I live in a semi-rural area. At least semi-rural for my area of the county. That means we live amongst the wildlife backed up to the beautiful mountains, while still being able to hit up a Starbucks on the corner.
I love my little slice of paradise, but there have been times when the reality of the rural I love comes smack dab into my world. I mean I really like the idea of mountain lions, and deer and raccoons being a hop, skip and a jump away; I just don’t technically want them there in my back yard. But it’s bound to happen when the lines of the territories are so blurred.
Once a coyote came padding thru the complex late at night. A neighbor and I were out, for reasons I don’t recall. I wasn’t initially startled for any reason other than a large skinny quite large German Shepherd was on the loose. (My eyesight is not the best at night to be fair) I mean who let the dog out? (Who? Who? –Hahahaha) My neighbor laughed and told me it wasn’t a random German Shepherd, it was, a coyote. Before any sense of alarm could be mustered, he had padded out my complex heading into the next neighborhood that must have had juicier items on the menu.
For a period of time a Possum mom and her babes set up home next door to me. Every night like clockwork they would take the same route home, right past my gate. They were so spot-on with time, I knew it was 7:30 give or take a few minutes each time I saw them. Unfortunately they scared some of the other neighbors with their looks (not me!), and to be honest, they startled me when they would go by later than 7:30. Soon the HOA was called in, and they dispatched a catch & release company, who after a week had a total count of 7 babies, and Mom all released back into the hills. More than likely, only to sojourn back to the areas of cat food and sprinkler water to feast on. Same story happened, a little more carefully when a family of skunks took up residence in the now vacant possum home.
I’m lucky enough to have a ground level patio that’s pretty large. I spend a good amount of time out there; mornings for the quiet, evenings to unwind with a cocktail. Most of my company spends time out there too. It’s probably more used than any room outside the bathroom. Unfortunately it’s pretty inviting to critters, which I dislike for really only one reason:
I hate like hell to be startled. I mean I hate it.
Outside of spiders (which generally startle me anyway), I don’t think I hate anything more.
People at work are aware of this, and I have to almost keep an open third ear at all times, because if I get too involved in a task, it’s almost like I’m sleeping. I absolutely tune out all sounds around me (which has always interested me. Why don’t we hear when we sleep? I know sound can awaken us, but we can also completely tune it out during sleep, as if our mind slips into another dimension. Another topic for another time) and when someone walks up and simply states my name, I spring 20 feet into the air, like a startled cat. After all these decades one would think I would have gotten over it. Become acclimated to it, but not the case.
So it’s not uncommon that from time to time a cat comes by and I jump. Or the aforementioned possums. Or – as my neighbor warned me of years ago and I pooh-pooh’d the existence of – rats. Yup, after a couple of years of living in my complex somehow the topic of wild animals in the complex were brought up. He regaled me with the story of how one night a ballsy aggressive raccoon stared him down, all while grabbing the bars of my wrought iron gate and shaking it. Whether to summon me to let him in, or to show his steely strength and frighten my neighbor, we weren’t quite sure. He mentioned how the complex had an issue with raccoons and rats for years. I denied the existence, based on my time there, and absolutely nary a whisker of a rat or mouse ever seen. Then one night while sitting on the patio and chatting up a friend on the phone, !POP! a little brown rat scurried thru my courtyard. I think my yelp of surprise scared him as much as his presence startled me.
Since then I’ve seen them twice more. In five years. Not too bad. Again, popping thru my courtyard, as if they found a toll road they needed to get on briefly to make it home. One looked up at me from a plant, and for a nano second we were both unsure of what we were seeing. He was a lot cuter than I pictured; brown instead of grey, and smaller than I imagined. I guess never having really lived around wild rats, I always picture them bloated and huge, like New York subway rats. I usually clap loudly or make any noise and they speed out of there like their tail is on fire.
Now I don’t LIKE living in an area with rats, but the reality is in rural areas they exist. Period. Some places it’s a country or field mouse instead. Nevertheless the undomesticated ones have a reputation as a sense of dirtiness. It’s unrealistic. It’s not a sign of dirt, any more than a child being sent home from school with lice is. Logically I know this. Emotionally I cannot unwrap my head from it.
Having raised these rodents as pets, they don’t frighten me per say, I just don’t want them to a). startle me, or b). enter my home.
You can see where this is all headed now, can’t you?
Monday night after work I was lazy. I absolutely did not want to cook dinner, but the rumblings in my tummy suggested I eat something. I foraged a bit, and saw brand new hot dog buns, purchased the night before. Perfect! I can nuke a turkey dog and be done with it. As I opened the bag, two things hit me. They weren’t quite as fresh as they usually were. Almost a tad stale. Then I noticed one of them was broken. A hunk gone. I looked in the bag for the empty hunk and couldn’t locate it. I thought it was weird, but figured it was an issue with the bakery.
See that is how my mind works. I never assume the obvious. If I found a bloody kitchen knife on the floor, it would probably take me easily ten minutes to figure some sort of bad mayhem had occurred.
An issue with the bakery. No joke. It wasn’t until I went to put away the buns, and noticed the hole, that the very slow pinball lights in my head started to sluggishly blink. The hole must have happened in the store. I examined the hole to see if it was something that could have gotten caught on the seam of the bag. Piiiiiinnnngggggg go the slow lights. Damn grocery store …. Piiinnnngggggg goes the next two or three lights. I look on the counter, which has a loaf of unopened wheat bread, a bag of cinnamon raisin English muffins, another cheap brand of hot dog buns (my daughter buys her own groceries) and a bag of tortillas. (We LOVE our carbs) Loaf of bread is fine. English muffins are fine. Cheap hot dog buns are fine. SONOFABI— the pinball lights are suddenly now ALL engaging as I see a very obvious chew hole and about an eighth of the tortillas chewed thru. Fucking Goddamn SonofaBitch; Houston we have a fucking problem! I immediately grab up everything, examine it put the untouched things in the fridge. The buns and tortillas go into the trash which immediately is taken to the dumpster.
I’m shaking. Mostly with fury, a little bit with fright and some of it absolute disgust. My home, my CASTLE has been desecrated. I have so many issues brought with me over the years, but it is very important that my safety, my HOME BASE is secure. Having ANTS in my house can set forth a cascade of sailor like language and enough chemical spray to make mustard gas look like air freshener. I do not like my home fucked with. Having this — this entity in my home was really screwing with me. REALLY. I was texting my daughter, who was taking things fairly even keeled. Which is good. We tend to balance one another when the other is freaking out. We both knew two things; this thing had gotten into the house on Sunday, and it was probably when one of us left the door open for a nano second. Doesn’t usually happen, because weirdly I am terrified of a bee getting into the house. Never really figured a fucking RAT would scramble in.
To make matters worse she wasn’t coming home that night. I don’t know why her being there would make me feel better, but it would have. So I have to employ a few mind tricks to keep me from twitching myself into a fatal anxiety attack. Again logically I know this thing is as terrified of me, as I am of it. Logically I know I am not really afraid of a rat. I’ve handled them. Even kissy faced them. They are extremely intelligent animals. When you get past the “pest” word and put “domesticated” there, they aren’t so bad. Logically I knew this creature wasn’t in my house because I am dirty. Or because my house was.
Sometimes logic isn’t worth a hill of beans. Interestingly enough, the night before I had mentioned to Sam how I had finally figured out where the Kitchen Monkey sounds were coming from. Kitchen Monkey was a term I came up with when one night I was certain a large being of some sort was on top, or behind my refrigerator. I kept hearing the weirdest noises coming from the kitchen. I think I pictured something akin to this, living up there.
I even had her boyfriend come take a look and see what it was. Nothing was there. But from time to time the sound would start back up, and it would scare the crap out of me. So the scared child survivor in me took over, and decided to make this into something so imaginative, that it would be asinine to believe it. Thus was born Kitchen Monkey. Simply screaming out something like “Knock it off Kitchen Monkey!” and the sounds would soon subside, my brain would send the good sort of chemicals thru my body, vs the adrenaline ones that made my blood pressure sky rocket.
We found out it much later that the source of the weird clicking and churgling and whizzing sounds, was that of the ice maker and water filter. Again, never the obvious with me. The night the intruder arrived, I had made mention to my daughter that I finally figured out the source of Kitchen Monkey’s sounds. She had figured it out long before me. The irony on this does not escape me.
This time though, I had a real life noises coming from a real life Kitchen Monkey living with me, and no amount of yelling was going to make a difference. But stomping as I walked with heels on, I hoped would convince the new resident that I was a force to be reckoned with; A real life Godzilla and in fear it would flee and hide when it heard me. Maybe that’s what we are to Godzilla, and that’s what makes him (or her depending on the movie version you’ve seen) so angry.
Of course I had an exterminator on the phone first thing the following morning and the soonest they could see me was two days later. I took it. Then each night I would CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP like the Giant from Jack and the Beanstalk into the house, announcing my entrance, and expecting to see a scene something like this:
Of course there would be nothing. I would comb the area for poop and each day would find one tiny one, as if Kitchen Monkey just couldn’t hold it long enough to get back to wherever his new home; behind the fridge, behind the stove – was.
Finally the day of the exterminator came and he was a sweet young guy, who understood everything I blathered away about. No they cant jump that high. Yes they climb excellently. He agreed that there was no evidence that the rat, errrr … Kitchen Monkey could have come in any way except the front door. He suggested I buy some traps and be done with it. I stopped him immediately there, and explained there was no way *I* could lay traps and then come back for the — body. He said HE could do it, but it would cost $XX. I told him SOLD before he had even finished his sentence. I asked him about the traps and he said there would be no body for me to see, just maybe a tail. My own body did that horrified dance thing, where it tries to fold itself into itself because it’s so absolutely revolted. The arms go up, and a leg goes up and I can only grimace, which is girl talk for “Ewwwwwww!”. I ask him if there is a catch and release (more for my daughters sake than anything, who has recently given up meat that has personality, and wants to save all of the animals in the world, starting with pugs) and he almost laughs that someone would actually want to let a rat back out into the wild to breed and create more vermin, and then politely tells me no.
He explains more about their habits, and sets these three big black boxes up near the baseboards that he found the poops I had left for him. He gives me a schedule of when he will be back, but assures me if I know the trap is full – set – whatever you call it, then to give their office a call and someone will come out.
Later that night while I watch TV I hear something. Was it a SNAP? I mute the TV, and like always with Murphy’s Law the entire house goes silent. TV on and I hear it again. This goes off and on for about 15 minutes, until after muting the TV a half dozen times, I definitely still hear something. Not sure of what I will see, I’m afraid to go in the kitchen. The sound is almost like something, fighting or scratching to get loose. (Or so I imagine). I’m convinced that Kitchen Monkey is IN the black box and however the death box works, it’s way too slow. I’m living the Green Mile where Eduard Delecroix’s execution is being completely bungled and I am Tom Hanks, unable to do anything about it. Just die already I inwardly scream, feeling like a monster. I am truly a bit shaken and have to remind myself this is how it had to be. I decide against mentioning it to Sam when she gets home, so that I don’t upset her further about living in a Murder House.
I tentatively look in the kitchen a couple of times after the sounds of death have subsided, hoping not to see the pre-discussed tale of the tail, yet at the same time unable to look away. Nothing. Good. I go to sleep with a heavier heart, realizing this is the first pre-meditated animal murder I’ve been involved in. Kitchen Monkey has softened in my mind’s eye, and I just pray I don’t have guilt induced dreams that night. He has gone from this horrible invasive creature, to perhaps something I could have lived with ala Ratatouille. Ok, maybe not that far, but was death really the only answer?
The next day, today – I call the exterminator, the morgue so to speak, and arrange to have someone come and pick up the body – I mean the full trap. I’ve paid for three weeks-worth of service, because I cannot assume Mrs. Kitchen Monkey and the Littles didn’t come along too. They arrive hours later, with my daughter there to greet them. She is surprisingly acquiescing considering her disdain for the situation, and I can only assume it’s because it’s the least she can do, before moving this weekend. I’m teetering away from guilt, and actually feeling relief; I’ll have the house back to myself and everything will be Kitchen Monkey free in a matter of days. Only – I get the message that there is no body in the trap. Schwat the fuck? What was the performance I went thru last night? Is it something I’m going to have to go thru on a daily evening basis? Furthermore, the cute exterminator boy who showed up yesterday made it seem like it was just a matter of hours before these traps were springing like daisies. Today’s guy informs my daughter it could be WEEKS before any action, because RATS ARE SMART. Until they have no other options, they will avoid these “NEW” things – I can’t help but question the fact, that wasn’t my fucking HOME a “NEW” thing they should have avoided as well?
More than anything, how am I grieving for a small little lost life one moment, and then gnashing my teeth in frustration when I find the death was a hoax? Which is it, all Rat Lives Matter, or Step Into the Black Box and Say Hello to My Lil’ Friend? (To be honest I didn’t ask how the trap went off). Ultimately, it would be nice if he would just leave, but that isn’t going to happen.
So I’m on a countdown for now. I think I’ll probably spend a lot of time in my room organizing and doing projects I’ve put off, like working on my adult swear word coloring book and cleaning the soon to be spare room. I’ll probably eat out a bit more, because no food, hopefully will draw KM to the eternal black box. In other words, Im avoiding my own kitchen like the plague. Get it? Rat? Plague?
On an ironic note I find it funny that my writers block was lifted by a mere rat.