About Me

My photo
Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Of rats in cars - a true life confession

The Buick that became a stinking ship.
A movement on the floorboard caught my eye the other day as I was driving to the trailhead to walk the dog.

There it was again.

Aha! A cringing mouse with vibrating ears.

It dashed back under the seat, and I noticed a piece of the seat's stuffing on the floor.

The roar of my 1980 Toyota pickup must have been a rude awakening for a car-camping rodent, and since I didn't see it again, I concluded it bailed out through the porous floorboard.

The last time something like this happened -- 4 decades ago -- I was careening to the airport on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in a 1959 Buick Le Sabre.

The redhead, in-laws, and kids in tow.

No AC in that car, just open windows, but the rush of air didn't muffle my mother-in-law's shriek -- "There's a rat in the car".

"Are you sure?" I had asked as if I didn't know.

"It was on my foot!" she exclaimed indignantly.

It was not a proper send-off for a summertime visit from the in-laws, and my hysterical laughter didn't help.

Until that Stephen King moment I had kept the rats a secret.

And where did they come from?

Well once a month I used the family car to haul 50 lbs of frozen horsement and a box of live rats from the National Zoo to the University of Maryland.

The strange cargo was food for the small carnivores I was studying at the university.

The problem is that the rats had mutinied earlier that week -- escaped from the box on the hot ride to the University.

I caught half of them, but the rest had disappeared into the bowels of the Buick.

Though there was an adequate supply of toddler snacks, mainly cheerios on the floor, I had secretly fed and watered the holdouts under the car seats and in the spare tire compartment.

But keeping the secret was anything but easy.

It might have been different if my father-in-law didn't have a proprietary interest in the car.

He had bought it for his daughter before we were married, and he was a compulsive tinkerer-fixit-upper of cars.

He was also Italian and regarded the car as a member of the family.

If I had disclosed the mutinied rats he would have disassembled the car and had the whole family waiting on him. 

My wife was using the car for family outings almost daily, so I had to check it surreptitiously in the morning and catch any errant rats before going to the university.

Then there was the angst of coming home, but each night I breathed a sigh of relief that the rats hadn't been discovered. 

I was managing the situation quite well until a couple days before my in-laws departure.

That's when the car started to smell a little sour.

I found a dead rat and disposed of it in the dumpster.

As luck would have it the smell didn't go away and my wife commented as soon as we got in the car and left for the airport.

My lame excuse was: "There's nothing dead in the car, sweetie, it's that dumpster that stinks".

The great deception unraveled as I laughed uncontrollably.

My in-laws thought I had gone bonkers, but my wife could read me like a book and knew this wasn't just a coincidence.

I loved my in-laws and never begrudged their annual visits to see their daughter and grandchildren.

But I knew that they knew: their daughter had married a nut -- a  zoologist.

God bless them. To their credit they were willing to live with it and hope for the best.

It was time for my confession: "A few rats escaped in the car last week . . . I think one must have died".

"Well they're not all dead!" observed my mother-in-law.

Laughter overtook me again.

We parked at the airport, took out the luggage, and my father-in-law found a dead rat in the spare tire compartment.

He threw it out by the tail and proceeded to kick it across the parking lot as my mother-in-law protested that they would miss the plane.

What I know now is that my father-in-law's unceremonious revenge on the dead rat was a purely symbolic act.

He was really kicking me.


PBurns said...

Terrific story.

Always ahead of your time.

"It's not a rat. It's a fuel cell."

See >> http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/09/100914-fuel-cell-biofuels-medical-implants-human-health/


Henry said...

Great story!

I currently have a somewhat similar predicament at home. A few months ago my wife and I spotted a mouse in the house. Our default reaction is to let it be as long as the mouse behaves itself. The funny thing is my sister-in-law is visiting at the moment and I keep on hoping our little friend won't show up again and will mind its manners or I'll have some explaining to do :)

Buford Nature said...

In my first job after earning a BS in wildlife management I trapped a bunch of critters from a project site and "processed" them in the good professor's lab, located in a major museum of a land grant university. My field buddy and I thought the cotton mice (P. gossypinus) were so cute, however, that we decided to keep a pair in a cage in the lab rather than sacrifice them.

Well, they escaped, and that very morning the museum director, a tall, humorless, imposing figure came in and asked me for a couple of sample bags. I opened a drawer to retrieve a few, surprising a startled mouse looking up at us (with quivering nose and ears) while standing on a pile of rodent-ravaged sample bags that had become its new nest!

Gulp! Needless to say, I had the embarrassing job of finding and catching the little buggers under the stern eyes of the director and the professor. I can only imagine the damage the Cricetids could have done to the museum's collections! I learned my lesson.

HurricaneDeck said...

Hysterical!! I think I would have wrecked the car because I would have been laughing so hard.

Found you via PBurns.

Owlman said...

silver35That is a great and hilarious story
Chris. You are kind of a nut case!:) Keep it up!

Janeen said...

Fifteen or twenty years ago I left my Jeep parked in a shed for two weeks one fall while I was on vacation.

I returned from vacation, put my dog in the car and headed out to run a few errands. I was driving down a very busy six lane road when smoke started pouring out of my heater box.

Fortunately I did HAZMAT response work at the time and so had a fire extinguisher handy. Pulled over, put dog in a sit stay on the shoulder and put the fire out. Then froze my butt off driving 30 minutes home with the windows rolled down.

*&$% mice had built a nest in the heater and the debris caught fire when I turned the it on.

I put mothballs and cottonballs soaked in peppermint oil in my vehicles now when they sit dormant.