Sunday, September 23, 2012

I smell a rat...

Literally.  It's in my classroom, and (unfortunately) I more than smell it; I'm sent reeling by said very dead rat's powerful stench.

As I've mentioned before, my ancient portable classroom has traditionally been a kind of Mecca to the hordes of rodents that populate the nearby fields and orchards.  They have no problem at all getting in: the walls, ceiling and roof are as riddled with holes as a piece of Swiss cheese (there's a crack in one corner where, if you stand at the right angle, you can actually see a sliver of blue sky).  Until last week, things had improved, as I now forbid any foodstuffs from being brought into the room for them to nibble on and I have two gizmos plugged in that emit ultra-sonic clicks that are supposed to drive them off.  I knew that things were better because I wasn't having to clean up mouse droppings from my counters and shelves first thing every morning when I got to school.  Also, my current class wasn't being entertained by the sound of tiny feet scampering across the insulation in the ceiling.

Sue, my teaching partner, teaches in a portable two feet away from mine.  The walls don't touch, but they are joined by a single pipe up by the roof line that apparently contains wires of some sort.  Sue has had absolutely no mouse problem at all in her classroom and she wants to keep it that way.  She's mentioned several times that she'd like me to keep my mice to myself and is nervous about "my" mice finding their way over to her room.  I tell her that I practice an open door policy and that no rodent will be prevented from leaving for greener pastures -- especially if that greener pasture happens to be the one right next door to me.  Naturally, I wouldn't wish my mouse problem on anyone, least of all Sue.  It's all moot anyway, as the mice appear to have no interest at all in entering her room.

Enter one rat. He started out in the ceiling of, not my room, but (amazingly!) Sue's.  One afternoon after school as we were standing by the door talking, we heard a sudden scratching, scrabbling and thumping from the ceiling tiles  right above our heads.  It was so loud that we both jumped -- it sounded like whatever was up there was about to fall right through the ceiling.  And whatever that thing was, it was no mouse.  Sue was very upset.  Sue and I are very close, which is why I was able to kindly note that rats were far worse than mice and that I'd just keep my tiny mice, thank you very much, and she was welcome to her huge filthy rat.

And then do you know what Sue did???  She sent that rat packing over to my room!  The very next afternoon, while I was correcting papers after school, the same loud thumping and scrabbling that we'd heard the day before from Sue's ceiling was now coming from mine.  I might add that it wasn't nearly so funny now.  Both Sue and I are now pretty sure that the pipe that connects our rooms is how the rat must have gotten so easily from one place to the other.  We both told, Joe, our custodian.  His solution was bring a ladder, go up and lift a ceiling tile in each classroom and throw in some pieces of poison bait.  When I saw him doing this, I asked him if a poisoned rat wouldn't die up there and stink the place up.  He assured me that rats ALWAYS leave a building to die.  At the time, this sounded like a crock to me, but I was willing to believe him as I really wanted this rat gone.

And a crock it was.  The next day, I caught just the barest whiff of rotten flesh.  But I knew right then and there that Joe, bless his sweet heart, had no idea at all what he was talking about.  I also knew that Sue's rat had come to my room to die.  She told me that she felt terrible about that, but I'm certain that a part of her was laughing at me (I know this because if the rat had died in her room, I'd be doing the same thing).  The weather has been warm -- things ripen quickly.  By the following day, when I opened the classroom door, the odor that rushed out was strong enough to make me gag. 

All last week, the odor has been becoming progressively stronger with each passing day.  Leaving the door and windows open and running the air conditioner nonstop helps a bit.  I also have one of those scented air fresheners plugged into the wall to try to mask the odor (it doesn't).  On Monday, I dragged both my principal and Joe in to smell my room.  Astoundingly, they both claimed that my room didn't smell too badly.  By Friday, when the principal came in to visit my class, he finally had to admit that yes, it stunk.  He then tried to mollify me by saying, "But it's like living on a dairy: the odor is strong, but after you're in it for awhile you don't smell it anymore."  Luckily, it didn't occur to me to smack him until after he'd left. 

I Googled "dead rat in wall" as soon as I suspected that this is what I had and learned that the smell from a dead rodent apparently has no health risks.  I've had the option of conducting class in the old cafeteria until the smell dies away, but the idea of trying to set up shop way down there, with no board, Internet access, or desks, and having to lug all our books down there is daunting.  I guess I could also insist that maintenance cut a hole in my wall, find the rat and remove it.  But then I'd have another, larger hole to contend with and, once again, I'd have to conduct class in the old cafeteria while all this was taking place. 

I guess that one reason I chose to put up with the smell is that not one student has so much as mentioned the bad smell.  Not one.  And nine-year-olds will complain about anything -- especially if it can generate a bit of excitement.  So I shrugged and figured that if the smell didn't bother them, I would try to not let it bother me.  However, as I sit here at home, breathing in the clean Frogpond air, I realize that I should indeed have insisted, right from the beginning, that the body be removed.  Enough is enough.

We'll see what my classroom smells like on Monday morning.

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