Thomas Wictor

The Rat Palace

The Rat Palace

I’ve gotten messages from people expressing sympathy that Tim’s alluvial shanty will be demolished. While I appreciate the sentiments, it’s really time for the place to go to house heaven.

Tim’s name for his former home is the Rat Palace. I have no idea if everyone else on the street was plagued with rats the way we were, but the incursions of Rattus rattus and Rattus norvegicus never stopped. We also had three of the biggest wasp and bee nests in recorded history, as well as termites. The house is a vermin Shangri-La.

This is the laundry room. There’s a toilet behind that slat wall.

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One night Tim went out to use the bathroom, and he saw a giant rat standing on the edge of the attic floor on the upper right. The rat jumped across the open space over the clothes line and disappeared into the wall on the left. Tim spent an hour with a flashlight looking for any kind of hole or trapdoor, but there was nothing. It was a magic rat that could dematerialize, or it was a ghost-rat.

Here’s the opposite end of the laundry room.

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We think the rats got into our house by going over that white vertical board under the rafters. There was a hole that led to a hollow beam on the edge of the fireplace room ceiling, which is on the other side of the wall. This made a convenient rat-tunnel into the attic.

While searching for the rat-hole, Tim discovered a five-foot-long wasp nest behind that white board. He said it looked like a human body wrapped in a shroud. Tim used two cans of wasp spray on it, killing thousands of mindless stinging-machines as they flew at his face. That nest was so massive that it stank in the summer for almost ten years. Like the hole to the rat-tunnel, it was out of reach, so we couldn’t remove it. The smell was like dirty gym socks and sharp cheddar cheese.

This is the inside of the fireplace room. The rat-tunnel to the attic runs along the upper left-hand corner.

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We had to put out poison every year. One afternoon we heard a thumping, tumbling noise in the wall on the far end of the room. A couple of days later, the smell of death was everywhere. We looked and looked and looked, until I bent down next to the wall socket to the left of the empty shelf and took a whiff. Bingo! A rat had fallen down from the tunnel and croaked in the space behind the wall socket. We took off the socket plate and could see the furry son of a bitch, but we couldn’t reach it.

Dad used his metal-working skills to fabricate a special dead-rat scoop, like a long-handled spoon, and we were able to remove the noxious corpse.

Here are the ceiling and cabinets in the main bathroom inside the house.

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At night you’d hear scampering and thumping in the attic. If you stood on the sink and opened the cabinet doors, you could hear eee-eee-eee-eee. It was a ratopolis, the citizens of which were busy socializing, fighting, eating, mating, and raising cubs.

We had exterminators in too many times to count. They’d set out poison, things would go quiet for a while, and then the thumping, scampering, and squeaking would begin again.

Finally, Tim decided to just put out poison himself. Here’s an access door into the attic.

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It’s about three feet high, inside one of the closets on the second floor.

Here’s the inside of the attic, with the board bridge Tim had to crawl on to get to the part of the attic over the bathroom.

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Every time he went in there to set out poison, he found more and more rat skeletons. The poison manufacturers tell you that the yummy, green pellets will make the rats thirsty, so they’ll leave your house in search of water and die outside. That’s a lie. They die in the attic, and then they turn into skeletons. Our attic around the corner to the left looks like the Capuchin catacombs in Palermo, except in miniature.

This is the door to one of the closets upstairs.

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Tim had to go in and spray two cans of wasp killer down into the kitchen wall below, because there was another human-sized wasp nest. We discovered it by entering the stairwell on the left and hearing a low, continuous humming and buzzing from the millions of wasps.

Here’s the ceiling of the upstairs bedroom, which finally gave way from the weight the rats, dead and alive.

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A few years before this happened, we stood in the room and heard that ominous humming again, this time coming from the wall. When you put your ear against the paper, it was like a giant tuning fork. Tim crawled into the attic through one of the tiny hatches, carrying three cans of insect spray, and found a nest of Africanized bees. Like the two wasp nests, it was as big as a man. Tim sprayed until all the bees stopped moving, but he was sure that he’d be one of those news stories.

“Local man stung more than five hundred times; throat and sinuses filled with bees.”

The rats and insects won the battle, but they lost the war, since we’re going to demolish the house, and they won’t have anywhere to live. They didn’t think ahead. Once a nice home, it’s now an ailing shadow of its former self. I’ve used it as a backdrop to take photos as I get back into the hobby I gave up in 1999, when I lost much of my eyesight.

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As some doors close, others open. And we have plenty of terrific photos. Here’s Mom on the left in 1935, sitting in the back yard with her mother Carolina Lower.

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So don’t be sad. I’m not. The house—like my mother—lives forever in my memories.


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