I am a murderer

I have a confession to make: I murdered Sven.

In cold blood. In our house. In our basement. In the bathroom, to be precise.

I think Sven now haunts our basement. I should probably put a little Day of the Dead shrine down there.

In my own defense, I feel I should put it on record that this was not a premeditated crime. Sven was an intruder.

I knew something was wrong the minute I walked into the basement on the way to the laundry room. I could hear something banging – well, splashing – around in the bathroom, but I was the only one home.

Honestly, when I first saw Sven, franticly swimming like his little life depended on it (and, as it turned out, it did) I assumed he’d come up through the toilet. It seemed logical. Why else would there be a rat in the toilet? I then did the only logical thing, I flushed. And flushed. And flushed.

There was also some screaming. And more flushing.

By “logical” I mean, of course,”logical at the time.”

Then I called Husband at work. He thought I was insane. He was also as deeply traumatized as I was about the possibility of rats coming up out of the toilet. While I was explaining the situation, and insisting that the rat had to be long gone because I’d flushed the toilet many times, Sven re-emerged.

Rats are amazing swimmers.

This was followed by more of the screaming and more of the flushing.

Later, Husband admitted to me that although he was disturbed by the goings on at the time, later he found the sounds of me screaming and flushing pretty damned hilarious. Husband is lucky he only admitted this much, much later.

Then I made calls to the plumber and to various exterminators.

The exterminator I talked to was very nice. He was probably periodically putting me on hold to laugh hysterically, but who could blame him? Our conversation went kind of like this:

“I think there are rats coming up through my toilet.”

“And why do you think this ma’am?” Asked, I might add, in the same soothing tone one might use with the mentally unstable.

“Because there was a rat in my toilet.”

“Is he still there?”

“No. I, um, flushed him.” At this point, even I realized that was a stupid thing to do, but the dispatcher was nice enough to at least pretend he would have done the same thing.

“We don’t handle live animal situations, that requires Pest Services.”

I took down the information he gave me about who to contact and then he continued, “It’s not like we can really send a guy over to sit there with a baseball bat and wait for the little guy to run back out from wherever he’s hiding.”

I laughed nervously, probably too nervously, prompting him to ask, “You aren’t sitting there with a baseball bat, are you?”

“Uhhh. Nope.”




“Nope. Golf club.”

“Wood or iron?”


“Good choice. You’ll have better control.”

Obviously, he’d never seen me on the golf course.

At that point the plumber called, so I didn’t have to admit to the nice Rodent Death Merchant that I had weighted down the toilet seat with a pair of 8 pound dumbbells, just for good measure. Rats are very strong. And very strong swimmers. Have i mentioned that? The exterminator gave me a lot of information about rats, probably more than I will ever need to know, but now I’m never short on cocktail party smalltalk.

In fact, the rat took on the name Sven during this conversation because we determined that he was Rattus norvegicus (a Norway rat).

The plumber, in the meantime, assured me that, because we have an ejector pump, it was pretty much impossible for a rat to come into the house through our pipes. Then the plumber came over and inspected the whole thing, just to be sure, and also to make sure that I hadn’t destroyed said ejector pump. I also learned that it costs close to 1000 bucks to replace an ejector pump.

I was very, very happy to learn that the pump had not been damaged. My happiness was short-lived because he also explained to me that, since Sven was now long gone, I’d probably killed him by forcing him out through the pump.

Great. So now I had that on my conscience.

As near as anyone can tell Sven got into the house because we left the backdoor standing open while we moved some furniture. This apparently happens to neighbors with sliding doors a lot, but no one talks about it. Rat experts have no problem telling you about how your neighbors call them screaming like little girls when they find that their dog has cornered a feisty rat in their upstairs closet. I, of course, would never scream like a little girl when spotting a rat in my home. (I screamed like a banshee that had been set on fire).

Many experts have examined the house and that open door seems to be the only point of entry.

A few days later, I saw an exterminator at a neighbor’s house and I quizzed him about all things rodent. While we were chatting, a rat strolled down the road past us like he owned the place. Yes, Alexandria is a city by a river, but come on. This seemed a little weird, even to me.

The wayward exterminator told me about the City rebaiting the sewers after months of construction. The City confirmed this. In fact, the rebaiting process had started just hours before Sven entered our house and got trapped.

At least the mystery of why the rats suddenly streamed out of the sewer was solved.

One of my neighbors was convinced there was an alligator in there on a rampage and this was the first sign. I think the “fleeing disruption and poison in their nests” story fits the facts better, seeing as we live in Virginia.

Tip: it turns out you’re supposed to call animal control for a situation like this, which I did. In my own defense, I started calling them when Sven first appeared (on Friday) and they didn’t call me back until Tuesday because it was a holiday weekend (Memorial Day) and I wasn’t calling the emergency line, so even though the exterminators and plumbers kept referring me back to the City, I didn’t know for sure the right things to do for several days.

An article in the Washington Post that appeared during this time period confirmed that rats are in abundance in our area and living the good life. No kidding.

Somewhere around here I have some publicity images Mark Lewis gave me when he was here (in 1998?) to screen his excellent documentary, Rat, for the Environmental Film Festival. It’s tempting to frame one of the posters and hang it in the bathroom. It has the image of of a rat emerging from a toilet. I suspect I’m the only one who would find that amusing. (On a Mark Lewis tanget – I have no idea how long this link will last, but here’s a BBC page with video intros by Mark of all of his films, including perennial PBS faves Cain Toads and Natural History of the Chicken. Fun!)

I bring all this up because I’m more than a bit traumatized by ads for Flushed Away, the heartwarming story of a pet rat who accidentally gets flushed down a toilet. Husband has pointed out to me that in the movie, obviously, the rats are the heros and so by extension we can pretend that perhaps Sven survived his ordeal. Then I can take comfort in the film. We’ll see….

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  • please tell me this was AFTER I came to visit and soak off my post-MCM sweat in that bathroom…never mind, I don’t want to know!

  • Why Sven? Why not “Ratty?”

    We have our own experiences with the damned things out here in the tropics; I won’t go into detail.

  • rebecca

    I decided he had to be a Norwegian rat because he looked brown to me, so he seemed more like a Sven than a Ben or a Willard. I don’t know why Ratty never occurred to me. Or even Ratso, another classic.

    I checked my calendar and, even though this feels like it happened a year ago it was only May. It was just a week after my mom was here staying in the basement so she was sort of freaked out, which is funny coming from someone who calls me to tell me she found a snake in her living room…

  • rebecca

    I just looked at the City’s website:

    “As with any city bordering a river, the City of Alexandria has a rodent population.” http://www.ci.alexandria.va.us/city/codeenforcement/rat_main.html

    And again I say, no kidding!

  • Evil Agent

    I saw a large rat just the other day…looking like he owned the place, too. As I was outside, I referred the work to others…he was in proximity to the cafeteria kitchen and in this town, one never knows–skipped lunch that week!

  • rebecca

    The other white meat?

    Sorry, that was too easy. I should be ashamed. (I’m not, but I should be).

    Oh, and ewwwwwwww.