Monday, December 21, 2009

Of Mice and Men and Women

Okay. So I hate mice. A lifetime of working in barns and living in climates that drive mice indoors in the fall has left me with a near phobia of creatures that dash across the floor at the speed of light and without fail end up under the stove or refrigerator in the kitchen...conscious-less critters that seek only to terrorize, eat and poop. The only critters that I fear more are their super sized cousins, rats and the Godzilla of all rats, opossums.

Before I get on with the saga of rodent control in Mary I have to tell you a story that just jumped out of my memory bank. Several years back I took a major detour in career and decided to become a hair dresser. I met so many nice people and had so many fun experiences and a few not so fun ones. I probably could write a book about the things that happen when you stand behind the chair for a living but this one is a standout.

It was 1993. I had just begun my career and I was working for Jana, a really nice woman who owned a small three chair salon in St. Helens, Oregon, an old dying mill town that sits on the Columbia River and has a perfect view of Mt. St. Helens in Washington. The salon was at the far end of the downtown core. She also had a manicurist, Jackie who worked three days a week. It was August and the afternoon temperatures had been pushing to the mid-nineties all week. The little salon did not have air conditioning so we would prop open the front door and the back door to keep air circulating. If you stood in the front door you would look over a roll top desk into the salon area and from there into the back room where there was a washer and dryer, sink and storage for our supplies. It was a straight line of sight from the front door to the back door and probably only 25 feet or so.

View of Mt. St. Helens from Oregon

On a sweltering afternoon I had a break in my schedule so I went downtown to get a birthday gift for my sister. When I returned I parked outside on the street so I walked into the front of the salon. Jana was getting her nails done and she and Jackie were gabbing. I got to the front of the roll top desk when something caught my eye in the back room. The door was open in the back so it was well lit. The voice in my head whispered "rat". The hair stood up on my arms. "Ah...ah...ah..." I stuttered as both Jackie and Jana looked at me with puzzled expresions.
Apparently I had lost all color in my face and my eyes were standing out of my head. My brain replayed what I saw, a King Kong dark brown a ra-ra-rat had just danced across the floor of the supply room. "RAT!" I screamed and before I knew what I was doing I was standing on the deck of the roll top desk with my little gift bag in my hand. Jackie jumped on her manicurist chair and Jana jumped into action. I was stunned to watch her march into the supply room and slam the door that separated the salon from the back room. Jackie and I looked at each other in complete and utter terror. We heard crashing and banging in the back room. Then it went quiet. The door opened and Jana came out with a broom in her hand. "He ran under the supply cabinet and I can't get him out," she said in a very calm tone. I was thinking that this was the bravest woman I ever met. In a quivering voice Jackie said, "I'll call Brad." That was her boyfriend. Inside of 20 minutes Brad arrived to save the day. He chased the filthy rodent out of the supply room and we all sat down and breathed a sigh of relief. It was quiet for a minute and then I said, "Does anyone find it odd that a rat showed up in the middle of the afternoon on a sunny day and decided to take refuge in a salon with no air conditioning?" We all looked at each other with blank expressions.

I went home that night and recounted my story to my ex who said, "I hope it wasn't rabid or something." Multiply a large number of those thoughtful sentiments by 13 years and you'll understand why he is my ex. I spent the night tossing and turning and having RABID RAT nightmares. The next morning I went to work.

View of historic hotel in St. Helens

I had a 9:00 frost and haircut to do on a client who was Jana's best friend Jill (Jana didn't do color). Jill arrived and I draped her in a dark purple cape. She was eating a cup of vanilla frozen yogurt for breakfast. I put her frosting cap on and started pulling strands of hair through the cap with a crochet hook until she looked like a big purple cactus (frosts are not a pretty thing when you are doing them).

Jana came in and decided that it was getting too warm so she propped the front door open. I thought is was getting too warm too but given the events of the prior day I was willing to sweat it out. The waiting area which was situated by a large window in the front of the salon was full of white wicker furniture and was visible from where I was standing. Jana was on the phone at the desk while I was busy chatting with Jill when out of the corner of my eye I saw a rat run past the desk, make a hard left under the wicker couch and then ran the perimeter of the salon finally dashing into the back room. This happened so fast (and at the same time in slow motion) that I barely had time to register my disbelief in my what my eyes were seeing. I remember thinking that I was still asleep in my bed and this was part of my succession of "Willard" nightmares. Not possible my mind screamed as I recorded the vision of the hugest rat I had ever seen. Of course it was the only the second rat (in less than 24 hours) I had ever seen in person which probably added to the drama of the moment. He had to weigh 30 pounds if he was an ounce and had a tail that was at least 10 feet long. He was demonic gray with shark like beady eyes. And fangs. Big fangs. It's amazing what your mind can create when you are terrorized. Apparently while all of these thoughts were playing out in my head I again screamed "RAT!". I jumped on Jana's salon swivel chair (crochet hook in hand) where I moved around in slow circles trying not to fall off. On one of my trips around I caught a glimpse of Jill. I'll go to my grave with this picture in my head. She was standing on my salon chair (which I had locked so she wasn't spinning), her blond hair standing at attention (sticking out of the frosting cap), purple cape hanging to just below her knees with melted vanilla frozen yogurt streaming down the front of the cape. I think when flight syndrome kicks in still shots are forever emblazoned in your memory.

Okay, so the rat is in the back room and Jill and I are standing catatonic on the chairs. Jana calmly hangs up the phone and then runs to the back room and slams the door BEHIND her. We hear clattering and crashing and then heard the back door slam. Jana walks out and props the broom against the wall. "He's gone," she says. "Are you sure?" Jill and I chimed in unison. "Yeah," she says as Jill and I climb down from our perches. "How can you be so calm?" I asked her. She said, "I had a pet rat when I was a kid." I couldn't stop myself, "Jana, these are not pets. These are wild sewer rats roaming the streets in broad daylight. Something isn't right with this." I truly thought I was living out a horror movie script. With that I got on the phone and called the city of St. Helens. I explained about two rats in two days and asked if there is some reason that rats are roaming the streets. The nice woman said, "Oh yes. They are doing sewer blasting downtown and it is running the rats out of the sewer." I shivered. "Thank you," I said and hung up. The next week at work was pretty tense and very hot because pet rat or not I refused to agree to an open door policy in the salon until the blasting was done. I have not seen another rat since then (there is a God) but I've seen tons of mice.

So after I discovered that there had been a mouse in the drawer in Mary I took a deep breath and started opening drawers and cupboards throughout the galley. This mouse had been everywhere. I filled the sink with blazing hot water and soap, got the spray disinfectant and went to work cleaning and washing everything that was in the drawers and cupboards. This mouse actually ate the end off of the spatula that I used to make scrambled eggs! I declared war. And I needed a comrade to do the tough stuff. John. Two hours later we loaded up and went to the local grocery store and bought four of the old fashioned mouse traps and a jar of peanut butter. We bought two containers of D-Con which I hate because I'm always afraid that a mouse will eat it, go outside and die and a bird will eat the mouse and die. Besides, I hate mice with a purple passion but that stuff is poison and not a quick kill. But I agreed to use D-Con as a last resort. John set two traps (not before tons of snapping traps and cussing) inside of the cupboards and put two in the bays of the coach. He said, "Now what?" I said, "You will need to check your trap line every couple of hours or so." He cracked up. "Trap line?" Oh yes, this is serious business.

Later we were getting ready to go out to dinner. It was about 5:00 and as I was rearranging my hair I heard the trap in one of the cupboards snap. "Got one!" I hollered. John came out of the bathroom. "Where?" he asked. "In the cupboard." He slowly opened the pan cupboard. He closed the door again. "He's still in the throws," he said. "I'll get him out before we leave." The goosebumps made their now now routine trek up and down my arms. One of the bad things about having a mouse in a confined area is that I'm sure I see them dashing EVERYWHERE. I'm constantly jumping out of my shoes because I'm sure I saw one running across the floor. Most often it is my paranoid mind. I sat down with Ransom and we had a talk. "Now I know your heritage is part rat terrier and mice are probably beneath you but if you see one..." Ransom slept through the entire mouse experience.

Recipient mouse pasture at dusk

John disposed of the dead mouse (my hero), reset the trap and we went to dinner. When we got back I got the dogs and took them for a walk while he checked his trap line. As I as coming back I saw him coming out of the coach with a trap in each hand, dead mouse in each trap. THREE MICE. He jettisoned the mice into the pasture and then pulled the traps out of the bays. Two more dead mice. FIVE MICE. They must have put the word out to the entire mouse population of Springfield! I could see the bulletin: "Calling all mice! There is a giant luxury motor coach located at 37691 Upper Camp Creek Road. It's heated and there is FOOD for the winter. Only two freaked out humans and two lazy dogs. Come one, come all!"

We killed off an entire family of mice that night. The word of the massacre must have spread like wildfire through the mouse community on Camp Creek Road because after the initial five mice we didn't find another mouse in the traps and no sign anywhere close to it. Before we folded our tent and headed for Arizona we had a former employee of Monaco Coach come and help John replace a torn awning, adjust the entry door and work on the air compressor that levels the coach when it is parked. We were satisfied that Mary was fixed. Boy were we in for a surprise.

I have to tackle a list of things to do for Christmas. If all goes well I'll be back soon to fill you in on our adventure to Arizona! I hope the holiday season has been fun for all of you so far! And HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE!!! The days get longer from here! YAY!!!