There's a story my dad used to tell about when his older brother, Mosey, pulled out a pistol at the dinner table and shot a rat that popped out while the family ate. This would have been either in Arkansas or Montana, or somewhere in between, in a bunkhouse on a cattle or wheat operation--so it was bucolic, not squalid. I always picture Mosey shooting the varmint right out of an open window, then wiping the mashed potato remnants out of his handlebar mustache while holstering his revolver. And when I think about it, it's not so very different from the last time I had to deal with a brazen rodent.
I was living in a house with three other guys at the time, all of us undergrads at the University of Virginia. This would have been back in Nineteen-and-Ninety-one or so. It was a pretty decent place in a neighborhood just dodgy enough to make it interesting. We got burglarized once (while the dog and one of the guys slept), were regularly solicited by door-to-door crack salesmen, and had all of our cars smashed into by the Lincoln Continental belonging to the crossing guard who directed the children to the school across the street every morning at 7:30 while blasting C&C Music Factory's "Everybody Dance Now." When we threw parties at our house, our classmates, who had no reason to hang out in this part of town otherwise, would be sketched out walking from their cars to our front porch. We had cred. Did I mention that Dave Matthews hung out at our crib on several occasions?
One of the friends of the house was a charismatic sociopath who loved nothing more than to encourage people to do things that were against their best interests. It was thanks to him that I maintained my mullet for at least a year longer than I should have, grew a creepy goatee, took weightlifting supplements that made me irritable and dyspeptic, built an elaborate marijuana grow-room in my attic even though I didn't like to smoke, bought roller blades, and, perhaps worst of all, wore the kind of drawstring pants favored by bodybuilders and Sammy Hagar. Another pastime this friend introduced to the house was bb guns.
Once he had convinced us to build up an arsenal of multi-stroke air rifles, we whiled away many a pleasant hour sitting on the couch, drinking bottles of Schlitz and shooting at or around a target on the other side of the house. Naturally, it wasn't long before we started taking pot-shots at one another, and carrying the guns outside the house for more interesting target practice, sometimes running afoul of the law. The local gendarmes were surprised to learn, the times that we couldn't outrun them, that we were all grown-ass men, and that the charismatic sociopath was a veteran of the U.S. Army.
|The couch whence we used to shoot. Note 1st gen roller blades in foreground.|
|Repairing the target area before we moved out. Trust me, overalls with no shirt/no mullet was an improvement over Sammy Hagar pants, mullet, and goatee|
|Moving day. Everything I needed in the back of the truck: Mac the dog, recliner, beer fridge, bb gun|
Considering the baseline hygiene level in that house, it's surprising that our rodent problem didn't manifest earlier and with more vengeance.
It seemed to be just one mouse. That's the narrative we created, anyway. We called him Klaus, because German is funny.
He was bold, this Klaus. At first, he would creep along the baseboards and peek at us, as if marking the locations of the most bounteous pizza caches, camouflaged in the red and orange carpet. Later, realizing that we posed no threat, he would promenade into the middle of the dining room, practically demanding his own slice.
Despite being too lazy to buy a mouse trap, we realized that Klaus was a liability, and that we should think about considering possibly taking some action against him at some point. While cute, he was still vermin, and vermin were known to be repulsive to the ladies. He had to go. Eventually.
One morning, somewhere between midnight and Brit Lit paper deadline, I reclined in my bed, reading the Old Testament. No, really. I was working on an essay where I compared some elements of Genesis to Milton's Paradise Lost. I was coming around the bend, fluffing up my tepid thesis with whimsical wordsmithery and alliterative artifice, when I detected, out of the corner of my eye, a skittering.
It was Klaus, of course--the lonely, uninvited houseguest looking for some action long after the party had ended. He eased out from behind the open door and into the room.
I put the Bible on my lap and reached for my Daisy 880, which I always kept leaned against the night stand in case any of my roommates thought it would be funny to wake me up with some bbs in the ass. I pumped it once, twice, three times.
Slowly, as to not spook the varmint, I brought the stock to my shoulder and closed my left eye.
I had never before felt so American.
When my heart settled down, I lay the rifle across my comforter--red with black fleurs de lis; the same one I had had since the tenth grade--and picked up the Bible, pretending to scan for relevant passages, although, make no mistake, I was on the hunt.
Klaus made his move once more. I dropped the Good Book and leveled my weapon. My months of training took over as I calmed my breathing. Inhale. Cheek against the stock weld. Aim. Exhale. Pause.
Klaus came off of his tiny feet and slammed into the cinder-block-and-plywood bookcase. He twitched and writhed.
I leaped out of bed in my boxer shorts and pumped the rifle as I closed in on the miserable mouse.
"Sorry, friend," I said.
Then I put one in his dome.