Thursday, February 04, 2010

Murder Most Foul

I lived in several ramshackle apartments while I was in college. I think of it as a measure of how far I've come that I can look back on these places, places I once viewed as "quaint" or "hip" or "nice," and describe them now as "dank" and "shitty" and "Hooverville-like." It's the same sort of thing with furniture. I think everyone I know at one time or another saved a "perfectly good" piece of furniture from the dumpster. Only a college kid can look proudly upon a living room furnished with a plaid La-Z-Boy, glass coffee table, faux leather couch, wicker love seat, and Wal-Mart TV stand and think, "I am master of all I survey." It's a matter of place I suppose. When you've got no money, "nice" and "perfectly good" are negotiable terms.

The first "nice" place I lived in was a hideous box of an apartment in a sprawling complex well away from campus that was originally built as Section 8 housing. The carpets were forest green and every room was perfectly square. If a German Leggo designer had been asked to create a floor plan, this would have been it. The whole place had a prison feel. The apartment was access controlled, but with the buildings shaped and organized the way they were, 8 foot wrought iron fences surrounding the entire complex, and large grass fields separating the buildings from the fences, one got the feeling it was more about keeping the residents in as opposed to keeping any would be ne'er-do-wells out.

Of the countless ridiculous acts I witnessed or partook in at this apartment complex, the cake taker has to be the time an acquaintance of mine was propositioned by a prostitute in the parking lot of the complex. He was walking home from a bar, no doubt more than a little pickled, and did not have the mental capacity at that moment to realize what was going on. He just thought he was irresistible. After a good five minutes in flagrante de licto, my acquaintance had a moment of clarity, realized he was dealing with a pro, and, moreover, that the pro she was actually a pro he.

My next apartment was actually not bad, save for the complete lack of windows, the halfway house next door, and the attempted murder I witnessed in the parking lot when I was moving out. I knew this place was going to be great the first night I spent there. Pulling into the complex well after midnight, I was a little shocked to see two roaring blazes shooting flames out of the two community dumpsters in the parking lot. Pacing back and forth between these two gateways to hell was a well muscled, shirtless black man with a menacing look on his face clutching a pipe wrench. I guess I should have said, "I knew this place was going to be great the first night I was to spend there," but I just coasted straight through the parking lot and drove to a friend's apartment where I crashed on his couch. John Henry and the Bonfires were just a little too post apocalyptic for me.

After waaaaaaaay too many good times, a record low GPA, and countless other Animal House acts of tomfoolery, I thought I finally got it right when I found an old apartment well on the other side of town. My unit was one of four (just four!) in what looked to have been one large house built sometime around the turn of the century. I knew all of the other tenants well, the neighborhood was quiet, the unit had high ceilings and wood floors, a working Murphy bed, and most deliciously, I would be living there ALL BY MYSELF. I cannot stress how delirious with joy this made me. I loved all of my previous roommates, but the idea of having complete rule of my domain was beyond appealing.

For the first year, I was in love with the place. The commute was a hassle, but it served as an unassailable excuse when my buddies wanted to go out and I wanted to stay in. My GPA recovered its health, I witnessed no more acts of violence or prostitution, and I was generally very, very happy. Then one night I heard a noise in the kitchen. I had immersed myself in my studies in the living room (I was playing Xbox) and from the kitchen I could hear what sounded like a plastic package being opened. I pressed pause studies...and listened closer. The noise continued in spurts, but was most definitely coming from the kitchen. I slowly made my way from the living room, through the dining room, and to the entrance to the kitchen where I stopped to listen again. After a brief moment of silence, the noise started again and I turned on the kitchen light. An explosion of scuffling erupted from the top of one of the kitchen cabinets over the sink and then all noise abruptly ceased.

This was not at all what I wanted to be dealing with at 2AM. My quaint apartment on the other side of town was now a quaint varmint infested apartment on the other side of town. I immediately recalled the story my buddy Mike had told me about the family of raccoons that had lived in his attic and how one of them had pawed a hole in the bathroom ceiling as his roommate was occupied on the toilet. This lead to their landlord "solving the problem" by entombing the raccoon family in the attic Cask of Amontillado style. In the following days, my buddies were serenaded by the raccoon family's starvation shrieks. After they all finally succumbed to what must have been an excruciating death, the stench of a rotting raccoon family tainted the air for many weeks to come. In Disney movies, families of critters are cute. In the real world, they get murdered by a dimly lit college slum lord and their decomposing carcasses assault your inner sanctum.

I climbed on top of the kitchen counter and peered toward the back of the top of the cabinet. Sure enough, there was a small hole in the wall and littering the top of the cabinet were old roach traps gnawed around the edges. I went immediately into panic mode. The hole was clearly only large enough to accommodate a squirrel, mouse, or rat. In my thinking, at that hour any self respecting squirrel would be sleeping amongst his collected nuts in a tree somewhere and a mouse could not possibly have the chompers to make the sort of racket I had been hearing all the way from the living room. That left one possible culprit: A rat. And said rat had been gnawing on roach traps. Roach traps?!? This meant a further few things: 1) The rat was not eating plastic for sustenance which meant he/she could only be nesting. 2) If he/she were nesting that meant he/she was expecting a family to be moving in some time soon. 3) Roach traps?!? I must have really let myself go if my potential roommate list was now comprised of rats and roaches.

I sprang into action, my mind awhirl with possible IMMEDIATE solutions to my new rodent problem. My eyes darting around the kitchen, a large, gleaming knife caught my attention. This was it! I could position myself on the kitchen counter, knife pointed motionlessly at the rat's hole, and when he/she showed its little rodent face, I would stab it in one incredibly gruesome thrust. The idiocy of this plan occurred to me only after I had been standing on the kitchen counter for a good five minutes. How could I be sure I killed the rat with one fell swoop? What if I only mortally wounded it and it escaped back into my walls to die and rot thus filling my living space with the stench of decomposing rat? What if I merely succeeded in pissing off the rat and instead of flight, he/she decided on fight? I could think of few worse things than having my face gnawed off by a recently stabbed rat. Clearly, the knife solution was not going to work.

I started to scan the kitchen again for a more effective murder implement. At one point, I noticed a book of matches and an aerosol cleaning can. I could strike a match and flame throw the rat to death. Brilliant! Again, I started to climb the kitchen counter when I realized that a flaming rat scampering through the walls of my wooden apartment would not be the best thing in the world. I could imagine trying to explain to the Fire Marshall as we surveyed the smoldering ruins of my apartment building, "Well, there was this rat, right?" In addition, there was the very real possibility that I could experience a repeat of scenario number one and be attacked by a flaming rat instead of a recently stabbed one. Clearly, the impromptu flame thrower option was not going to work either.

By this point, it was approaching 3AM and I was out of ideas on how to kill the rat. I would have to wait until morning to solve my rodent problem. But what to do for the rest of the night? I would have to leave the rat to his/her own devices. What was to prevent the rat from crawling out of my walls and getting in to my food? Or bedroom? And chewing my face off? I found a beer bottle and shoved it in the rat hole. Then I placed a heavy book behind the beer bottle to make sure the rat couldn't get out for the evening. I didn't sleep a wink.

The next morning I had to leave the apartment early to go to my work study job. After work, I had a seminar class that lasted three hours and got out at 5PM. With each passing minute of class, I imagined the rat waking up somewhere in my walls in his/her half made nest and stretching his/her little rat arms and yawning a devious rat yawn. I had to get home before the sun set, lest the rat complete his/her project before I could get to the business of killing him/her.

As soon as class let out, I sped to the grocery store and found the pest killing aisle. So many choices! At first I went for the sticky trap but then remembered my sister's own collegiate rat issue. She too had opted for the sticky trap and woke up one night to hear the rat becoming successfully ensnared in said trap. The following morning, expecting to walk into her kitchen to find an exhausted rodent with a "You got me" look on his face, she instead found a right rat arm and a left rat arm but no rat. I put the sticky trap back. The next option was the poison rat pellets. This seemed a good idea at first as it would excuse me from the actual business of killing the rat. Plus, it seemed a little more cerebral and civilized. But then I realized that I would probably wind up with a dead rat in my walls again and I didn't want to endure the whole rotting rodent thing. Eventually, I opted for the tried and true rat trap...three tried and true rat traps to be exact. Marching proudly toward the check out counter, I passed through the shampoo aisle and, remembering that I was about to run out, grabbed a bottle. While I was at it I thought I would grab some toothpaste and deodorant as well because I was pretty sure I was running low on those two things. Approaching the check out counter with my shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and rat traps I realized why the exceptionally attractive check out girl was giving me an exceptionally revolting look. Clearly, I was a guy with a rat problem. And clearly, I had decided the source of my rat problem was a total lack of personal hygiene.

It was almost dark now and I had just made it home. In the final moments of sunlight, as the rat was no doubt waking from his/her filthy slumber in MY WALLS, I prepped the killing field atop my kitchen counter. After initially setting only one rat trap immediately opposite the rat hole, I figured overkill was better than underkill so I set all three rat traps in a semi circle of death facing the rat hole. I coated each rat trap spring with irresistible peanut butter, then, deviously, I moved the gnawed on roach traps to the opposite corner of the cabinet top. Admiring the precision of my work, I shut off the kitchen lights and took up residence in the living room waiting to hear the delicious SNAP of the rat traps doing their business.

An hour later I heard the roach traps being gnawed upon.

Impossible! I snuck into the kitchen and turned the light on. Silence. I carefully climbed atop the kitchen counter and peered over the edge of the cabinet. The roach traps had indeed been further gnawed. The tasty peanut butter and rat traps? Untouched. I was dealing with a pro. I repositioned the rat traps to IMMEDIATELY in front of the rat hole, coated them with more irresistible peanut butter, shut off the lights, and went back to the living room.

10 minutes later I heard the roach traps being gnawed upon again.

This was getting old. I marched back into the kitchen, flipped the light switch on and listened. Again, silence. Again, I climbed atop the kitchen counter and observed exactly what I had previously observed. Rat traps and delicious peanut butter? Untouched. Out of frustration, I moved one of the roach traps to one of the rat traps. This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. I thought I would either finally get the rat, or I would kill the hell out of a giant roach. Again, I climbed back off the counter and shut off the lights.

5 minutes later I heard the roach traps yet again being gnawed upon. Rigoddammeddiculous!

I ran to the kitchen yelling and flipped the light on. The metallic SNAP of a sprung rat trap echoed through the kitchen and a hideous flopping and scurrying sound emanated from atop the cabinet. I froze in the kitchen listening to the gradually slowing death throes of my rat nemesis. After things were good and quiet for a few minutes I carefully climbed back on to the kitchen counter and leaned over the top of the cabinet. There, with a roach trap still clenched in his/her jaws, was the biggest rat I had ever see. Seriously, you know that rat from The Nutcracker? It was a least as big.

I decided to leave the rat king on top of the cabinet that night. Why did I do such a disgusting thing, you ask? As a warning to other rodents who might have become emboldened when this rat started nesting in my walls. I was no longer the college kid in apartment B. I was a stone cold killer and I wanted the world to know it.