catches my eye from under my desk – the part of it right beside me where there’s this enclosed space beneath the drawers. It was a rat head poking out and staring at me, at which point I jumped back and yelled like a man-baby. There was actually a rat living under my goddamn desk!
I put a board over the gap and formulated a plan, as there’s no way in hell you can work with a rat under your desk – even if it can’t actually get at you. After arming out selves with a shovel and some pieces of wood, one co-worker used a stick and a flashlight to push the thing out and into a wastebasket, which, actually worked, the problem being that rats can jump really high, so it popped right out and scurried into the space where one of the office doors meets the wall. We took more boards and covered up all the gaps we figured were large enough for it toescape from. But then what?
Well, there was the ¾-inch gap between the wall and the hinge-end of the door, so one co-worker decided we could gas the little bastard with Raid. I’m serious when I say the gap was ¾-inch wide at the most, so it was amazing that the thing actually shot straight out of a gap much smaller than it’s body (apparently their gross little skeletons are built for extremely tight spaces). It flew out and, ironically, ran right into the very person’s office that was spraying it and hid in her hard drive cabinet.
Cue Benny Hill music.
Half of the staff barricaded themselves in the office so the rat couldn’t escape, while the rest waited outside. I went to the back to find something we could use to trap it – perhaps a miniature corral or really fuckin’ big Venus fly-trap. What I found was a Shop-Vac. Now, having worked construction, I’d goofed around extensively with Shop-Vacs before, dressing them up like R3-D2’s and testing them to see just how much weight they can pick up by suctioning various things to the end of the hose. When clean, they’re pretty damn powerful, so I thought maybe we could just – THUK! – vacuum the beast right up. Hell, it seemed like the ideal MacGyver solution at the time.
By the time I dragged the thing into the office, my co-workers had managed to pin the rat’s tail with the end of a shovel, but weren’t sure what to do then. The end was cutting through its tail so it was gonna escape if we didn’t act fast. I tried to suck it up in the vacuum, but that didn’t work. At all. Tensions were running high, and finally Gary, who’d pinned the thing, grabbed a board and mashed its head. It was nasty but quick and effective.
We’re all animal owners/lovers at the office, so this wasn’t an easy thing to do, although much easier than you think when disgusting vermin invade your workspace. Even our PETA-loving office manager proclaimed that she just wanted to “kill them all.”
Anyhow, by this time the exterminator had come. He discovered an “infestation” and set out a whole bunch of these little black plastic briefcases, each with a hole in the side and filled with poison. The poison slowly thickens the rat’s blood until they die, over the course of three to five weeks, at which time they apparently crawl outside, or in the wall and die (apparently they also mummify, so they don’t even stink). We wanted swift and decisive rat death to rain down from above like lighting from the hand of Zeus himself… but, hey, at least we had a pro on our side.
All was then quiet on the rat front for weeks, until the water cooler started leaking all over the floor. The rats had chewed through the line, presumably in a desperate attempt to re-hydrate. They’d also eaten a banana that was accidentally left out on the counter in the lunch room – where we prepare our lunches. Assholes! Then one of the guys living upstairs saw one in his bedroom and discovered the beginning of a nest in his sock drawer. The bastards are resilient. The exterminators said a little more time was needed, so we waited and soon all was quiet again; hopefully they were dead.
Yet, the saga continues. Last week the phones lines in the back office were chewed though, then, the same day, I’m working at my desk when a rat comes running down the hall, right at me (forcing a slightly less loud man-baby scream). It hid under my desk in the same spot as the other one. Just how many gypsies do you have to spit on to get that kind of a curse anyhow? To have a rat making house under your desk – twice! Again we trapped it under there, but this time waited for the exterminator to arrive. Before he got there, however, the thing managed to escape and craw under another co-worker’s desk. This time we trapped it in the space more securely, sent the intern out for sticky traps and made an opening that would force the creature onto the gooey death mats.
The funny thing was that we could see it, right by the hole, but it wasn’t moving. It occurred to us that its strange behaviour might have been the result of a poison-riddled brain in the throes of death. This was correct, and the next day we used a hockey stick to fish a dead rat out from beneath the desk. Gross, gross, gross.
Rat populations are surging right now worldwide, apparently. I watched a news report that said exterminators in England can’t keep up with the problem, while in the States, major cities are experiencing an explosion. There was a horrible story on CNN last month about a couple hearing their baby monitor go off, only to discover a rat had bitten their child’s nose off. The spike in the rat population is due in part to more people living closer together and, mainly, that people are pigs, leaving garbage all over the place, in the gutters and in abandoned lots, giving the rats and unlimited supply of food. Global Warming is only expected to exacerbate the problem as it creates more rat-friendly climates. And if that isn’t enough to make you hate them, someone told me this week that they’d read that rats are responsible for eating one-third of the world’s stored food supplies and that if this could be stopped, it would effectively solve much of the world’s hunger problem.
I for one don’t need that much of a reason to want them dead – having one violate your workspace is reason enough. Now when something brushes against my leg, my mouse cord moves on my desk or I see something out of the corner of my eye, I think “rat!” I’ve even had nightmares about rats attacking me in bed. I’m considering buying a pair of raver pants with lots of big pockets and filling them up with mongooses. Sure, I’d be Crazy Mongoose-Pants Guy, but at least I’d be rat-free Crazy Mongoose-Pants Guy.
The lesson here is that if you don’t live in Wild Rose country, seal up all possible vermin entrances to your place, no matter how seemingly small, don’t litter, if possible, set traps while wearing gloves, if you even have an inkling that you could have a rat, get on the problem immediately instead of waiting for a full-blown infestation, and never grow a rat-tail (irrelevant to pest control, they're just stupid). Also, don’t battle rats with Shop-Vacs, it doesn’t work.
Sigh… I miss Alberta.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave...we have rats, we just keep them at the Keg.

Lori A.

BTW, very funny. "We wanted swift and decisive rat death to rain down from above like lighting from the hand of Zeus himself…" HILarious.

1:03 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, that was a bizarre typo...I don't really have inside info on unsanitary conditions at the Keg....I meant to say we keep them at the Leg. ie. legislature bldgs...Hee hee. But maybe at the keg too.

L.

1:06 PM

 
Blogger Superdude said...

Don't miss Alberta. It's too busy and truck-filled to miss you. I'd give anything for a harbour rat, because at least it would mean I was near a harbour.

7:20 PM

 
Blogger Superdude said...

Also, that's an awesome story. I love tales of gross awkwardness.

7:21 PM

 
Anonymous collin said...

What if you threw the shop-vac at the rat from a high altitude, like say a rooftop?
I think it would do the job.
For the record my two favourite rat-related news stories are: the university of calgary accidently releasing 200 lab rats at the city dump; and, a "troubled" girl getting off a Greyhound in ALberta with a duffle bag full of rats. I guess the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

12:03 AM

 
Blogger laura said...

I just found a pile of rat poop in my bed. IN MY BED. THAT I HAVE BEEN SLEEPING IN.

Is there a way to live my life suspended 5 feet in the air at all times? I never want to touch a surface again.

Your story both comforted and disturbed me.......... thanks.

3:20 PM

 
Blogger Kate said...

Domesticated rats are gorgeous animals. Not only are they incredibly intelligent, they're sociable, and love being around people <3.

I do agree that wild rats are a problem, but it saddens me that Alberta has a ban on pet rats, as they're extremely unlikely to survive in the wild, be accepted into a colony, or even find other rats to breed with in the first place. Even then, one or two pet rats that became part of a colony wouldn't make a huge difference at all; colonies are already quite large and a few rats here or there don't change a thing.

6:35 AM

 

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