Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Rodent Aquacade

Today's Straight Dope Classic is truly a classic column on a terrifying urban problem: Can rats swim up through the (urk) toilet?

It's worth checking out for Slug Signorino's graphic alone, which is, as always, gruesome and wonderful in equal measure.

Usually I simply take Uncle Cecil's word for it but this is a subject on which I can testify because, well, it happened to me.

For several years I had the pleasure of living in an older house in the Candler Park section of Atlanta. The house was built about five minutes after Sherman did his urban renewal thing and to the best of my knowledge had authentic old fashioned everything still in it when I moved in. Among the wonders was a gas refrigerator, which was not something you saw every day by the 1970s. (Was pretty neat, though, until it died and the resulting service call to Atlanta Gas Light was useless and weird as nobody believed me when I said I have a gas refrigerator, could you come fix it? They thought I was going to inquire next if they had Prince Albert in the can. Someone did ask at one point, "Is your refrigerator running?" Unfortunately I had to say no.)

Anyway, even then I had developed the habit of playing in bands and attending regular rehearsals and as is also often the case with rehearsals and gigs they end in going somewhere and drinking and talking and talking and drinking. And so it was on a night such as this that I came home from rehearsal and aftermath and of course the very first thing I wanted to do was recycle that beer so I ran into the house, dropped my horn, and continued on to the facilities. Which I could find in the dark even, I knew where I was going.

And midway down, before I even commence, I hear a splash, somewhat prematurely.

Which caused me to rise up and switch on the light.

Doing the backstroke in the porcelain was the biggest rat I have ever seen in my life.

It was this big gray mofo big enough to partner Esther Williams leisurely splashing around in my turn of the century toilet.

What would you do at that moment? I mean, what would YOU do?

I did what I figured anyone in their right mind would do -- I dropped the lid and ran the hell out of there and called my best friend Henry who had just been at the bar with the rest of us. I was sure Henry would know what to do.

Now you know you got a really good friend when you can call someone up in the middle of the night and proclaim "Help, there's a rat in my toilet!" And they say "Hold on, I'll be RIGHT THERE."

True to his word, within a couple of minutes there's a knock at the door and there he is, standing somewhat tipsily on the porch.

I should mention Henry was wearing a pith helmet and carrying an elephant gun.

That should tell you all you need know about Henry -- that he had both the lid and the blunderbuss handy and therefore hadn't lost any time looking for the proper fashion accessories before he got there.

"Lemme at 'em!" And he runs past me and into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

I hear him tentatively lifting the lid.


"Isn't that what I said?"

"Yeah, but I didn't believe it. I thought maybe you were having hallucinations or something."

And then I heard the merciful flush.

Henry came back out with a huge self-satisfied grin and said "Problem solved, m'lady."

By then I was in the back yard peeing because I was not going back to visit Mickey Rat that evening and I was still all skeeved out.

I was the very first and most entertaining phone call to Atlanta Water and Sewer that next morning. The first guy I talked to was sure I was going to ask him if he had Prince Albert in the can and kept saying dubiously, "Lady, I have never heard of this in my life." He put me on with an engineer who had been in the department a little longer and when he stopped laughing he said yeah, it was a combination of the bigger sewer drains in the older parts of the city, a drought that had dropped the water table, and old-fashioned plumbing fixtures.

"What do I do about this to keep it from happening again?"

"Look before you leap. So to speak."

A few years ago Atlanta made all those old toilets illegal. I'm betting the mayor got bit in the ass.


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