Thursday, March 20, 2008

Giant rats and states of emergency

Since I discovered the magic of subletters, I've been more comfortable leaving my apartment for a week or so. Not only are there financial benefits, but my plants (theoretically) get watered, my mail (theoretically) gets picked up, and thieves (hopefully) don't break in and permanently borrow anything. Not that that's ever happened, but it has occurred to me as a possibility. Mostly, though, I'm in it for the money.

Generally, I don't ask for a safety deposit, but I might regret that someday. It will be my own damn fault, because I rely so heavily on first impressions. If I like you, we've got a deal. Just give me cash up front and a little time to stash my valuables and any jokes you might not get.

So far, only houseplants and a down mattress cover are casualties of my unlikely faith in humanity. Both fell victim to a male subletter and his three-year-old. From that episode on, I've been sure to specify that plants need water, but still refrain from asking applicants whether they pee the bed.

Because I believe mutual respect is key to returning to my home in the general state I left it, I have prepared an info sheet for subletters with tips on where to find the best coffee, who makes the best bagels and how to use public transit. I also list a few numbers to call in case of emergency, the concierge, home and work contact numbers for a friend with a spare set of keys, my sister in Nova Scotia, and my email address. I title the list, "In Case of Emergency".

For me, "emergency" means fire, flood, theft, and little else. For my subletter, emergencies also include anything to do with mice, or, as she calls them "giant rats".

In the two years I have lived in this large, well-maintained building, built circa 1935, there have been two occasions of lonely mice slipping through for a look, and likely dying a horrible death at the hands of the concierge somewhere else, never to be seen again. The third occasion, unfortunately, occurred this month while I was away, and my subletter was not.

I'd been in Central America for nary a weekend (during which I'd been stranded in the mouse-infested Miami airport overnight) when I received a panicked email titled, "URGENT". The subletter said she'd already contacted everyone she could and begged me to call her from my remote location as soon as possible. Apparently, another mouse wandered in at just the wrong time. Or, I wondered, had she been snooping and come across the flea-market, taxidermied squirrel I stashed in my closet? The more I think about it, the more I suspect that to be the case.

I read on, wondering what she thought I could do from a phone booth in Central America. She'd purchased poison, set rat traps and moved out to live with a friend until "the situation [was] resolved". Can a rat trap could even catch a little mouse? I tried to be sympathetic to her phobia, kicking myself for having overlooked mentioning the possibility of a benign visitation. Still, mice don't scare me, and I know there aren't rats, so I was a little annoyed, but didn't say that in the friendly email I sent her, suggesting she contact the concierge.

What I didn't know, was that in addition to appealing to me, she'd also gone to my friend's work, twice, in a panic, phoned my out-of-province sister, twice, leaving tales of giant-attack-rodents and not called the concierge, not once. She was met with very little sympathy from the hardy women in my life. Since the mouse hadn't caused fire or flood, and hadn't stolen anything, my subletter was on her own for the week-and-a-half. I received regular updates from her by email, noting that she hadn't seen the "giant rat" since, but worried about where it might be hiding. I had a feeling it was still hiding, filled with styrofoam, glued to its plaque, in my closet where I put it.

I returned to my apartment a few days ago, to discover that most flat surfaces had been cleared of all objects, antibacterial sponges and chemical cleaners had been purchased, large green poison pellets contaminated every corner of my home and a huge, empty rat trap covered in peanut butter awaited me in my bedroom. How romantic. Was she trying to kill the rodent? Or, me?

Then, I came to the closet where I'd packed away my personal things, my clothes, my computer, my bicycle and the taxidermied squirrel. Rat pellets were everywhere, on everything. They rolled out of the closet when I opened the door, and fell from my clothes. It looked as though she'd opened the closet, and blindly, desperately thrown poison inside. A-ha.

Now, I know to manage things differently with my next subletter. Next time, I'll make sure they know the squirrel is already dead.

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