I write this column against the advice of my handyman, who spoke his words of wisdom from beneath my kitchen sink.
"I know you like to write about everything," he said as he hammered pieces of wood into place. "But trust me that this is one thing you don't want to write about."
On the other hand, a friend/respected neighbor (a dentist, for goodness sake!) who lives in a very nice, beautifully remodeled mid-century home, said I should feel no shame. His words provided comfort when I needed it most.
"Even the nicest houses can have rats."
On the scale of critters that most freak me out, rats are far and away No. 1, followed by cockroaches in second place, with ticks and head lice tied for third. Snakes? Spiders? No big deal. Rats? Total nightmare material.
Living in the Garden Tract for six years now I'd heard of rats and rumors of rats from time to time. I'd heard talk of rats in attics, rats in sheds, rats in ivy, and rats in chicken houses. I felt superior. I felt proud that my home - my sanctuary - was a rat-free zone.
That changed when I recently heard some strange sounds around the vicinity of what seemed under the kitchen floor. I was doing as I do most nights; sitting on a bar stool at my kitchen counter working on my laptop putting the website to bed.
It sounded like something was chewing on something. Wood? Plastic? Potato chips? I couldn't tell. I went to the spot where the noise seemed to be located, and stomped loudly on the floor. I listened. More chewing sounds, just as loud. For emphasis, I opened and slammed a large, lower kitchen drawer. That did the trick. The chomping stopped. Good. I resumed my work and eventually went to bed. I made a mental note to call a pest control service in the morning.
Have you ever had a situation where you went to bed with a problem, slept on it, and then almost miraculously woke up the next day with the answer? That's what happened to me. The dawning - the knowing - propelled me out of bed and straight to the kitchen where I stared at the closed drawer I'd slammed the previous night.
The question that emerged during my slumber was this: Why did the chomping not stop when I stomped on the floor, but it ceased when I slammed the drawer?
I gingerly opened the drawer.
Cue Psycho music.
The drawer was strewn with rat droppings, rat piss, ripped-up packages and scattered food. I screamed and shut the drawer. Oh my God! Rats had been in that drawer. That drawer is in my house.
You may ask what in the world rats have to do with this weight-loss column. I'll tell you. That drawer contained things I stopped eating a year ago as part of my health and fitness plan. That drawer held a variety of pasta, corn meal, tapioca pearls, polenta, rice paper wrappers, rice and specialty flours. I had rarely opened that drawer since December 2015, when I first started working out with Matthew R. Lister at Align Private Training.
In fact, the title of my first weight-loss column last December was "No More White, Girl" - referring to all those carb-heavy white foods I'd surely be giving up. I gave them up and one year later, I am down 35 pounds and just as many inches.
But enough about me. I was talking about rats.
It didn't help that in addition to discovering the rat evidence, when I pulled out the drawer all the way and dared to peer behind the drawer, I saw, to my absolute shock and horror, that the contractors who'd remodeled my kitchen had placed the new cabinets directly on the old sub floor, the same sub floor that was riddled with gaping holes large enough to fit, well, a rodent ... many rodents. No barrier between my holey sub floor and my kitchen cabinets?! I'm no contractor, but come on!
I did the next logical thing. I immediately contacted my son in the Czech Republic, who's cool in an emergency. Besides, of my three kids, he's the one who'd be the least likely to laugh, and most likely to take me seriously if I'm bordering on hysteria.
Sure enough, Joe talked me off a ledge and walked me through what I needed to do: Wear gloves, remove and throw away everything in the drawer. Then disinfect the drawer and wash it clean. Next, drive like a bat out of hell to OSH and get rat traps, rat poison, rat bait. Rat everything! Buy it all! Finally, he told me to come home and set a couple of traps in the drawer. Load them with rat crack: peanut butter.
I followed his directions. But then I had to leave for a concert for which I'd bought tickets and couldn't miss. I may as well have stayed home, because I thought of nothing the whole time except rats in my kitchen drawer. And in my house. And on my bed. And in my life.
I dreaded going home but couldn't wait to get home. And when I did, I used a broom handle to carefully pull The Rat Diner Drawer open, just a few inches. I yelled when I saw a blackish/gray rat ass and long tail, perfectly still. I didn't need to see the whole rat to know it was dead.
One out of two rat traps was occupied. Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod!
I shut the drawer and called my other son - the one who lives in Cottonwood. He's a Marine. Let the record show that I'm not the kind of mother who makes demands upon her only child who lives nearby. I mean, I have on speed dial three different handymen, just so I don't have to bug my son with every little household thing, but this was an extreme exception/emergency. I was beyond freaked. Could he please come in the morning and deal with the dead rat on his way to work? He laughed (as I knew he would). Sure. No problem.
But within seconds of hanging up, I heard a loud SNAP and then high-pitched squeaking that stopped just as suddenly from the kitchen drawer. I couldn't believe it! The second trap was sprung. That meant my kitchen drawer, the place that had been Hometown Buffet for God knows how many rats for God knows how long ... that drawer now held two dead rats in this short period of time.
Calgon, take me away!
And that drawer contained no more food. If those two rats had hungry, free-loading relatives, and they found the drawer empty, they would surely step over the rat corpses, push the drawer open and storm my kitchen looking for food. There'd be no stopping them.
And then I'd have to burn my house down and move to a high-rise condo.
I called Josh back. Screeching may have replaced words. Please come RIGHT NOW! Bless him, because within 20 minutes Josh was there, with a rifle, for effect. I wasn't laughing. But when Josh opened the drawer, inexplicably, there was just one dead rat.
The thing is, the other trap wasn't exactly empty. It held a severed rat arm.
Those are words I never imagined I'd write.
Josh disposed of the dead rat and the amputated rat limb and went home. I immediately called my favorite handyman, explained the situation and begged him to please please oh please come patch the holes beneath my cabinets. Yes, that night!
When he arrived that night, he commented to the effect that it was too bad I didn't have a boyfriend. I asked what made him so sure I didn't. He said that if I did, I wouldn't be calling him at that hour.
Focusing on the positive ... that drawer - completely bleached and clean - now holds stainless steel lids for pots and pans. No food of any kind.
Plus, when the rain stops, I've put in a request for my favorite handyman to come back and patch every opening on the exterior of my house that leads to the crawl space beneath my house.
Meanwhile, I am supremely humbled, and no longer feel superior, at least when it comes to rats.
But I do know this: Even the nicest houses can have rats.
*I also know that there’s a three-legged rat out there with a score to settle.
*Concluding sentence courtesy of Jim Dowling. Click here to see some of Jim's other work.