Rat Control

My friend Erna drops me off late after our visit to the local Lesbian Film Festival. She wanted me to see the "other side" as she called it. Frankly, the whole affair left me a bit speechless. Did females have the desperately overcharged libidos that the films suggested? Perhaps I should reevaluate my notion that they were the "quiet" sex. As a male I feel I'm being challenged by the strength and independence modern women possess. A cup of tea might help.

Illustration by Scott Fearnley

Chamomile is one of the real joys in my life. Where its faintly fruity aroma and taste originate from I can't guess. It soothes one – it contains no caffeine, it's full of vitamin C – it's an elixir for the age. When I'm feeling awash in emotion and doubt – as I do now over the other sex – and my temples begin to bubble slightly like they do before an exam, herbal tea works as a terrific sedative. But tonight – tonight it's not enough. I'm afraid I'll need television to distract me.

Months ago I began to resent the power TV had over my life. These days, with nearly 500 channels to tempt you, our TV's have begun to take on personalities of their own. "What'll it be tonight, son? A bit of Nova on PBS? A Cosby spinoff? Come on, let's just see what colour tie Ted Koppel's wearing tonight, huh."

To quit television, I feel, is as necessary and difficult as kicking a debilitating drug habit. And as a junkie must avoid the old hangouts, I have to rip up all cable company solicitations that come in the mail. Admittedly, I fear they might come up with an "Organo Channel", promising to use recycled videotape or something. Imagine – the Amnesty International Hour, Mable's Macrobiotic Cookshow, Wheel of Reforestation; these are programs probably being developed for TV now. It's wise in my opinion to get out.

Wiggling the coat hanger on top of my set, I hope to receive the Letterman show, once a favorite of mine before General Electric corporation became involved. It's a re-run – Madonna and Sandra Bernhardt, plus some macho racecar driver. Certainly they couldn't answer my questions. Is the gap between the sexes unbridgeable? Are "sensitive" men who give credence to womens' issues passé like Alan Alda and the old Phil Donahue? I begin to reel in disillusionment. I need sleep.

SNAP! Rattle, rattle. Huh? Good gosh, the mousetrap. I had just started to doze off. A week ago I'd set a trap after discovering bananas left on my kitchen counter had been mysteriously nibbled. I suspect the mouse had returned. That little trap, according to the salesman, was guaranteed to finish the bugger off. I switch on a few lights and stroll into the kitchen wearing only my Stanfield's. JEEZUZZ! A RAT! A rat as big as the yellow pages is lying stunned on my kitchen floor, next to the mousetrap which it dwarfs. Oh God. My heart's pounding. In a minute it'll gain its wits and crawl back in the wall. Torment! I'll know it'll be there waiting. I'll have to slip on boots every morning I get up. I'll feel like a fucking fireman.

Boots! My mud-encrusted hiking boots are right within reach. Maybe I can steer the big bastard outdoors using them. I reach for the mucky things by the hi-top backs, and dangle them over the rat, only to give it a gentle poke. JEEZUZZ H! The bastard lurches at me, almost bites my hand! I swung my arm over my head, gripping hard. WHOMP! Confusion. What am I doing? Do I look like Pete Townshend? WHOMP! I'm in my underwear for god sakes. WHOMP! Mud is flying all over my kitchen. Am I actually windmilling boots? WHOMP! Then – a stillness. The rat is dead.

Oh, the horror. The HORROR! The Mess! I've killed. There's dirt everywhere. A rat with a flattened head looks at me with one dull eye, his snout bloody. The boots, cleaner now, drop from my hand. I must vacuum. I'm all sweaty. I've got a carcass the size of an urban phone directory lying on my kitchen floor. Pulling on my housecoat, I go outside in search of a shovel or rake from my landlady's tool shed – something to transport my prey, and get it the hell out of my kitchen.

With the efficiency of a nurse I begin to tidy and dispose of the rodent. Instinctively I reset the mousetrap with the same dry scrap of cheese. I imagine it's the toil afterwards that helps killers forget their brutal deeds. It's when you know you've used your own hands to kill, that it especially hurts. This may seem hypocritical, since after all, I once wasn't a vegetarian, and, like most, as a kid I'd squashed a few insects. But I never imagined the sensation of killing before I bashed the life out of a huge rat. My body tingles as though I'd drank 50 cups of coffee. I'm unable to sleep, so I snack until near dawn. Gluttony is always a symptom of guilt for me.

The next day I calmly recount the rat tale for my landlady. She pretends to be concerned, but she's skeptical that I killed a rat. A big mouse, she suggests. I don't bother to show her the "big mouse" that barely fits in the garbage can; I just want to forget the whole incident. I can understand the argument for clemency in cases of man-slaughter. Some poor fool accidentally kills someone, or kills out of self-defense like I had, he or she should be able to get on with life.

If you saw my suite you'd think it is a pretty nice place, and in a nice neighbourhood, as well (certainly real estate people do these days). Honestly, it's not as though I live in or near a garbage dump. If I told you I'd had it out with a giant rat in my kitchen, you'd scoff. If I insist I did, and not with one overfed rat but two, you'd check my medical history. The sad truth is though, I KILLED AGAIN.

Late Sunday morning I sit writing a protest letter to Proctor and Gamble about their packaging that's crowding our landfills. I'm daydreaming, staring at the Save-the-Stein poster I'd recently hung on my wall. Then – SNAP! Again. Oh geez. I can't deal with this. I put on my gumboots (steel shank), then stride anxiously to the kitchen. Another fat rat, but this time its skull is pinched in the mousetrap. Its eyes peered up from a dented brow; it probably has a helluva headache. I march upstairs to find my landlady and delegate rat disposal to her. Nobody home. Man! I go outside to get a shovel, maybe I can steer this one out; he can keep the mousetrap.

What happens next I'll attempt to describe. I'm prod my intruder diplomatically with a spade. It's desperately struggling to get out of the trap. It's going to get out of the trap any second, I think, and be real pissed at me. Come here you little bastard. I'm trying to direct it with the blade. Huh! My phone rings. I raise the handle. (Swing) BONG! Ring! Damn rats! (Swing) BONG! Ring! The Contras! Pinochet! (Swing) BONG! Ring! Goddamned Lesbian Film Fests! (Vigorous deathblow) BONG! Ring! I jump for the phone. "Hello!" "Hi, we're just cleaning carpets in your area-" "I just killed a fuckin' rat!" "Oh, well, maybe, I – a rat?" "Yeah, you wanna clean that?" The phone solicitor hangs up.

I shake with dismay. The phone bell had triggered a latent animal rage in me with Pavlovian perfection. Briefly, I pictured our rat as Ollie North, and dealt the fatal blows. There's more blood at the scene this time, but what would you expect when you bludgeon enormous rodents on linoleum? If you hadn't heard it elsewhere, take it from me, killing does feels easier the second time around. One is not bereft of bad feelings however, as I proceed to eat a big plateful of sandwiches to calm my nerves.

In the future I'll be prepared for any new "visitors". Three massive traps with succulent pieces of cheddar and yummy rat poison are set around my place. Coincidentally, this situation helps me to see the sense in N.A.T.O. Like Europe I'm ready, ever mobilized for the dread day, if it should come.

A strange consequence of all this is that I've become as virile as a bull moose. No more wishy-washy notions about understanding women either. Red meat? Gimme a burger. TV? Give me Maury Povich any day. Hell ya, I'm a hunter.

* No animals were harmed by the author while writing this story.

Illustration by Scott Fearnley