Friday, March 11, 2016

Ratcopalypes Now: A true tale of one woman and the rats who destroyed her car ... along with her dignity

February 17

Last Friday, I noticed that all the warning signs in my car started flashing. Not a good sign, right? So I took it to a repair shop, who quickly called to tell me they'd no idea what the hell was wrong -- but it didn't bode well and I should drive it to the dealership ASAP.

So I did ... and the rest, as they say, is history. Or in this case, Ratstory.

I dropped off the car at Subaru of Plano. I didn't hear from them for a while, so I called them back in the afternoon -- figuring, eh, it's electrical stuff they probably had to run some computery codey type thing (yes, that's my version of tech speak). The nice service guy gets on the line. "Well, Mrs. Reedy, we're still running the codes (SEE??) but we did notice something. In the engine? There's evidence of rodents."

"Rats?" I think I might have squealed just a little. "Are you saying RATS have been in my car?"

"Well, we found some wiring that looks chewed..."

There was more squealing on my part, and an uncomfortable choking noise on his and then he explained very nicely that he would probably need to get back to me in the morning. And then he started laughing before realizing he hadn't yet hung up the phone.

So that was Monday.

Disgusted, I dealt with the news in the only reasonable way I could: wine and red carpet therapy. After all, the Grammys were on, and no rodent was going to keep me from tipsily posting nonsense about Johnny Depp.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, the dealer called me back. Here's how that conversation went:

Subaru dealer: I have some news on your car
Me: Oh great, were you able to fix it?
Subaru: Well, ma'am... we've found evidence of multiple rats. All over the car.
Me: Please tell me you are kidding.
Subaru. No ma'am. they've been IN your car. Under floor mats, under the driver's side foot pads
Me: (Feeling violated). Oh. My.God.
Subaru: We need to take apart the entire interior of your car to determine the extent of the wiring damage and repair it.
Me: So much does something like that cost?
Subaru: Well, ma'am, I can tell you there's a comma. I just can't say for sure what the number is before it.

I had this conversation at work, mind you, and I sit in a cubicle so when I called back the dealer and said, "Hi, this is Deirdre Reedy, you know, the one with the rat car?" everyone heard me. And laughed. I don't blame them.

I then made the mistake of asking the dealer, "so, like, when you said they were IN my car, exactly how IN are we talking?" When he told me they'd been all over the floor and the center console, that's when I really lost it and dissolved into hysterical laughter/crying. Because my kids drop food on the floor of my car and then pick it back up and eat it. All the time. The pediatrician said my oldest had bronchitis, but now I wasn't so sure. I'm no history buff, but if memory serves me right, rats are sorta famous for spreading around a little disease, maybe you've heard of it? BLACK PLAGUE, anyone??

And the center console is where I stash my nail polish. Because of course the only opportunity I have to do my nails is sitting in the car, in the school parking lot after I drop off the kids at school and before driving to the office. The minute I attempt to polish my nails while my kids are around, someone needs their shoes tied, something fished out of a backpack, or a Playstation remote has been lost in the couch cushions and requires surgical retrieval.

But now, that sacred, private enclave for quickie manicures had been invaded. By rats. Chewing through wires was bad enough, but nail polish? Was nothing sacred? I pictured a rat trying to apply Suzy Loves Cowboys to its tiny claws. Chilling.

So then I called my husband to ask him to call the insurance company and see if we were covered for RODENT DAMAGE. He didn't believe me. "If you want to call them back and ask for the detailed, disgusting explanation, you are MORE than welcome," I said. "But as for me, I believe."

Because really, who would make up something like car-chewing rats? OK, maybe a lot of people. But, determined to prove the veracity of this horrible claim, I posted about it on Facebook. (Because obviously that's the most reliable source of information about rodents that eat Subarus).

All night, people responded -- many of them with equally horrific tales of rat-car woe. Many more of them just laughing. Again, don't blame them. Hysterical giggling had become my norm.

And, it should be noted, I live in an area currently beseiged by bobcats and I found it particularly cruel that while other people had posted heartbreaking tales of pets being carted off by these critters, I apparently had an all night buffet in my garage, but nary a bobcat to be found. I was beginning to entertain wild thoughts of the entire hood's rat population using my car as a de facto rat refugee camp. Did rats organize? Did they tweet cunning messages like, "Safe house in the Subaru. #fleethebobcats?"

Thankfully, between hysteria and Facebook, there was one moment of sanity. My lovely insurance company (seriously, if I could kiss Geico, I would) did agree to cover the damages and set me up with a rental. The Enterprise guy asked me how long I would need the car. I said, "I don't know. They have to take the whole interior of my Subaru apart."

"What happened?" he asked.

"Rats ate my car."

The look on his face was priceless. The upgrade was not. But, he did give me a deal on a brand new Hyundai something.

Because rats. Trump. Everything.

He showed me the car. It was nice. Shiny, new, with only 25 miles on it. I scribbled my signature on a bunch of forms and declined the optional extra insurance, which made him nervous. "You can always call back and add it on," he said several times. Obviously he was rethinking the wisdom of letting me take a pretty new car into the Garage That Rats Ate.

It was too late. My son had already decided he loved the new car and it's pretty hard to turn down a cute kid and his desperate rat-crazed mom. So the nice Enterprise guy had no choice but to finish up the forms. Only slightly reluctantly, he handed over the keys. "Before you go, let's just take a quick look around the car to inspect it."

"Let me save you the trouble," I said. "I only have one question."

With a look that suggested he was already regretting this entire transaction, he asked, "What do you want to know?"

I smiled.

"Does it come with rats?"

February 22 ... AKA Ratpocalypse, Day 7

For the next few days, the high of driving something 100% rodent-free kept me relatively sane. The exterminator came out Thursday and insisted he saw no signs of rats, but refilled the bait boxes anyway. I started to think maybe I was crazy, maybe the rats were coming from someplace else? Maybe this was all just a terribly hideous nightmare.

And then, as I walked into work on Friday, Alex from Subaru called with this update:

Alex: Hi, we pulled up the flooring in your car and ... it's bad.

Me: How bad? (stupid, stupid question)

Alex: At least 2 major wiring harnesses have been chewed through. The carpets are ruined, they've eaten through the padding underneath and when we pulled it up, there were rat droppings everywhere.

Me: Euwwwww

Alex: So the insurance adjuster's coming out today, but I just wanted to give you a heads and prepare you ... because your car may be totaled.

Me: Oh.My.God.

Alex: I have to tell you, your car was sitting in the shop last night and when I opened the doors this morning? I don't have a weak stomach but it just about made me sick.

Me: (thank you for that visual, Alex) So... you're telling me rats LITERALLY ate my car.

Alex: Yes. Yes, rats LITERALLY ate your car.

That was Friday.

On Saturday, after an 8 am trip to the dentist for emergency retainer repair (because of course my son pulled his expensive retainer out of place, why not add to the joy of Rat Week??), I pulled into the garage and noticed little, black bits of what looked like paper or rubber on the floor beneath where my car would have been parked. Like what you might expect to find, if, say, something was CHEWING on the undercarriage of one's car.

As I stomped into the house and pointed out this evidence to my husband, the bank called. To verify recent purchases.

That I had not made.

Yes. The rats had now infiltrated Bank of America and were clearly out to destroy me.


There are few places on earth I loathe more than Home Depot, so the irony was not lost on me, that the rats drove me to this:

Before anyone goes all PETA on me, no I did not buy glue traps. Or any kind of traps because OH MY GOD DEAD RATS??? No. Just. No. Plus I knew we already had bait boxes full of poison, so I augmented those with plug-in sonar devices that supposedly scared away rodents, plus loads of mothballs which I stashed in several corners of the garage, plus all over the ground beneath both cars.

I may have gone slightly overboard with the mothballs, because by Sunday morning the entire house smelled like my Grandma's closet. Glass half full? Didn't smell like rats.

With all signs pointing to an imminent Rodent Rapture, I knew I should get the kids organized for church, but frankly, I just could not get my act together. So instead, I left them with my husband and headed for the gym, hoping a few laps might restore some speck of sanity.

All week I'd had to use my phone number to check in since my gym tag was still dangling on the key chain of the Ratmobile. But when I informed the not-usual-Sunday gym guy that I didn't have my tag, he smirked. "Sorry, you can't work out." I glared at him. "Just kidding!" he snarked. I stopped myself from telling him about the rats in my car, and instead attempted to read the novel tattooed on his arms while he checked me in.

Then, in the pool, there was a gentleman engaged in this elaborate, almost violent poolside stretching routine. For about 10 minutes this went on. It was mesmerizing and confusing at the same time. After the stretching, he then stood there and fiddled with the strings on his swimsuit - for, I kid you not - 5 minutes. (And yes, of course, it was a Speedo. Men of the world, I implore you, just say no to Speedo).

After he'd finished with the drawstring, he got into the water and sat in this sort of zen like pose for another 5 minutes.

THEN he finally started to swim.

For five minutes.

After which, he got back out of the pool and left.

I'll be honest, I was let down -- I expected an Olympic event after all that. But, people in rat cars shouldn't throw stones. Or judge other people's swim techniques. As finished up my laps, the man in the lane next to me told me how impressed he was that my hair had stayed dry (I had it all bunched up on top of my head) and that he had been watching to see if it was going to get wet. Um. Okay.

"Look,"I told him, "I paid good money to color my hair, I'm not dunking it in the pool at LA Fitness." This led to another discussion about hair color and the effects of chlorine vs salt water, and ... I don't really know what we were talking about, because at this point, I became completely convinced I was trapped in my own reality TV show. (The Real Ratwives of Richardson?)

After my lively swim hair convo, I topped things off with a trip to Tom Thumb, because I ran out of coffee filters (how? There are only a million in those packages. I have never run out of them in my life. And yet. This morning. Yes. Blamed the rats).

While I was at the store, I decided to pick up another pound of turkey because out of nowhere, my son was obsessed with honey turkey. And he'd eaten through half the pound I'd bought the day before. As any picky eater parent knows, if you find something remotely healthy they will eat, you buy ridiculous amounts of it until they get sick of it.

The same deli guy who had waited on me yesterday when I bought the first pound of honey turkey, was behind the counter again. He looked totally confused -- the expression on his face clearly said, wait, I've done this before. But instead of saying, "hey, weren't you just here?" he asked me, "How's your day going? I mean ... have you even done anything yet today?" I looked at him and thought, you have no idea, Deli Man.

He shook his head and tried again. "No, wait, I mean, how long have you been up this morning?" He was clearly thrown by the deli deja-vous. I just smiled and waited for my meat. Because sometimes, that's all you can do.

Lesson learned: Next Sunday, go to church.

Next Saturday: buy 2 pounds of turkey.

Sunday evening, I pulled out all the stops in an effort to have a nice, relaxing evening. I had prosecco while the kids played video games (note: ALWAYS have Prosecco when there are video games being played. Nothing dulls the annoying throb of Minecraft like sparkling wine). I put them to bed early and made pasta. Then went back upstairs to get them back to bed.

And again.

And again.

By now the soothing effects of Prosecco had worn off. There may have been some screeching on my part. FINALLY they were in bed for good. And my husband turned on Downton Abbey. Because obviously if you're going to chase away the rat blues, a period piece in England with fabulous costumes and elegant manners is the only choice.

For a while, it worked. Dinner was delicious, Downton was delightful and I was beginning to relax.

And then? A loud rustling noise came from the bushes. My husband made fun of me for jumping, but he couldn't figure out the source of the sound, either. Because of course Facebook has been my sounding board, I had to post something about this (which my husband also made fun of me for doing) and a friend suggested I get a python for my garage.

A Burmese python.

You know? Those horrible, thick, disgusting snakes that plague the Everglades and have been known to crush small children?

Because just when you think things can't get worse, you imagine adding a loathesome predatory snake to the mix of rats frolicking through your garage.

And that is when you realize.

Things can definitely get worse.

Ratpocalypse, Day 11

I went to see my car. My husband thought me insane. You may, too, but some sick impulse compelled me to see the damage the rats had wreaked on my Tribeca. The insurance adjuster had not yet made a decision, and I'm not very good with ambiguity so I decided to take matters into my own hands and see it in the flesh, so to speak.

Warning: don't view these photos while eating.

Because you can't un-see this.

Yeah. That's the back of my car, with the seats and carpet pulled up. Here's another view, a bit closer to the front.

What's that, you say? You'd like to see what the carpet pad looks like? Sure, why not? We're all sickened in this together by this point.

So yes, I can now say with complete confidence: Rats ate my Subaru. And apparently had a small war while they were at it, or the world's biggest rat kegger because the smell? Oh. Dear.Lord.

Subaru Alex said the guys in the auto shop wear gloves and masks while dealing with my car. Oh, insurance adjuster, please make this end. No one should have to work on this - this is a bubonic plague epidemic in the making. Ebola? Please. This kind of rot and despair eats Ebola for breakfast.

Before I left, I did peek into the rotting carcass that used to transport my children to see what I might salvage. One soccer ball, one basketball, one jacket that I promptly threw into the wash along with everything I wore into the dealership as soon as I got home. And then, two small cosmetic bags.

As Subaru Alex was walking me back to the front, I rummaged through the bags. He gave me a funny look, probably wondering why I'd want those after I'd just told him to trash the booster seats. I found what I was looking for -- a small, spray bottle of Mystere cologne, which has been discontinued for like 20 years, and I bought on eBay.

Because they ate my car, they cost thousands of dollars worth of damage, and the sight is still making my skin crawl.

But steal my French perfume? I don't think so, rats. You picked the wrong girl to mess with.

Ratcopalypse Day 13, AKA Leap Day

Geico Shonda called me with an update. She wants Subaru Alex to confirm if the engine's damaged. Subaru Alex says he can't tell anything more unless they fix the car.

Which, deep down, nobody really wants to do.

I feel like a cage match is coming on. My money's on the rats.

Later that night, I am alone in bed and notice some rather disturbingly odd noises. I post this on Facebook: Does anyone have a perfectly logical and reasonable explanation for random house noises that sound like someone is walking around when you know that no one is there? Because I'd really like to know.

The following are some of the answers friends posted. Because I just can't make this stuff up.

Pam: Rats.... (Is it too soon, it's too soon)

Indy-Rae: Rats

Kymberlei: Rats

Jacki: Definitely rats. Cure? Vote for Bernie Sanders tomorrow. He'll eradicate them from your house as well as the White House.

Me: Sorry, I already voted for Hillary. You should have told me about Bernie Sanders' magical rat powers earlier.

Jaymi: Hate to say this...but you might want to see if you have varmints in your walls and/or attic.

Me: Noooooo

Richman: Possums, Coons, Squirrels, Bob Cats?

Me: If there's a bobcat in my house, I wonder if I could pay it to patrol my garage for rats

Niki: Spirits! I know someone that can clear that up for you!

Shelley: Why, ghosts, darling.

Ashley: Temp changes in exterior environment causing expansion of construction materials. Creaks and squeeks.

Shelley: You are no fun, Ashley.

Me: But what explains the noises like footsteps ? Those aren't creaks and squeaks. They are thumps and bumps.

Shelley: Ghosts, I tell ya!

Ashley: Running the hot water? If not properly secured to studs, the expansion from hot water passing through both copper or pvc pipes can cause the pipes to bounce against framing... thumps and bumps...

Shelley: Has ruined ghost stories for you?

Me: I'm not running hot water. But I am giggling and the dog looks like she thinks I'm nuts.

Shelley: It could be a thing...Facebook ghost stories..

Me: I would totally read those! I would like to put in a request for a better ghost, though.

Me (again): And -- it should be noted -- since we started talking about these noises they have stopped. Like they know we are talking about them.

Shelley: Smart little bastards.

Me: With my luck it's probably the ghost...of a rat. Ugh. Dear spirit world, please send me the ghost of something better.

Jason: Old friend. I'm so sorry.You have rats in your house. I don't want to rub it in, but there is at least one spot in your attic that looks like under the carpet in your car.

Me: I hate Leap Day.

Ratcopalypse Day 15
NBC-5 broadcasts a story about rats chewing through wiring. I immediately show this to everyone I know, as proof that I am not insane. Also, I go on the message boards and find a link to a truly horrifying site with all kinds of stories about chewed-up cars, including one that exploded. Is there anything that could possibly be more horrifying than exploding rats? I don't think so.

Ratpocalypse Day 16
Geico Shonda calls me with bad news. Because there is no way to determine engine damage without repairing the rat-damaged wiring harnesses, she has authorized Subaru Alex to repair them. There's a chance this will reveal further damage, but at this point, my car is not totaled.

I, on the other hand, am.

Ratcopalypse Day 17
No more news from Geico Shonda or Subaru Alex, but the NBC-5 message board is chock full of folks who seem to think rats eating cars is perfectly normal and somehow, the fault of the car owner. All except for a guy who is part of the class action suit against Honda and totally gets it. I'm slightly envious, however, because his car was eaten by bunnies, not rats.You have to wonder about the world when cute little rabbits are devouring cars.

Ratcopalypse Day 18
I watch the Republican Debates and something becomes crystal clear. Donald Trump is responsible for the rats in my car. It's the only logical explanation.

Ratcopaylypse Day 20
At last -- a bright spot in the rodent-littered horizon. We go on spring break and drive to Austin on a sunny, rat-free day. Of course, that does not stop everyone I know from posting rat references on all of my Facebook posts (which, by the way, according to my husband, have gotten out of control).

The first day we take in a Baylor basketball game in Waco, drive down to Austin and have one of those rare, blissfully peaceful nights, thanks to the magic that is Green Mesquite BBQ and the outdoor, heated pool.

Sunday night, after more BBQ and swimming, once again everyone in my family goes to sleep. Except me. And so I'm the only one up reading when the couple next door launches what can only be described as the Viagra Olympics. After about an hour, this takes a riveting detour into domestic violence that I think may have arisen over an argument over certain paid services. I can't be sure, but between the tossing of furniture I did hear quite a bit of yelling about a "bitch" and "money."

I call the front desk. I call them again. I give up. At 430 am, the entire thing starts up again. Needless to say, I get little sleep. That sets the tone for the rest of the trip, which, while action-packed, is less than relaxing.

On the last day, I take the boys swimming and learn from another Dallas vacationer that tornadoes are stirring up trouble back home and there's an expected lull during the afternoon before the bad weather starts back up again. I tell my husband we'd better get going, and he suggests I take the boys down for breakfast while he gets ready. As we head into the lobby for the overpriced buffet to supplement the overpriced froot loops they've already consumed poolside, I notice something strange.

The lobby is jam-packed with men. Which on the surface is not weird because -- a conference, right? Except usually conferences are not all guys. And I'm not seeing the suits or the khaki/polo-clad business casual crowd. More like the heavily tattooed, pierced and denim-clad crowd. And as I walk through the crowd milling around tables set up with pamphlets and strange machines that some of the guys are breathing into, I'm suddenly conscious of the fact that everyone is staring at me and the kids. A man who appears to be in charge starts yelling, "Everybody back in the room, NOW!" That's kind of bossy for a meeting, I think.

But, we continue on our way and hit the buffet where naturally, no one eats anything. Then we head back through the lobby, where my husband has asked us to bring up a luggage cart. "We" get a cart ... and by that I mean, I push the cart while the combined 110 pounds of my boys take a joyride. I somehow manage to get us onto the elevator.

When the doors open on the 14th floor, a woman in a headset is angrily explaining to someone on the phone that, "I have hundreds of men here ready to take drug tests, what do you mean you aren't coming?"

I shove the cart past Drug Test Lady and as I round the corner, I see we've a slight problem. You know that hallway in high school where all the cool kids hung out and it was slightly intimidating to walk through? Well, sub in "sketchy guys" for "cool kids" and sub in "hotel" for "high school" and you get the picture. I'll give the guys credit, though. They only slightly heckle me as my kids totally ignore my requests for help with the cart. Thanks, boys.

We finally make it into the room, load up the cart, pass back through the hall of shame and hit the road. My youngest son demonstrates the power of 3 solid days of root beer consumption and goes completely bonkers the entire drive home. I won't lie. There was cursing (me), smacking of legs (me) and hysterical screeching laughter (kids).

There was also a stop at the Buc-ee's in Temple, Texas, where my kids beg for soccer balls imprinted with Buc-ee the beaver and I beg for a metal rooster that looks just like a tiny cousin to Beyonce the chicken (from the best blog post of all times, and if you haven't read it, please do so right here).

Alas, I say no to the beaver balls (snicker) and my husband says no to the chicken.

We make it home.

The kids go to bed very early because Mommy? Is done.

My husband goes out with the guys because he? Is also done.

Ratcopalypse Day 24
Three days after we return home, something magical happens. Geico Shonda calls me. Apparently the carpet in my car has been discontinued and nobody makes it anymore. Which means....MY CAR IS TOTALED!!!!!!!!!!

I rejoice in the only way befitting such a ridiculous spectacle -- by posting my fabulous news on Facebook. I feel like we've all come on this journey together, after all. My husband makes fun of me (again) because I make a last minute dash out for flowers and a Starbucks gift card for Geico Shonda, and cookies/brownies for Subaru Alex and all the guys unlucky enough to touch my car. I mean, it's the least I can do.

We meet Shonda and give her the title. She gives me a check. I get my husband to take a photo.

Ten minutes later, we are at Subaru of Plano, going through our car one more time. They've put the seats back in and vacuumed, which is really a shame because now my husband does not get the full picture of grotesque rat revelry. But, Subaru Alex does show him the wiring and at last, he believes. I think.

I want to take a photo with Subaru Alex but I sense my husband's patience is waning. Also, he looked pretty disgusted when I made him take a picture of me and Geico Shonda, so I'm not pushing my luck. We say goodbye to the car that took us from NYC to Texas and that drove my second child home from the hospital. My husband says, "Lot of memories in that car."

Somehow, I can't get sentimental as I point out. "Lot of rats in that car, too."

Since our fabulously kind neighbor has taken the kids to a movie, we decide to try test-driving a couple of cars while we're out. The Toyota Highlander is nice, though the dealer seems shaken when my husband asks if they offer any kind of rat protection.

The Acura MDX is nicer. But the touch screen confuses me. The salesman misinterprets just how tech-stupid I am, however, by pointing out the plus and minus signs for the temperature control. "See," he says helpfully, "you push the plus sign when you want it hotter. You push the minus sign to make it cooler."

Honestly. I'm not an idiot.

Or maybe I am.

Because after the test drive, I'm sitting with the sales guy and he's pointing out some warranty something and I'm nodding and then I look down at my shirt.

Which has come unbuttoned. Like, halfway-down-my-chest unbuttoned.

There is no way to be discreet here. He sees it, I see it. I just have to turn around and button back up and pretend like nothing happened. But at that point, this visit is pretty much shot.

I hold it together long enough to get out of the dealership. But as we get back into the rental car, I start to giggle. My husband gives me a look that can only be described as pained. I explain that I just inadvertently flashed the sales guy.

"Hey, way to get us a discount," is his chivalrous reply.

I mean. It's not enough they destroyed my car; now the rats have taken my dignity.

But, glass half full -- I will be getting a rodent-free car out of this mess. And I feel like this journey has given me a new perspective on life.

Because the next time you're having a bad day, remember this:

At least rats haven't eaten your car.

And at least you haven't flashed your bra to a 50 year old Acura salesman.