Don Vito Corleone: The Devil Rat of Camden Parkside

Apartment living is not for the faint of heart. It requires acumen and gallantry. Sharing walls amongst other humans with whom you have not chosen to share walls is a humorous social experiment, and I’m unsure whether to call its inventor a genius or an unsound sociopath. It is space-saving, however, and fits many individuals compactly into a space in which otherwise only few humans would fit. In the name of economy, one could call it a chance for us to learn to get along and share; just like in preschool. Sharing is one of the cardinal rules of apartment living. You share a laundry room, a building, common walls, and sometimes even unexpected and unwelcome guests.

On the other side one such shared wall during Eric’s and my years of apartment living was a young couple who kept as pets several exotic birds. I don’t know for certain that they were exotic, actually, but I prefer to imagine they were, because that’s less creepy than a couple who keeps crows sparrows and pigeons in their home for entertainment. The trouble with birds, though, is that exotic or otherwise, they are dirty. And in the vein of sharing things, a lack of cleanliness in one apartment home means a lack of cleanliness in all adjoining apartment homes. Our tidy little unit, by proxy, was dirty. A dirty bird apartment.

When apartments grow unhygienic in this way, other creatures of the neighborhood immediately and mysteriously become aware, and want to join the slovenly celebration. How word travels so swiftly and so far, I do not know. I can only assume there is some sort of communication apparatus – a beastly morse code or group text or something. Animals are jealous individuals, and when they hear an abundance of fowl feces is nearby, they become bent out of shape when no one invites them in on the fun. So they invite themselves. This truth is accurate for the rat who moved into the walls between our and the dirty lovebirds’ humble abode.

Thus began a saga during our apartment years which I affectionately refer to as “The Reign of The Rat of Camden Parkside”. We began to experience the day and night scurrying about of a rat inside our very walls. Always on the move, this rat was; and he had many hobbies. I’m nearly certain he was erecting some sort of elaborate Rube Goldberg machine in there – scampering to and fro to ensure the marble entered the thimble at exactly the right instant, which would swing down initiate the fly swatter, which would knock over the dominoes, or some such nonsense.

Naturally, his most active times of day were when we were desperately trying to sleep. Saturday morning at 6am, for instance, was when he would complete entire Richard Simmons “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” aerobics routines. I envisioned him in there, sweat band atop his head, trying to reach his paws down to his scratchy, decrepit little toes, in an effort to work off all the cheesy morsels he’d stolen from beneath the stoves of the nearby kitchens of the neighborhood. Sunday nights at 11pm, as we were preparing for our work week, he would start back up on his favorite hobby: Project Shawshank – digging himself out of the apartment walls with a rudimentary rock hammer, behind a poster of some slim, bikini-clad Rata Hayworth. Constant, unceasing scratching became the soundtrack to our at-home lives, and we were less than thrilled about it.

You may be wondering how I could be so confident in calling this varmint a rat, when it could have easily been a mouse, an abnormally large cockroach or an unusually small ferret. Well, we determined this pertinent fact, because on certain mornings, when we would emerge yawning and sleepy-eyed from our master suite to fetch coffee in the kitchen, we rounded the corner to find that someone was awake before we were, and was romping about on the kitchen floor, snacking on crumbs and depositing from his person tiny black droppings like burnt grains of rice as gifts for us to find. Of course, as he saw that we were infringing upon his morning smorgasbord, he’d locate the hole on the side of one cupboard that led up into the wall and slink swiftly yet begrudgingly back inside. While doing so, he always kept one horrid, beady little eye locked on us, as if to warn, “I’ll be back the moment you’re gone, peasant.”

The remedy was simple. When you have a rat, you buy a trap. That day, we marched to Home Depot and selected the classic wood and wire contraption and made plans to set it that very night. In an effort to avoid the blatant Tom and Jerry cliché of a wedge of Swiss cheese atop the apparatus, we decided upon the Google-affirmed choice of peanut butter, and slathered an appetizing dollop on the trigger. We climbed into bed and drifted to sleep in anxious anticipation, as visions of dead rodents and silent, scratch-free evenings danced in our heads.

The next morning as our alarms sounded, we rolled over in bed sleepily, then locked eyes – thinking a single simultaneous thought which awakened us instantly – the trap! Bounding from the bed like children on Christmas morning eager to see what Santa brought, we tumbled over ourselves to the kitchen. We were greeted by a perfectly set trap, licked clean and EMPTY. The bastard! It seemed we were dealing with a professional. Rat: 1 Bernards: 0.

That night, we thoughtfully prepared the trap once again, but this time placed only the slightest wisp of peanut butter on the button. If he wanted the sweet release of peanutty goodness, it was going to be paired with the sweet release of death.

The next morning we walked more cautiously to the kitchen, afraid to be let down yet again, but AHA! There he was! A peaceful-looking rat, small in stature, was caught by the head in the trap. The reign was over! Tear down the statues; the people are free!

But the people were not, in fact, free. For the next day, more droppings were found strewn about in the kitchen. We were met with the dismaying news that this was not A rat. This was many rats. A family. A Brady Bunch. And who knew HOW many our walls contained!!! No wonder he seemed so very active in all his Rube Goldberg, Richard Simmons, Shawshank Redemption activities – they were all Sweatin’ to the Oldies together!

This is the point at which we probably should have contacted some sort of exterminator, but for whatever reason, the notion never dawned on us. We had lost too many hours of sleep. We had picked up one too many terds. We wanted them for ourselves. This. Was. War.

More traps. Bigger traps. More peanut butter. Bigger peanut butter. Copious amounts of traps and peanut butter. Over the next week of earnest trap setting, three more despicable beasts were caught and killed. The mommy, sister and brother, no doubt. To our dismay and fury, still the droppings and food nibbling continued! The hatred for these creatures grew from a bubbling simmer to a rolling boil, and there was an immediate, unspoken understanding between Eric and I that there were no lengths to which we would not go to demolish the entire dastardly population within our walls. If we had to burn down the apartment, they would suffer, and they would die.

During this time, as family members died off one by one, a myth began to stir about in our household. It was a rumor of The Godfather rat. The mythical and gargantuan patriarch of the family, he was the oldest, wisest and most cunning of them all, and we had reason to believe he was the lone survivor. A veritable Loch Ness monster, one couldn’t be sure he existed, but there were some reported sightings. These “sightings”, however, were never more than a fleeting glimpse – a jump-rope thick tail briefly visible as he slunk back into the wall through the crack in the cupboard, or extra large, bean-sized droppings left over near the refrigerator. He was the type of guy who’d take the gun AND the cannoli. A few times, we caught ourselves rubbing our eyes, wondering if he was only a figment of our imagination, but his late-night inner-wall activities confirmed his existence. He was keen at making himself a ghost, and was especially scarce now that we had killed off his whole family. He knew we were coming for him. I half expected to find a horse head in my bed.

The Godfather proved himself to be bolder and more menacing than all of his kin combined, and his audacious nature would cause him to take part in most egregious acts that only fueled our abhorrence toward him. Once, while sitting in our living room, we heard the dog lapping up her water in the kitchen, only to look down and see that the dog was sitting AT OUR FEET. Father Corleone was quenching his thirst and replenishing energy lost from digging through our walls, with our own water which we had unwittingly left right there next to his hole! When we barreled around the corner, ready to strangle him with our bare hands, all we could see was that rope of a tail disappearing into the crack near the cupboard. He had eluded us again. DAMN HIM!!! But he would not elude us forever. That day, we went and purchased our largest piece of ammunition yet – a trap built especially for The Godfather – a generous slab of wood with a torturous tangle of shining wire atop it. We smiled wickedly as we made preparations for his long-awaited demise.

There was an electricity in the air as we went about our Saturday evening, popping popcorn and watching a movie on the couch, for we knew that that night, while we slumbered, the reign of terror would cease. The movie was just getting good, when suddenly, we heard the familiar lapping of the dog’s water. Scanning the room, we once again found the dog in the room, near our feet. It was happening. The Godfather was rearing his ugly head and we could not wait a moment longer. We had planned to set the trap just before heading to bed that night, but if this rabble-rouser dared slink around our home while AS we sat in it trying to enjoy fine cinema and popcorn, he didn’t deserve to breathe another breath, and we would finish him post haste.

Eric primed the death machine with a driblet of peanut butter, strategically placed it just beside the water bowl, and we returned to our movie, jittery with a cocktail of anticipation and seething disdain.

Ten, then fifteen minutes of stillness passed, and we began to relax, sinking into the plot of Charlie Bartlett, the film we’d chosen for the evening. It really was a highly entertaining and hilarious movi…. SNAP!!!!!!! We lurched from the couch and stared at one another with wide eyes for an unknown number of seconds. The Godfather. HE WAS OURS!!! We leapt up gleefully to dispose of his wretched corpse.

We tiptoed around the bend to the kitchen and flicked on the light. The scene was gruesome, but like some sort of terrible accident, we couldn’t look away. The massive and hideous creature was caught in the trap by the tip of his repugnant snout, long chalky teeth exposed, blood smeared in his salt and pepper hair, and one wicked, blood-shot eye was vacantly fixated up at us. I took one step in his direction.

Never – not in one hundred years – could I have predicted the next moments of my life.

Father Corleone’s body contracted violently, and his whole self, trap et al seized riotously in the corner of our kitchen. He let out an alien wheeze slash squeal which sounded like an exorcism was taking place right below where we cooked our eggs every morning.

Legs gyrating behind our bodies like Wile E. Coyote, we bolted from the kitchen and rocketed face first into the couch, terror and shock enveloping us. The Godfather was NOT dead. He was very much still alive, and he was going to kill us. My heart thrummed like an outboard motor, and we clutched our knees and rocked back and forth on the couch as the freak show of witchcraft and demon expulsion carried on in our kitchen.

What to do, what to do, what to do?!?! Were his legs in tact enough for him to run around in our house, trap still attached to his face, like some sort of Walking Dead zombie devil rat?! Would he die within the hour? The night? Would he EVER DIE?! At a loss, we decided to bury our heads in the sand and turned on the movie again, at ear-splitting volumes, drowning out the breathy, laborious wheezing taking place on the other side of the wall. This worked about as well as turning on Mozart in an attempt to drown out a nuclear apocalypse.

Unable to listen to these songs of hell any longer, I had to look again. I had to check on him. From sheer, overwhelming curiosity, I had to be face to face with evil. Wincing with quivering hands covering my face, I timidly snuck to the wall and ever-so-slowly peeked beyond it. Oh, Lord Jesus save us. The ruthless Sicilian was writhing and defecating all over our kitchen. There were smears of blood and feces all over the floor, and on the WALL. Not inches, but FEET up the wall. The heights to which he had to fling his body to get blood that high up the wall solidified his status as the Devil himself. His black beady eye was working its way out of the socket, like a prairie dog popping out of its burrow, and it was looking RIGHT. AT. ME. If we were going to survive this night, something drastic needed to be done.

Eric and I sat in a nook of the house on the floor, eyes darting to and fro, drumming our fingers together recklessly, trying to ride the emotional roller coaster long enough to emerge with a plan. Our clothing was ripped and we had mixed some herbs to make a black powder paint that we smeared on our faces like savages. That is a lie of course, but it’s close to the mental capacities we were experiencing at the moment.

After a lengthy meeting, an elaborate plan materialized. The plan was: bonk him with a stick until he died. That is literally the best thing we could muster. Two competent college graduates with office jobs and our absolute top-notch idea was “bonk him”. We moved forward with the plan.

The first task was to find an appropriately sized stick. No twiggy branch from a tree would do. This needed to be something with skull-crushing power. Something thick enough that we wouldn’t have to beat our linoleum floors repeatedly. We needed our aim to be true. My eyes fell upon an enormous walking stick Eric had carved on a recent camping trip. It was baseball bat thick, but most importantly, long enough to do some damage-inducing clobbering without having to step in the newly-formed cesspool of blood, rat hair and excrement.

Next, we had to decide who would do the whacking. My obvious choice was Eric, seeing as he was the man of the house and protector of his princess and wife. Eric’s obvious choice, however, was me, seeing as I was the only person in the house who was not him. We then engaged a whirlwind of serious conversation which has since been erased from my memory due to my compromised emotional state, but when we surfaced, I was holding the stick. I know not how this happened, but I was holding it. I was the chosen murderer. I would fight bravely for my household, my family and my country.

As we approached the kitchen once more, I somehow knew, down to the marrow of my bones, that this would be our last encounter with this or any rat in this house. A calm indignation fueled my every step and I gripped the stick with white-knuckles and a palpable rage. If you had looked me in the eye at that exact second, you would have been met with mania. A derangement I haven’t felt before or since. It was time for Don Vito Corleone to die.

With one precise, delirious wallop, The Godfather wriggled like the tail of a rattlesnake, and then lay still.

Eric and I met each other’s gaze as relief and consummation fell across our faces. Time stood still as we gazed on, breathless, and honorable. We may have been physically standing beside our dining table in a one-bedroom apartment in Fullerton, but we were not there. We were in the corn fields of southern France on D-day, as a soft rain fell on our mud-smeared faces and we placed our weapons and helmets upon the ground. We had won. The war was over.

The disposal of Don Corleone’s body was ceremonial. We felt a responsibility to find an appropriate receptacle. It needed to be sturdy. No touching of his corpse would be tolerated. We settled on a steadfast and well-built gift bag from our wedding. It had decorations of a wedding cake and two rings on the side. I held the bag open as Eric gingerly placed the deceased inside. In its own morbid way, this was another wedding gift. It was the newfound knowledge that we could survive anything, and that we would fight side by side forever – be the enemy rats, zombies, or the Devil himself.

One gallon of bleach, one container of Bioshield enzymatic wash, and one small nuclear weapon later, the kitchen was back to its original state, and The Rats of Camden Parkside were only a gruesome and distant memory. Though, if you happen to visit 2634 Associated Rd., Apartment A107, it has been said that you may hear scratching in the walls; and if you do, it is probably the ghost of Father Don Vito Corleone, The Godfather Rat of Camden Parkside, doing Richard Simmons aerobics and building Rube Goldberg machines in the wall space next to the kitchen. If you happen to run into him, tell him Miriam Bernard says, “No hard feelings. You made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

 

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