Tuesday, October 3 2023
I drove over to the Brewster Street house at around 10:00am to meet up with Timothy, the exterminator who has been responsible for eliminating our rats for the last two weeks. He'd been knocking at the door and nobody was answering it, though it turned out it was unlocked. I expected him to give me a hard sell on extending our contract for another two weeks ($400), but he wasn't that kind of guy at all. Instead, he talked about the rats in detail as he went about the business of unsetting and gathering up the traps and stuffing wads of fine copper wool into the holes he thought were big enough for a rat to come and go through. He said the rats don't like the copper because the sharp pieces poke their noses when they go to chew on it or try to push it out. He continued giving me lots of information about rats as he continued his rounds, saying that poison traps are the most effective and saying that they're harder to kill with mechanical traps. He said rats are "very smart," though he also dismissed them as "vermin," which is what you would expect an exterminator to do. Trying to argue with him that they were just fellow creatures trying to live in this difficult, complex world wouldn't've gotten me anywhere with someone whose career is about killing them. Later, after I mentioned having seen the rats with a trailcam, he told me that lots had been learned about rat behavior from trailcams. He said that in one video clip, a rat is seen carrying a pencil to a rat trap and not even flinching as he triggers it with his tool. And then with the trap disabled, he is able to eat the bait without fear. As for why rats are suddenly causing problems when they hadn't in all the time we've owned the house (since the spring of 2017), Timothy said that it might have something to do with all the digging being done in the nearby streets. He said this might be disrupting their burrows and causing them to relocated into houses they have access to. Timothy then drew my attention to a few holes I'd overlooked where rats had clearly been coming and going. One of these was in the northeast corner, where a massive pile of sandy orange subsoil had been excavated beneath a shelving unit storing (for some reason) dozens of wooden shingles of a kind not even used in the house's construction. Another hole was in the southeast corner near where the sewage pipe comes up through the basement slab, though it was impossible to see exactly what was going on due to the presence of a low wooden platform.
As he was finishing up, Timothy mentioned in passing that the best way to catch rats with mechanical traps is to bait unset traps over the course of a week or more to get the rats used to eating from them. Then you set all the traps and the next day you will find you've killed a lot of them. (The pattern of being nice to people or creatures temporarily only to turn around and suddenly turn murderous appalls my moral sense, but it's frequently employed in many disparate realms.)
Having grown up in a family with a fairly utilitarian view of animals (at least the domestic and synathropic wild ones), I feel like I understood Timothy's world view, though it's unlikely he could ever understand mine (and so I was mostly opaque about it). It would be hard for me view what Timothy does for a living as anything better than possibly a grim necessity (and only in a very limited number of cases, such as our troublesome rat infestation). Still, I rather liked the guy as a human being. He really seemed to know and respect rats after years of honing is skills trapping and otherwise killing them.
As I was about to climb into my Forester, I happened to mention that I had a fair amount of experience with mouse traps just from having played with them as a kid. "We didn't have iPads back then," I chuckled. Timothy could relate to that, saying he was turning 60 this year. I think he thought I was a lot younger than 55. (He'd initially assumed I was Gretchen's "handyman," not her husband.)
Knowing I would be fixing things with concrete, my next stop was at the Home Depot to buy concrete. While I was there, I also bought a nice pumpable spray bottle that could be pre-pressurized with a built-in hand pump and then spray until the pressure was exhausted. (But, since such pumps seem to wear out very quickly, especially the tiny ones in squirt guns, it would be great to see such bottles come with a schrader valve so they could be pumped up with a more robust pump such as an air compressor.) As I was going through the checkout line with my three 80 pounds sacks of concrete mix, the spray bottle, and a concrete float (used for making concrete look nice), I realized the damn float cost an unexpected $40. I asked the plump young woman overseeing the self-checkout area if she could remove something from my purchases, and she happily obliged, volunteering that at $40, we would expect a tool to do the whole job. "I know, right?" I agreed.
I returned home to get more supplies and then set out for the Brewster Street house. This time I stopped at the bottom of Dug Hill Road to collect ten gallons of cobblestones from Englishman's Creek, since I was sure I would need a lot.
It was a beautiful sunny day, so it was unfortunate that I had to spend the peak hours of it in that dank Brester Street basement. After moving lots of stuff out of the way, I managed to sweep up about 11 gallons of that orange sandy soil that the rats had piled up in the northwest corner. The hole itself was cuneiform (by which I mean "shaped like a woman's sexual anatomy") and looked to be much easier to seal up than expected. There were a couple holes in the middle of the floor that also needed filling. Where I had the most uncertainty about what I was doing was in the southeast corner, since that wooden platform was mostly in my way. There I was able to expose a small rectangular area around the sewage pipe penetration, and then I removed all the excavated rat dirt that I could reach using just my bare hands (since I had no tool more appropriate than that). I was pretty sure I found a rat tunnel running along the side of the sewage pipe itself (which made sense, given that the less-densely-packed soil around those pipes would be easiest for a rat to dig through), though it was possible that there were other tunnels under the platform that I couldn't see.
With about 16 gallons of soil removed, I then proceeded to make cylinders out of rectangles of steel mesh and stuffed these into the tunnels as a barricade to creatures who might be coming from the outside. I then stuffed in some small cobblestones where appropriate. While I was cutting steel mesh, I also made patches for a number of holes through the basement ceiling into the first floor. One of these patches ended up being several square feet to seal up a long slot between two joists, though the others were all just for holes. And then sealed what I could with anti-pest spray foam.
While listening to the audio of a YouTube video where Caleb Hammer interviewed an "e-girl," I mixed up the concrete shoveled it into the places that needed it. Since the actual concrete patches turned out to be smaller than expected, I only used two of the three sacks of concrete mix.
After the conclusion of all that unpleasant, dirty work, I celebrated with a Woodstock Brewing Company Baby Dragon pale ale (one of three beers brought by our new friends from Olive Bridge last Thursday). As I was driving home, I felt a little purposeless in life from not having steady employment. This was tempered by another feeling of there being no financial urgency in getting another job. I wondered if perhaps this was how it felt like to be retired. If so, it's not a great feeling and explains why so many people quickly turn into vegetables upon retirement.
Having started with that pale and then moving to the dregs of our living room liquor cabinet (as all the liquor in the laboratory has been liquidated), it turned into a bit of drinky afternoon and evening. At some point I took a bath (always a necessity after grubbing around in a ratty basement) and I was in bed and zonked out with diphenhydramine by the time Gretchen returned from her two prison classes.
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