First person: New house with all the trappings

Published May 1, 2014

In February, I moved into a new house in South Tampa. It's cute and comfy with a huge yard shaded by tall, old trees. Oh, happy day!

Not long after, I started seeing what looked like animal droppings on my kitchen floor. A quick search of Google confirmed my fear: rodent poop.

I bought two traps at Lowe's, the kind where little Jerry walks into a house but can't get out. Neat, easy, but useless. I went for the jugular. Snap traps.

Every night for a week, I loaded four traps with cheese and peanut butter and set them along the edges of the floor. Most mornings, I'd find the bait gone and the traps snapped, but Mensa Mouse still on the lam.

My quest became an obsession as I plotted like Bill Murray in Caddyshack. "Come to Susan, varmint!''

On about the fifth day, everything stopped. No poop. No bait eating. No trap snapping. I had scared the mouse away.

I savored the victory for several days until an entire bowl of cat food disappeared overnight.

This time, I bought the biggest glue trap I could find, one about the size of a small shoe box. It was gross but, so I was told, effective. I went to bed humming Hotel California. "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.''

Hell arrived at 1:18 a.m. on a Monday. I awoke to the sound of thrashing. Wielding a broom, I tiptoed to the kitchen and turned on the light. Much to my surprise, my mouse wasn't a mouse at all. It was a rat, its body nearly the length of the trap and its tail like a whip against the floor

Shaking, I figured the best course of action would be to sweep the rat out the front door and let it die outside. At the sight of the broom, the rat started squealing.

I was the one who ended up in the yard. Help!

I might have asked a neighbor, but in the postmidnight gloom, every window was dark. And even if someone were awake, would they really want me showing up on their doorstep in the middle of the night? "Hi, I'm your new neighbor. Nice to meet you. Could you come over and dispose of a rat?''

Not exactly like borrowing a cup of sugar.

I almost called 911 but feared my emergency would have been ridiculed. I considered going to the fire department or calling a friend, but felt bad about waking people up.

Then, eureka! I'd go to the nearest bar and ask for a volunteer. Surely, someone would take pity on me, if only for the sheer insanity of it. And, if they had been drinking for a while, maybe they'd be feeling brave.

I went to Pete's Place on Henderson Boulevard, a hole-in-the-wallish bar I had driven by a hundred times. Dressed in a PJ top and shorts, I ran inside, blurting out my dilemma to the five people at the bar. One woman said the rat would be dead by morning: Go back to bed. One man laughed that it was the best pickup line he had ever heard.

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One kind soul heeded the call, enticed by the adventure and promise of free beer afterward. Dressed in shorts and a button-down shirt, he looked about 45, with no overt signs of serial killer tendencies. He said he had come to the bar because he was tired of watching TV and his family had gone to bed. Good enough.

On the drive over, we got acquainted and reflected on the fact that this wasn't the brightest thing either one of us had ever done. (Oddly, he sat in the back because, he later said, he was worried about me pulling a gun.) But desperate times called for desperate measures, and I was pretty certain the only one going to meet his maker that night was the one paw-deep in glue.

The guy — I'll call him Daniel because I'm not sure if he told his wife about this — yelled something like "Holy s---'' when he saw the size of Ratatouille. It was loud and flopping around and seemingly strong enough to free itself at any moment.

Daniel had the sensible idea to throw a pillowcase over the rat. With a broom and a shovel he scooped it up and dumped it into the trash. He rolled the bin to the curb and, in a moment that reminded me of the squirrel incident in Chevy Chase's Christmas Vacation, we yelled "Rat gone!''

Back at Pete's Place, over a Yuengling for me and three Bud Lights for Daniel, we recounted the ordeal to the bartender and the last guy left in the bar, who thought we were crazy. Daniel, who manages 401(k)s for a living, said he deserved the title of "Rat Killer.'' Regretting we hadn't killed the rat with the shovel, I said I felt sick.

At 3 a.m. we parted with a quick hug because, given the circumstances, it seemed like the thing to do. For me, though, it wasn't over. I still had whisker face writhing at the bottom of my trash bin.

And the garbage guys weren't coming for another day.