Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fly Zone

This summer, our just-married daughter took a temporary job in Oakland and moved in with my husband and me. While we were delighted to have her, it was not an ideal situation for a couple of newlyweds. Her sweetie was clerking for a judge in Los Angeles. They spent hours on the phone each night, and she flew down to LA every Friday for the weekend. During the week, I made nice dinners, played mom and pretended she still needed me. Which she kind of did, because summer is spider season in Northern California. Every night, I would be summoned by frantic screaming. "Mom! MOOOOOOM! There's a hamster-sized spider in the shower!" And down the stairs I'd run, the spider executioner, armed with a shoe and a roll of paper towels.

Meanwhile, spiders weren't the only plague of pests besieging us: the roof rats were back and  gorging on my tomatoes. Last summer, I tried every possible eco-friendly form of rodent repellent and learned that gentle, organic, do-it-yourself pest control only works for hippy earth mothers. This year, I went for the big guns: I bought poison traps, euphemistically called "rodent stations". These are black plastic boxes with little rat-sized tunnels in them. At the end of the tunnel is a sky-blue block of poison that looks like it's made of styrofoam. Why any creature would eat something so obviously inorganic is beyond me. Then again, rodents have their intellectual limitations, even if they can outsmart me. 

I waited to find fang marks in the fruit before placing my first trap. The very next day,  the tomatoes were intact and the entire block of bait had been devoured. Giddy with schadenfreude, I danced around the deck. Ding dong, the rat is dead, long live my veggies.

Little did I know I had disrupted the ecology of our habitat.

It took two days for the odor to manifest itself. The poisoned rat had crawled into the walls to die and the entire downstairs now smelled like the Grim Reaper's man cave. Judging by the area of maximum pungency, the rat was decaying behind a wall in my daughter's bedroom. Breaking down the wall was not an option, so we moved her upstairs to her dad's office. Then we set up the dehumidifier in the bedroom and ran it 24/7.

As the smell got steadily fainter over the next couple of weeks, we started to notice a large number of flies buzzing around the house. And not just ordinary flies: these were thick, hairy and really big. How big? So big, you'd think they were part of the NSA drone program.  So big, a taxidermist could stuff and mount them on a wall plaque. So big, they could date Jeff Goldblum. Big but not sluggish: They had the reflexes and speed to drive a human mad. I stalked them nightly with a yellow swatter and mostly missed. Eventually, I realized I was deadlier with a balled up wet paper towel. It was a grim, disgusting task. I could have used a little help. If only I hadn't done such a good job on the spiders.

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