Monday, December 10


The Giant Rat of Sumatra, a Tale for Which the World is Not Yet Ready

Currently at my apartment (also known as, a bit pompously, Monsalvat Castle, as a cheap apartment in Manhattan is as hard to find as the Holy Grail), we are facing a small mouse problem. Suffice to say, attempting to brain the poor sucker with a heavy iron candlestick is a no-go, because they're too darn quick. It may also be inhumane, but the whole Black Death thing has tended to innoculate me against too much pro-mouse sentiment. Plus, I hate Disney movies.

For those of you who doubtlessly picture me shrieking in terror, I have been very stoic throughout the whole process. Seeing foot-long rats in the subway has generally made me indifferent to a small furry blob about four inches long. That being said, I don't like the idea of subletting my apartment to Basil, unless he wants to start paying rent.

I have put down some glue traps, though I am not entirely sure what I will do if I catch any mice, given what is effectively mouse fly paper immobilizes your quarry without dispatching it. Clobbering it is disgusting and messy, except as a last resort, teaching it to squeak The Bells of St. Mary's is simply not going to happen, and throwing it out the window is likely to lead to pressed charges. After several email and phone conferences with my mother (my patient and extremely understanding post-collegiate crisis hotline/personal assistant/co-conspirator/editor/financial advisor/dispenser of smiles at just the right moment who I never thank nearly enough for all her help, support and advice) I've finally decided on an elaborate disposal procedure involving plastic bags, a down jacket, elbow-length rubber gloves, dumb luck, and a lot of running like heck.

So I was very amused this morning on the train to run across P.J. O'Rourke's own mouse-trapping advice in his hilarious if utterly useless Bachelor Home Companion:
I once lived in a house that had rats. I took a handful of diet pills and sat up all night with a bottle of whiskey and a pistol waiting for them to poke their heads out of the woodwork. By four A.M. I was seeing any number of rats, many of them Day-Glo orange and wearing ballet costumes. This technique is not very effective.

Traps are not very effective either. If you check on your rat traps in the middle of the night, you're liable to see the rats using them as Nautilus machines.

However, while researching this book I came across another method of getting rid of rats. It appears in a volume called Household Discoveries, Encyclopedia of Practical Recpies and Processes, by Sidney Morse, published in 1913. I have no idea if this works, but it does sound like fun:

Catch one or more rats in a wire cage. Take a pronged stick...wedge the folk just behind the animal's ears and pin him firmly to the floor. Roll a bit of newspaper into a tight cylinder, set fire to one end and with the lighted end singe the hair from his back... Fix a small paintbrush on a long stick...apply a coating of phosphoresent mixture, slightly warm, to the animal's back, and release him next to his hole. Just what impression is produced by what apepars to be the ghost of a departed rat reappearing in his own haunts would be hard to say, but those who have tried the experiment report that no rats remain in the vicinit to give an account of their sentiments.
Given the vaguely psychopathic nature of the procedure, as well as the host of unanswered metaphysical questions it answers, I'll decline, but if anyone out there is more desperate than I am--or has an inexplicable urge to mount an all-rodent production of Hamlet, feel free to try it out.

My own solution, on night 1 of Ratwatch was a bit less physical. After grabbing a candlestick in self-defense, I also immediately went for my copy of the '64 Roman Ritual and read out the portions of the wonderful Deprecatory Blessing Against Mice and Other Pests, with the very explicit curses and exorcism removed, as I figure it's better to leave that sort of thing to the clergy. The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia strongly discourages calling the wrath of God down without proper authorization, which is a good way to get into deep metaphysical excrement (mortal sin territory) with the Almighty. I'm serious, kids.

That being said, the prayers were interrupted with very loud golf-course word (a curse of a different sort, which I very seldom lapse into, let me say) when the darn thing scurried across the room. I mean, I'm only human, and I was also in my pyjamas, which does nothing for your dignity.

It is interesting to note that, except for that one horrible moment in the dark where I mistook the "Got Monks?" baseball cap on top of my lampshade for an enormous rat, they have not shown up again, barring some suspicious scratchings last Tuesday.

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