It all started when they decided to store the Christmas presents in my office.
We’d held a donation drive to send packages to deployed soldiers. The boxes were neatly stacked along one wall, waiting for the volunteer to take them to the post office. Who could’ve known they’d become rat bait?
There were clues that a critter was among us, but I was unable to connect the dots until presented with irrefutable proof. When my sofa cushions were covered in fluffy white stuffing several mornings in a row, I just thought another coworker had let his kids jump on the ancient thing.
The mangled leaves on my aloe plant didn’t tip me off. Nor did the disgruntled assistant manager who found his phone and computer cables severed in half twice in one week. He believed that one of us in the building had it out for him and cut the lines for fun.
Then the man came to take the Christmas packages to the post office.
As he lifted a stack of boxes, candy spilled onto the floor. “You have a rat,” he said, pointing to the droppings scattered beneath the gnawed box.
Mortified, I whispered, “Are you sure it’s not just a mouse?” This gentleman owned an exterminating company and assured me that it was definitely a rat; and a big one at that.
I donned rubber gloves and began sanitizing all the surfaces in my office. I had two guys remove my sofa from the building. Since I worked for the government, I looked up the number for the extermination department.
11 calls later, I found the right person. I was told that I would need to submit a work order before they could send anyone out. I immediately printed the order, obtained the necessary signatures and sent it in. And then I waited.
And I waited some more, spending the majority of each day re-sanitizing my office from the rat’s nightly visits. Even though his source of food and bedding was gone, he still came back. The gnaw marks along the bottom of my door, the urine stains on my shelves, and droppings in the corner attested to that fact.
Weeks passed, then a month. I played phone-and-email tag, only to find they’d never received the work order. I asked a manager to resubmit it. Nothing happened. Another month passed as my work became more that of a janitor than an office employee.
The morning I came in and found a half-gnawed granola bar atop my desk—–the same granola bar that had gone missing when the stuffing appeared on my sofa—–I told my boss that I was teleworking until they got rid of the rat. That is when the Grand Poobah Rodent Czar finally graced us with her presence.
She was a female combination of Barney Fife and Al Gore. “Yes, you have a rat! Yes, we must take care of the problem!” Then she proposed what I thought was the most insane thing I’d ever heard.
“I’ll leave you some sticky traps. When the rat gets stuck, take it to a field far away and set it free. Just rub some cooking oil under its little feet to release it from the pad.”
I laughed before I realized that she was serious. Then I asked if she also planned to give me a set of chain-mail gloves to wear during that procedure.
After she left, I Googled “sticky rat traps” and learned that some countries have banned them because they are considered inhumane. Stuck rodents scream like a woman and often dismember themselves to escape. The thought of that was worse than sharing my office with a rat. I pictured my office spattered with blood, the drained animal dead atop my desk.
I’d had enough. My husband and I went to Lowe’s that night and bought some old-fashioned snap traps. We baited them with peanut butter, set them in the office and went home.
He went with me to work the next day because I too cowardly to face any gruesome remains. When he exclaimed victory, I didn’t want to look, but I had to. The rat was brown and white, its body the length of my hand, its skinny tail even longer. I didn’t know whether to celebrate or feel sorry for it. I was just relieved that it was over. And we never had rodent problems again.
How is this story the third installment in my series about concerns over governmental control of health care? It is perhaps the best illustration from the many true stories of bureaucratic ineptitude collected over the years that my husband and I have worked for the government. We achieved in 12 hours what dozens of government officials and procedures could not accomplish in months.
Our government is legendary for the miles of red tape that coil around even the simplest of actions. I for one, don’t want to be tangled up in it when it’s a cancer I hope to excise instead of a lowly rat wreaking havoc in an office.