LIFE, DEATH, RATS, & HOT PINK FEATHERS
AUGUST 7, 2011
It's been icky humid around here, with moderately cool temps that felt warmer than they really were without the pleasure of sunshine on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. This past week the high fog kept a damper on things, with only brief sunshine popping in for a couple hours shortly before sunset started.
This kind of weather, coupled with the heavy precipitation of the past winter has resulted in a visitation in great numbers of that steadfast -- an ineradicable -- companion to man known as Rattus Rattus. Oaktown reports a plague of these guys scampering all over the eaves of people's houses, while on the Island armies of the critters are now venturing from the marinas into places once dominated by the raccoons.
People complained about the raccoons, so the County got rid of them. The recession cut back the Shelter funding, so all the stray cats have been eliminated with no more catch, fix, and release. Because of the high rents, many properties once occupied, now stand empty of housepets and humans. Now we got rats by the bucketload.
The normally pacific Jose was seen chasing one with an upraised shovel the other day. The adaptable pest had been chomping on Jose's garden produce, right on the vine.
"You're not going to get that feller with that shovel," Pahrump said from the back steps.
"Tu pinche rata!" Jose screamed, ignoring him. "¡Venga aquí de modo que yo pueda matarle!" He started beating his shovel all around the ironmongery that served during the summer as a bean plant trellis. This had little effect other than sending a couple of bees to bumble off around the jasmine. The rat had long since disappeared.
"Can't have these things around here, man." Andre said. "If Mr. Howitzer finds out, we could run into some real problems."
Indeed. Because of the usurious rental situation in the East Bay the Household had banded together with something like fifteen people living, more or less, in a one bedroom cottage. It had gotten so bad on the Island, only people coming from even worse places, like San Francisco, could afford to live there anymore.
It was the common conceit that if Mr. Howitzer ever learned how many people were living there at his property on Otis, he would either evict the lot of them -- or raise the rent even higher.
"Well I guess we oughta do something," Pahrump said. "Marlene, fix me a PB&J." While Marlene went into the house, he took a bleach bottle which they had used a long time for water and cut the bottom off. Then he found a carburetor sitting in the weeds there and removed the butterfly valve which he fixed inside a cardboard toiletpaper tube, which he wrapped liberally with plastic wrapping tape. This he fastened at the mouth of the spout half of the bottle with duct tape. Next he fixed this funnel-like object on the top of a kitty-litter bucket with the tube pointing down inside the bucket, making sure to seal all around the edges with duct tape.
When Marlene came out with the sandwich, he ate most of it, shoving the rest past the butterfly valve stuck in the bottle spout into the bucket. He walked this appliance over to the bean trellis and set it down there. He then licked his fingers.
"Leave off that shovel. Lets go get some wine." Pahrump said to Jose.
Mr. Howitzer's initial response to the rat problem at his manse on Grand Street was to order Dodd to put out rat poison. Dodd shook his head dubiously, for he feared for the safety of the wild and domesticated animals in the neighborhood. The Englishman had been paying a great deal of attention to the bird feeders by the back pond, for he loved to watch the hummingbirds come hovering. He had been secretly pleased that Hermano, the pig, had not be slaughtered for the luau event that fateful day of the raccoon invasion, but had been sent back to the farm hale and hearty as, well, as a healthy pig should be.
But he was a manservant to the indomitable Mr. Howitzer, so he got several packages of poison from Pagano's Hardware and set them out as instructed.
"Over there by the pond," Mr. Howitzer ordered. "Perhaps we'll nail a few of those god damned raccoons as well."
Dodd sighed. He knew that this poison caused the rats to hemorrhage inside until gradually and by degrees very dead. Not a good way to go.
Dodd mentioned the idea of getting a cat, the odor of which would keep the pests away, but Mr. Howitzer, who considered felines to be somehow symbols of Liberalism, reacted with outrage at the idea.
"D'ya hear that, Eisenhower?!" Mr. Howitzer shouted. "A sturdy man wants a sturdy dog, not a blasted kitten!"
Eisenhower, a Weimariner, woofed agreement.
"We'll have no more of that nonsense, Dodd. Set up now for the garden party this evening."
Dodd obediently set up the tables, the outdoor heaters, and the tray table. As he was setting out the salad bowl with the balsamic dressing, he realized that the sterno heaters wanted replenishment.
"O drat! It's Four and Sunday! Pagano's will close soon!" And so leaving a few things uncovered he dashed off in his Citroen to Southshore Mall.
At least the rats won't get at it all now, he thought to himself.
When he got back, Mr. Howitzer was in a terrible state, a mixture of grief and fury. Eisenhower was rolling around in agony on the grass, frothing at the mouth and looking all done in for good.
The poor man went over to hold the animal's head in his lap while the dog whimpered.
"What on earth!" Dodd exclaimed.
"He was running around like a banshee just now. He must have gotten himself into the rat poison. Get rid of it! Get rid of all of it!"
When Dodd went to the back to fetch the dog dish for water, he found the dish bone dry. He also found the salad bowl and the balsamic dressing all upset on the terrace. The entire bottle had overturned to pour out onto the flags. Lettuce, egg, peppers -- and bacon bits -- lay strewn all over. The rat poison looked untouched.
He knew balsamic vinaigrette was not very good for dogs, but it was hella better than the rat poison, which he gathered up with gloves and with disgust cast all of it into the can for safe disposal. He then went back to the front where his master still cradled the head of the dog.
"It's blasted Sunday and because of the Recession Dr. Dallas and the clinic are closed until Monday!" Mr. Howitzer exclaimed.
"Well," Dodd offered. "There was none . . . very little of the poison gone. Perhaps he's only got a mild dose of . . . whatever. Here is some water for the fellow." Dodd set down the water dish and Eisenhower slurped it all up in seconds. A strong vinegar odor came off of him. Perhaps Dodd should really tell the man the dog had only swallowed a bit of strong salad dressing, but the bastard looked positively human for once, so Dodd told himself to just let be.
"That must be the odor of death," Mr. Howitzer said.
"His body is fending it off." Dodd said. "It's chemistry."
At Marlene and Andre's Household, Martini heard about the trap Pahrump had set out by the ironmongery. He wanted to know how and if it worked. If so, he thought he could make a better one out at the factory where he was a sawboy. When they went out to check it, the bucket produced a commotion from the live creatures within. Pahrump carried the bucket with its thrashing contents down to the Strand with another bucket and Adam, who wanted to see what happened up close. They all watched from a distance. Adam, the boy, stood there while Pahrump used the other bucket to pour seawater into the other one through the funnel. Then Pahrump sat there a while cross-legged while smoking a jay and talking to Adam. After a while, the two of them returned with the buckets, both of them empty.
That night after the meal of bread soup, Marlene asked Adam what had happened down at the beach.
Adam was thoughtful. "He called them 'little brothers'," Adam said. "He said something in some Indian language when he poured in the water." Adam paused, thinking, remembering. "He said everything on earth has a right to live and taking life was always bad . . . but sometimes you had to protect your people from something worse. And we should make a little memorial for those we kill and it should last forever or as long as memory."
Marlene enfolded the boy in her arms.
But the Household still had a problem. "The rats will be back," Pahrump said. "There is no end to their kind."
Martini came back from the factory with a trap made of steel which could be baited through a top door with a hinge and then dropped entire into the ocean to kill its contents and be reused, unlike the one with the cardboard tube.
Still, there was the problem of the Memorial to the Fallen. Adam tried building a little place down there in the sand with driftwood and seashells, but kids came along and kicked it all apart one day.
"It doesn't have to be right there," said Pahrump. Just a place you can visit. In the woods or wherever."
So one day they went out along the riprap wall and found there a place where the jumble of stones had made a hollow. There Adam put some rocks and some iron from the ironmongery. With the seawind ruffling their hair, Pahrump showed him something out of his own past.
"Little brother I know you come from troubles just like a lot of kids who come out from the Rez. Pyramid Lake. This is something I have to carry all my days. I cannot throw it away like some done."
In Pahrump's palm lay a Medal of Honor.
In Adam's time at the house, Pahrump had been an affable sort of bumbling man with a quick wit and a seemingly ineffectual manner about the ways of the world. Someone who had just never got on, never succeeded for lack of brains or effort. Just another dumb ol' Indian with a fondness for drink and pot. Here was proof there was something more to him.
"In a few days I drive up to my own place I made in the Sierra where I remember the warriors I knew in Vietnam." Pahrump said. "Them on both sides. Some called worth nothing more than those rats there. None of them deserving what happened to them. You must treasure life for its all you got. They can take it all away any time, like they did my friend from from Pineridge. You already know that."
"Can I go with you?" Adam said.
"No. It's way above treeline and snowline. You need to be working on other things right now. This is something I gotta do."
It was true. The next day, Pahrump got on his scooter and drove off and was gone for a while. But not before he and Adam and Marlene and Suan went down to the troubled Animal Shelter that was about to close because of the Recession troubles. There they picked out a calico foundling they named Albert Camus, before checking too closely. Who turned out to be an unspayed female, which they all discovered pretty much the hard way, the way people often do. Albert soon gave birth to a full litter inside the abandoned stereo console. She/He had been preggers even before adoption.
Pretty soon, the cats resolved the entire rat thing on their own and there was no more need for Martini's steel trap, which joined the pile of ironmongery out back.
Pahrump returned from his little trip, looking pretty much as he always did, taciturn and . . . what's the word they always use . . . inscrutable.
In the Offices of Island-Life the Editor settled his stogie in the corner of his mouth while looking out the back window, his white hair flying about his head in an aureole beneath the dim light . With all of the recent moisture the Old Man standing out back looked healthier than he had for years, for a scraggly, beat-up, knocked-about, much abused, coastal Sequoia standing in the back yard of a small town. They had lopped his top, so he would never grow above his present 100 feet, and this would result in high bifurcation that would eventually cause the end of him when the whole thing got top heavy, but for now all the limbs looked hale and full of green growth. He was looking better now than in years.
Getting old is a matter of survival, the Editor thought to himself. Nobody does it just for pleasure, that's for sure.
It was getting time to put the Issue to bed for the week, but the Editor delayed. He always wanted to leave these final moments for something pithy, something that summed it all up.
Usually, he failed, but the pleasure was in the trying. Otherwise why do any sort of art at all?
He idly picked up a piece about the gypsy caravan which had been cleared out from along the estuary on the Oaktown side and decided not to print it, for he thought it terrible bad luck to remove the Roma, whom he regarded with some affection. What is a town without gypsies but a place devoid of romance, without imagination. He did imagine this would bode bad luck for Oaktown, a place which definitely did not need bad luck right about now.
A honking outside indicated the passage of those Canadian geese who, among the many millions of their fellows, declined to visit Rio or return to Alberta, preferring instead to summer here on the Island, where it was warm enough and too far to travel and why bother haul all that way back and forth when one could gabble on the nice greens of the Mif Albright golf course and poop nice little piles to fertilize that manicured lawn. Around here, these Canadian geese were many-storied birds and we could go on hours about them.
The groundskeepers had hired collie shepherds to run out there and chase them off, for a pooped green caused them much grief, however the birds soon learned to act just like dogs and run about with them making bark-like sounds and generally acting happy just like happy dogs part of the pack. So our Canadian Geese started acting doglike, running in packs and playing with the puppies, and maybe many thousands of years from now, paleontologists will wonder at the artifacts. Buried bones and so forth. Refusing to be considered "pests", these geese had started to evolve into canines. What a thought!
What is the difference between a pest and a goose, answer me that.
While looking down in the garden the Editor noticed small gray forms running along the base of the Old Fence. One of them reached up to snag a low-hanging bean before scampering beneath the hydrangea's shelter. Naked tails slithering.
We've got rats, the Editor thought. They have replaced the raccoons. Perhaps I should tell the landlord.
He mused for a moment. Has not the landlord done enough damage already by getting rid of the raccoons? What further troubles will ensue. The Editor elected for silence. They got rid of the Roma. Then they got rid of the raccoons Now we have rats. What next?
You can put out Nature with a pitchfork, but it always comes roaring back. With hot pink feathers.
The long howl of the throughpassing train ululated across the hot pink erotic wildflowers blooming among the feathery weeds of the Buena Vista flats as the locomotive wended its way past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its old journey to parts unknown.
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