We have a new house. I have my typical liberal identity issues but seem to have successfully fought past these as I gaze approvingly at the new 50” flat screen in the room off of our open kitchen. Did you know that you’re supposed to “break in” a plasma? The first 100 hours should apparently be at a lower color setting and you shouldn’t watch anything that might burn into the new screen. I was surprised at how much this limited my choices as almost every TV station now has its own channel logo ghosted into the lower right corner of the screen and most of the DVD’s that we have are either in widescreen or wholly inappropriate to run night and day around the kids. I’m left with Barry Lyndon and Siegel’s version of The Killers. This last one is a bit of a stretch in terms of quality parenting, but I never tire of watching Cassavetes pistol whip or Marvin shoot our 40th President on endless loop. These films play on and on mutely in the background of our daily lives: one the tale of a poor boy who rises to become the lord of the manor and is then brought low and the other a brutal noir of violence and vengeance.

I was thinking of this yesterday as I was squeezed into a tight, cramped space behind our washing machine with an aching knee, a putty knife, and a can of Daptex foam to seal up another exposed bit gap between the wall and the floorboard. Don’t accept substitutes, by the way, on that Daptex. My first can of sealing foam was so toxic that I couldn’t get it off my face without making yet another trip to Lowe’s to buy some acetone. I used to walk in there and ask for “something I can use to plug up holes.” Now I get upset when they move things around and dismissively correct the guy working in paint that I don’t want the generic foam they’re pushing in aisle 29 but the Daptex multipurpose foam sealant that goes for $4.89 a can and used to be by the insulation.

A couple of days after moving into our dream home, I awoke to find bites taken out of the bananas and apples in the fruit bowl. He likes bananas. I didn’t think they liked bananas. I thought they burrowed into your cereal boxes or snacked on the meat scraps in your trash, but fresh fruit? I went (guess where?) and got some snap traps for mice to set up in the corners of the kitchen counters and sticky traps for mice to place under the stove. Friends dutifully told me their rodent stories which all ended with them setting traps and catching the offender after a day or two.

My wife Adriean was a wreck. She was sickened at the thought of a mouse climbing throughout her house and over our food. She even spoke the r-word which I quickly squelched, but she could not get to sleep without me staying up that weekend and standing guard. I wondered, what was I supposed to really do if confronted with the little guy, pounce on him from across the room and throttle him with my bare hands? Should I camp out in the kitchen with a flashlight and a shotgun like Elmer Fudd? I knew something was very wrong one midnight when I heard a loud sound of plastic slapping against the floor. I assumed that I had caught him (and I was pretty gender neutral at the time but have come to see my adversary as a fellow male–I got to calling him Remy) in one of the sticky traps, but a flashlight under the stove only revealed an upended sticky trap now stuck to the side of the wall and more droppings.

This was an end to my dreams of mice. The exterminator who came the next day confirmed it with wide eyes and a laugh when looking at the puny traps and the size of the bites and feces left behind. We have a rat. He had simply shaken off of one of those sticky traps like an ill fitting snowshoe. He was big, and George from Terminix said he was “smart.” Great. I don’t know exactly how rodent intelligence is measured, but the other exterminators who have come in the house have all had their moment of squinting their eyes, shaking their heads, and assuring me that we indeed have a smart one on our hands here.

Adriean took all of this news like the calm, rational professional that she is. My late night surveillance continued with me making my way through most of the DVD’s we had but hadn’t yet seen. I then made my way through the director commentaries as well. I remembered that Herzog’s Nosferatu featured rats, but the fearsome scope of his rodent wrangling now took on a whole new meaning. Werner explained he had a great deal of difficulty transporting 11,000 rats through the customs of so many European countries. The interviewer asked Herzog where one gets 11,000 rats in the first place and the reply seemed disturbingly simple and clear: “Hungary.”

We have a rat. We are people who have a rat in their house, eating their food, and crawling where their children play. Shock and embarrassment gradually gives way to anger. The Elmer Fudd model seems more and more feasible every passing day. Where is he coming from? Does he live in the walls? Is it better to foam a hole and cut down on one of his entrances or wait to catch him before plugging everything up? We’re living with every food item in plastic, sealed containers stacked up on the table, store crackers in the refrigerator, and keep the bananas in the microwave. What is he eating? Is there more than one? And shouldn’t I be watching Straw Dogs?

The house seems like a joke, a comeuppance for my materialist striving. When the escrow company calls and blandly asks how we like the new place, they quickly regret the question. I bite my tongue when passing along mail to the previous owners, but let’s just say that we suddenly have some issues. Adriean sleeps, or attempts to, with a towel wedged under the bedroom door. Every night I assure her that we’ll catch him tomorrow and every third morning I’m mocked by finding tiny droppings in new places throughout our once impressive square footage.

I woke up early, as usual, to check the traps before the kids got up. He was lying on his side stuck squarely in the middle of a sticky trap right in front of the stove. It was my birthday. I walked back to the bedroom and proudly informed my wife of our gift and asked her to keep everyone out of the kitchen until I was able to clean everything up. I was already thinking of putting the fruit bowl back out and moving my bananas out of the microwave when he started to squirm. People had helpfully assured me that the rats usually asphyxiated themselves when struggling in the sticky traps and that these new and improved glue trays contained an anesthetic? Why an anesthetic I always wondered but never asked? Did I want him to not realize he was caught? Was I concerned about his potential suffering? No matter, Remy was probably tired from his struggle, but he was plenty alive and clawing wildly with his free paws to get loose.

Not wanting to live in a world where I would have to walk back to my wife and explain that the once-dead rat was running free, I took a closer look to see that my foe was securely caught for the moment. I know some people have rodents as pets, my Dad got me a hamster a long time ago, but I didn’t want to fill my head with too many moral questions this morning as I looked into his little beady black eyes. Was he frightened? Angry? I was. Was he just some poor sucker who moved into too big a house and was trying to feed his family? Did he know the game was up at last? I did.

I went to the garage and got a plastic bucket and filled it with water from the hose outside. When I placed it beside the rat he started to move even more than before and I was scared for a moment that he would break free. Trying not to think too much of Buddha or James Herriot, I picked up another sticky trap and pushed it on top of him to keep him from getting loose. He screamed. I couldn’t help but think that the hissing screech moved from rage to resignation, but I had him sandwiched and with my gloved hand I dropped him in the water. The tail thrashed about for longer than I thought it would, but I will own up to feeling a huge sense of relief and even accomplishment at my deed. I felt guilty for this afterwards, but I just wanted to sleep without worry any longer and if this was the price I would gladly pay it.

Remy and all of the sticky traps went into a black plastic trash bag and into the garbage. I do admit to not wanting to look at him after I dumped him out onto the backyard grass. The snap traps I was able to toss onto the lawn and then into the trash as well. I had been so worried that the kids would somehow hurt themselves no matter how well I had hidden them, and I smiled when their menacing snap became nothing more than a muffled click against the soft ground. A whole can of Dap went into plugging the huge hole behind the stove. Adriean had to hold my feet while I dangled headfirst from the kitchen countertop. We had a meal indoors for the first time in weeks. We got some sleep. We finally felt moved in, the house was now ours. We had won.

Four days later, there were holes in the bananas…

12 responses to “Hungary”

  1. Adriean says:

    So…would anyone like us to host the next TGW party?

  2. Scotty says:

    Holy Amityville Horror, you should call the next rat Jodie.

  3. jeremy says:

    I love that Herzog quote, but I hope y’all don’t have 11,000 rats. I’m sure it’s just two (minus one, of course). I think I’d be so distracted by the plasma that I wouldn’t even care about the rats…

  4. Stephanie Wells says:

    For a story about something as lowly as a rat, this post is so complex. My response when reading it fluctuated from get-the-rat when it was in the abstract to no-no-don’t-hurt-it when you had it on the trap. The squirming in the bucket is much more than I could have taken. I had a similar series of irrational responses recently when we saw a rat with friends: first, horror at the rat’s very existence; then, after their dog half-killed it, horror that it was suffering inhumanely; then, after I insisted my friend put it out of its misery, horror that he could actually kill it. I guess nature is a little too real for me.

    My favorite part of this post, though, is “We have a rat. We are people who have a rat in their house, eating their food, and crawling where their children play.” It’s so interesting how it becomes some sort of blot on your very identity. You are dirty for having a rat. No, you are a monster for killing it so cruelly. No, you are a hero for protecting your household and your kids from the vermin. (I’m guessing this is where Adriean weighs in.) No, you are a guy whose struggles with the whole situation are quite compellingly catalogued here!

    And to illustrate that, I heard Scott swearing in a tone of outrage and shock this morning; I was all worried about what awful news he must be reading online, and he explained, “Did you get to the end of Ruben’s post? ‘Four days later, there were holes in the bananas’!!!!!”

  5. jeremy says:

    4: I know, although it’s not a great ending to this rat saga (and of course I realize it’s no end at all), it’s a great end to the post itself… Four days later, there were holes in the bananas…. Sigh.

  6. Dave says:

    Closure is for suckers.

  7. Stephanie Wells says:

    Tell that to Adriean.

  8. Scotty says:

    Funny Dave, funny.

    Seriously, I love the heck out of this post.

  9. AW says:

    Loved this.

  10. Beth W says:

    Once upon a time, my youngest brother had a mouse boldly running around his house. One evening, he was lounging on the couch when he spotted the mouse scurrying across the room. He grabbed his boot (size 13) and threw it at the mouse. Dead on impact and not one bit of guilt.

    The boot technique is hard to duplicate but if you don’t want to drown rat #2 you could use my 90-year-old great aunt’s technique. She uses the sticky paper then decapitates the mouse with the edge of a bucket. Again, no guilt.

    My family members are kind of proud of their rodent kill. I don’t like rodents dead or alive but the killing does make me squeamish. Cockroaches are another story. I’ll smash those buggers dead without thinking twice. My weapon of choice? A boot.

  11. lisa t. says:

    #10: your mom was excited that your goat was killed and on the dinner table! (as she likes to remind us now and then…)

  12. Beth W says:

    Yeah, we also ate our rabbits.