Life can be tough in posh suburbs. Very tough. In our neighborhood we have a very litigous-minded family. They have attempted to sue everyone. Except us. For us, they have reserved their special treatment.
The kerfluffle between us and them began when I was a new mother. Our little ball of soft pink flesh was sleeping peacefully in her crib when out of the corner of my eye and out the window I saw a large rat walking through this neighbor's yard. I watched that rat with his nose pressed to the ground find birdseed that my neighbor had liberally sprinkled under her birdfeeders for the squirrels. After eating a good size portion, this rodent then had the audacity to move on across her yard under the hedge and wander through our yard. I held my breath as he nosed around looking for something to tickle his tastebuds. He found nothing so he turned tail and went back to my neighbor's yard to resume dining on the birdseed. As the fate of Roger Kimball's future daughter-in-law's little pink toes hung in the balance, I picked up the phone and called our neighbor. I asked her to look out her window and see what was under her crabapple tree. No doubt she was expecting a rare bird. What she saw was a 14" rat, tail included. There was dead silence from her end of the line. I very coldly told her to get rid of 'it'. Later, after I had calmed down, I thought perhaps it would have been wiser to call the City. Rat control is one of the reasons we have a local government. But I hadn't and now I knew chances were very good that my neighbor would 'get me'.
A few weeks later, when I was outside doing some yardwork, the husband came over to tell me he had seen 7 rats in our yard and on our front steps. I asked when. He said, "Every morning." I panicked right there in front of him. Big mistake. Never let them see your fear. After he left I went and canvassed all of the other neighbors asking them if they ever saw rats in our front yard. They all said no. The wiser neighbors, ones who had had legal papers served on them by this family, told me this was payback time. I calmed down and everything went quiet for a while. That was it, or so I thought.
It was a few weeks after this a stranger rang our bell. I answered the door and the man showed me his City badge. He was the Rat Inspector. He told me one of my neighbors had reported seeing rats in my yard. The horror and shame was too much. I started to cry right there on my front door step. The Rat Inspector, or Bob as he told me to call him, felt very bad and tried to cheer me up by saying that even the nicest homes in our town sometimes have rats. As Roger Kimball's future daughter-in-law was asleep in her crib and out of the reach of any rodents, I was able to go out into the backyard with Bob to search for rats. He poked in the bushes, looked at the foundation of the house and garage and prodded wherever he could but he found no evidences of rats. "You don't have rats." I nodded through my tears and said "Thankyou." He left. The following spring he returned. I opened the door and said "Not again?" He nodded and he went through the backyard. Again, he found no evidence of rats. As he said goodbye, I said, "I'll see you the same time next year." Which I did and the year after that and the year after that.
After Bob's first few visits, I undertook quietly redesigning the yard to make the charge "You have rats." to be absolutely ridiculous. We no longer store any firewood or grass seed, We do not feed the birds or compost. Mr. P built peastone pathways, lined with a double row of reclaimed bricks and raised beds. Rats dislike peastone - much too messy. The area behind the garage now has two goodsized raised beds surrounded by peastone. I patiently awaited Bob's arrival the next spring but, oddly, he never came.
Last week he came. But it wasn't Bob. It was David, the City's new Rat Inspector. David knocked on the door. When I opened it he said, "Hello, you've been reported by one of your neighbors for rats in your yard." I responded with "Where's Bob?" David looked surprised and said Bob had retired. I said, "Oh. Come on in, we always get reported for rats." The expression on David's face changed from surprise to an odd one. After we went into the yard his expression got even odder. Before he stepped off our steps he said, "There are no problems here!" I said "I know." As we walked over to the swingset I pointed to Cyril, our black squirrel who was sitting on the seesaw, and said "That's the only rat we've got." David laughed. He looked at Mr. P's hardwork and said, "This looks great." I said "Thanks." David then complimented our trimming job on the bushes. He poked around the snapdragons in Roger Kimball's future daughter-in-law's Secret Garden and pronounced it rat-free. The pumkin patch was cleared too and so were the hydrangeas, the mallows and the black-eyed susans. When he finished, he said our backyard was "terrific". He then asked me if it would be ok to give me the paperwork from the City on how to keep your property rat-free. I said, "Sure, you have to do your job." As he left he said because of the report he had to issue a poison order for the sewer on our entire street. He explained that an exterminator would come and put poisoned feed down into the sewer. I did feel a pang of sorrow for the rats that had to die because of my neighbor's desire to get even with me.
Now, when you poison rats strange things occur. I know this because I used to live on Beacon Hill and that place, as posh as it is, is crawling with them. For a time one of my sisters, who was also my roommate, was a waitress at an upscale restaurant on Charles Street. The restaurant had a rat problem and solved it by putting out an all-you-can-eat rat poison buffet. Occassionally the odd dead rat would be found in the kitchen area and would be properly disposed of. Not a big deal, the manager and chef thought.
One Friday lunch shift was particularly busy and my sister was serving. Unknown to the waitstaff, the kitchen help had, in the previous days, put out a large amount of rat poison. Well, one of the victims surfaced in the kitchen during the lunch rush from behind the stove. The rat was confused and his stomach was swollen like a balloon. The chef yelled for one of the non-English speaking kitchen help to get rid of it now. The guy was frightened to say the least. He grabbed a broom and started chasing the rat and cursing loudly in his native language. Some of the patrons near the kitchen wondered aloud what was happening in the kitchen. A waiter went in to see and managed to open the door just at the right time for the rat to run between his legs and into the dining room. The kitchen guy was in hot pursuit and burst into the dining room still cursing loudly causing everyone's attention to turn to the swollen rat. Women started squealing loudly. Hearing their squeals brought the kitchen guy to his senses and he quickly realised that when this was all over he was going to be in big trouble. He did what anyone in his position would do, he exacted his vengeance on the rat. According to my sister, he swung his broom as hard as he could at the rat. The brunt of his blow was absorbed by the rat's swollen stomach. The rat did the only thing the rat could do : It exploded. The patrons put down their forks and left the restaurant in one giant cursing, crying, and grossed-out mob. Meanwhile, my sister and her fellow waitresses ran to the bathroom with the dry heaves. The restaurant closed down for the rest of the day and a professional cleaning crew came in to fumigate it.
If, in the next few days I happen to see a swollen sewer rat wandering anywhere near my neighbor's yard, I know which direction to swing my broom.