Rats

I don’t want to complain or anything, but I feel I have been unfairly treated. Discriminated against. I get the distinct impression that I have been singled out for espousing a lifestyle clearly at odds with the majority -for swimming against the current, as it were. And now that I am retired, it has come home to bite me… Or maybe it’s just that I have more time to notice the teeth.

I came to it late, I suppose –I was well into middle age before I discovered I was different and decided to do something about it: I moved to the country. When you live out here, you’re supposed to enjoy a certain amount of freedom from, well, prying. But unfortunately, even here, you have to interact. You have to buy stuff. And out here, nothing is a secret for long.

“Pretty big PVC pipe,” the smiling clerk in the building store said with an equal mixture of helpfulness and country nosiness. I’d read that PVC pipe was what you used in these parts if you had my problem, but I wasn’t sure what diameter was best suited for it. So I guessed. Then, sensing my discomfort, he leaned on the counter like you see in those Anne of Greene Gables programs. “You got rats?” Just like that, and with disarming calmness, and a normal voice, he said the word that would have mandated a call to the Public Health Department, and probably a visit from Social Services back in the city.

I nodded, my cheeks burning as I glanced around guiltily to see if anybody else was listening.

The clerk noticed and chuckled at my discomfort. “They’re bad this year aren’t they?” He reached over to a shelf and placed a shorter, narrower pipe on the counter. It had a hole drilled through the top. “You a ‘City’?” he asked, his eyes narrowing for a millisecond. At first I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I assumed it was a country pejorative. I decided to nod, in case he was going to ask for my driver’s license as proof. A facsimile of a smile returned. “Didn’t think I’d seen you in here before.”

“I just moved out here,” I said, hoping he’d see that as a sort of redemption.

His smile broadened. “Welcome neighbour,” he said, extending his big meaty hand over the counter top. “We’re lucky, I suppose,” he added, pointing to the smaller pipe with the drilled hole. “Our rats aren’t that big. Less garbage, I guess.” He picked up his pipe and fondled it for a moment. “I make a bunch of these each spring,” he said proudly. “The hole is my idea.” His face exploded in a smile that threatened his ears. “Instead of trying to put the poison in from the end and have it scattered all along the length of the pipe where cats can scoop it out, you can use a funnel and get it to stay right in the center where only the rats can get at it.”

He was so proud of his PVC modification that he was almost yelling now. People were beginning to gather around the counter to hear more. It was like he was doing a TV commercial, because he had picked up his pipe and was demonstrating it. “Notice the bevelled ends,” he said. I was going to ask him why he used bevels, but so many in the crowd were nodding their heads by that time I figured it must have been obvious. I decided not to say anything.

“Cat-proof,” he continued. “But for goodness sake, keep it out of the reach of little fingers.” More nods –it was an appreciative crowd. “And don’t use those big chunky hunks of poison –it has to be something the rat can carry back to her nest.” I’m not sure if his use of the feminine was a slap at egalitarian metrosexuality or a biologic trivium that needed no further explanation in a country grown habituated to rats and their proclivities.

The crowd began to thin when he put his pipe back on the counter. He seemed so into rats, I decided to ask him for some advice. “Where do you think is the best place to put the pipe?”

“Pipes,” he corrected me. “You need a lot of them.” He pretended to think about my question for a moment. “What makes you think you’ve got rats?” When I looked flummoxed, he leaned on the counter again like a grandfather giving advice to his city grandchild.

I blushed. I’m new at the country stuff, so I was afraid of divulging too much ignorance all at once. “Uhmm… Well, I saw one –a big one- when I went to pick up the eggs from the chicken coop.” It had startled me enough to drop the eggs, actually.

He nodded patiently. Condescendingly, in fact. “Did you go into the coop at night?” He didn’t even wait for an answer. “Never go for the eggs at night!” He fixed me with a stare a high school teacher would have been proud of. “That’s when they’re out. Out here, night is their country, not ours.” I could almost hear the italics. Clearly he thought we night-club-going city-folk wouldn’t realize that.

“Got a woodpile?” Obviously his expectation was that I would, so I nodded. “They build their nests in them. Just be careful come winter when you’re grabbing logs at night…” His face glowed like a devil when he said that. “How about your car?” He was more serious now. “Noticed any droppings on the engine?” I shook my head to be polite, but to tell the truth –which I hadn’t- I’d never thought to check. “Or how about bits of grass, or hay? They like the warmth,” he explained. “More especially in the fall and winter.” He grew contemplative for a minute and stared at the ceiling. I was about to check to see what he was looking at when he suddenly stared at me. “Customer came in last month and told me that they’d chewed through some wires under his hood. Had to get towed to the garage…”

I’d never thought of that. “So you need to put a PVC pipe in there?”

He nodded his head slowly and sagely. “Something, anyway. I use margarine containers myself. Just tape ‘em down and put them where they won’t melt while you’re driving. Not much clearance when the hood’s down for a cat to get into a margarine tub,” he said, proud of his knowledge of engine anatomy. “Just keep tabs on how much they’re eating… And don’t ever let it get empty, or they’ll go for the wires.” He stood back, satisfied he had terrified another naïve ‘City’.

He was so convincing, I walked out with ten pipes.

But like all those TV commercials, you only get told part of the story. Those guys they hire to demonstrate stuff probably practice for months to get it right. I failed immediately: I got the little pellets of rat poison everywhere. I’d started on the woodpile because it was in the garage and anyway it was raining. I didn’t have a funnel, so I rolled up a paper towel and tried that. Then an old city newspaper… The holes were just too small. So, after sprinkling several logs with a liberal helping of poison, I resorted to ramming wads of poison down the tubes with the handle of a screwdriver. That, too required more dexterity -not to mention depth perception- than my fogged up glasses would allow. So I gave up and phoned a friend with a house in the city.

“I just use peanut butter on those springy-thing rat traps,” she said.

Of course! City women are marvellous. I rigged a series of them on ledges in the coop and in little corners of the woodpile where the cat couldn’t reach. Now, two times a week, I check my lines like a trapper checking for beaver, or whatever they set them for. It’s almost fun.

I still haven’t figured out a way to keep them from slamming shut in the car when I go over bumps, though. The little snapping noises are embarrassing, too. I’ve decided not to ask at the building store, however. If it gets really bad, I’ll just phone my friend again –there’s probably a city solution they haven’t thought of out here.

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