The rats are eating my car.
I made this horrifying discovery a few weeks ago while making a trip to my favorite overpriced organic supermarket to stock up on organic fruits and vegetables that I'll probably never eat. I love this particular overpriced organic supermarket because they have one of those big conveyer belts that shoots your purchases out to the curb to be loaded into your car by friendly bag-boys, thus sparing you the effort of having to schlep your groceries through the parking lot yourself. Very handy for the disabled and/or lazy folk in our midst.
Anyway, while I was sitting in my car ruminating on the wonders of modern conveniences like grocery conveyer belts, one of the friendly bag boys stuck his head through my passenger window and informed me that my car was leaking gasoline.
Shocked, I hopped out and rushed around to investigate. Sure enough, a large, malodorous, and, presumably, highly flammable stream of clear fluid was puddling beneath my car and spreading rapidly across the parking lot.
Luckily, the overpriced organic supermarket happens to be located right around the corner from my fabulously cheap new mechanic, so, after giving the friendly bag boy a generous tip and admonishing him to not smoke for the rest of the day, I managed to get my car over to the service station, where they placed a large pan underneath it to catch the drips, and lugged my now-wilted overpriced organic produce home in a cab.
The next day, when I went to pick my car up, Phil, the head mechanic who, in addition to being ridiculously inexpensive is also an automotive genius, informed me they had had to replace the entire fuel pump (to the tune of $825, or approximately half of what it would have cost if I had taken it to the Saab dealership I used to go to, another reason I think my new mechanic is fabulous).
"How did this happen, anyway?" I asked, not really know what I would do with the information or how I would even begin to judge whether or not it was true, but feeling the need to impress him with my consumer awareness.
Phil explained that the fuel pump has a plastic thingamajig on it that connects it to the fuel line, and that something had apparently chewed through it, causing the line to snap off and spill gas whenever I accelerated.
"What do you mean, 'chewed through it?'" I asked.
He looked at me with that mixture of pity and contempt people assume when they're trying to explain what should be a relatively simple concept, like "one plus one equals two," to the mentally impaired. "Where do you typically park your car?" he asked.
"In the…alley behind my building," I said, dreadful realization slowly creeping over me.
"And what typically lives in the alleys?"
"Umm…homeless people?" I squeaked hopefully.
"What else?" he prodded.
"You mean RATS did it?"
"Yeah. We see that a lot," he confided, "but it's usually the brake lines they get first."
There is something very wrong in a world where it costs law-abiding city dwellers $295 a month to provide sustenance to the neighborhood rat population.
Let me just state right now that I have a fear of rodents that rivals that of Winston Smith. I loathe them. All of them. All shapes and sizes. Mice, moles, squirrels, chipmunks—if it scurries, or has scurried, at any time in its life, I want it dead, and pronto. Preferably somewhere out of my presence, as I am also terrified of dead things and once paid a hardware store clerk $20 to come over to my apartment and remove the corpse of a squirrel that had somehow tumbled from a tree into my back yard.
But rats are by far the worst—and most intolerable—of the lot.
It's not like I didn't know my neighborhood has a rat problem. An entire committee of our neighborhood association is dedicated to rodent control, and they're plenty vocal. And the back alleys, where the un-garaged among us pay a premium to park our cars, are perfect breeding grounds, because that's also where we have to leave our household trash on pickup day. Technically, we're not supposed to put anything out until 6 a.m. the morning it's collected, but there's always some ignoramous down the block who insists on throwing his fish tails and pizza boxes out there the night before because he doesn't want them cluttering up the house. Voila—a rat smorgasbord, right smack in my own backyard.
So, yeah, I've seen them slithering around along the exterior walls of the buildings on my block, usually out of the corner of my eye while trying desperately to not see them. But, up until this point, the closest brush I ever had with the rodent life in my neighborhood was several years ago, when a mouse that had been living in my wall chose to emerge from his dwelling long enough to expire beneath my oven, where my late cat Eliot discovered it and deposited the desiccated corpse on my bedroom rug to punish me for coming home late from a business trip.
The moment I saw it I shrieked bloody murder, ran into the living room, and cowered on my sofa for an hour, for the first time bitterly regretting the fact that I live alone and thus had to deal with my predicament by myself. I consider myself a fairly independent person and can wield a paint brush and power tools with the best of them, but if there was ever a time I gave serious consideration to the benefits of having a roommate—or possibly even a husband—around to deal with the more unpleasant elements of domesticity, this was it.
I finally steeled myself to return to the bedroom to try to figure out how I could dispose of the mouse carcass without actually touching it. Or looking at it. I decided the best approach was to shroud the body until I determined what my next step would be, so I grabbed a dishtowel and tossed it in the general direction of the cadaver. My first throw was widely off the mark, as were the second, third, and fourth ones (each time using a separate towel so I wouldn't have to get too close to my target while retrieving my errant throws). I finally hit it on the fifth try, but was dismayed to see that the tiny dead lump was still visible beneath the terrycloth. So I crept over and dropped another towel on the pile, and then tried to scoop the whole mass up into a cardboard box top, only to lose my grip and send the stiff little body skittering across my floor.
And that concluded my funeral directing efforts for the evening.
I slept on my living room sofa that night and avoided my bedroom the following morning. When queried as to why I was wearing the same clothes I'd had on the day before, I made the mistake of confiding my dilemma to my merciless co-workers, who all laughed uproariously and addressed me as "Mousie" for the remainder of the day
By the time I got home that evening I was in a frenzy. Determined to confront my nightmare head on, I marched into the bedroom and set to work.
Six more dishtowels, two cardboard box tops, and a cacophony of terrified screeches later, I gave up and called my friends Cathy and Owen, who lived around the corner. Owen is one of those great-guy friend husbands who's always willing to push your car out of a snowbank or help you change a tire when Triple A doesn't show up. I knew I could count on him for corpse disposal. Sure enough, he came over in a flash, picked up the mouse, threw away the tainted towels, and poured me a glass of chardonnay. Then he put on his coat and went home.
Now that's what I call an ideal husband.