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Dumber than a Rat
(Read the Preamble)

by Mark Friedman

 Excerpts from the Court transcript:

Testimony of Mark Friedman: Your honor, I have a great car. It’s a Toyota Camry and I love it, in large part because it’s very reliable. Which is why I was so puzzled that day last September, when the engine started missing cycles and bucking like a bronco. I drove it very slowly to the car dealership (Beaver Toyota in Santa Fe, NM) and sat in the upstairs lounge to wait for the diagnosis.

About an hour later, Ray, a service manager I have come to trust, came up and said “Come with me. I want to show you something.” And we went downstairs to the repair bay. He pointed to the open engine compartment. “See this?”he said. And he picked up a piece of cholla cactus sitting on the air filter. There were many other pieces of cactus laying about the engine compartment, along with bits of grass and some shiny pieces of a food packaging. “You have a pack rat living in your engine,” he said. “No,” I said. "Yes," he said. “And it’s chewed through the wiring that leads to the computer chip that controls your engine’s timing. It’s going to cost $1,500 to fix.” Well you could have knocked me over with a cactus. Many hours later, after long conversations with my insurance company, the damage, less my $500 deductable, was covered (thanks GEICO), and the car was repaired.

Driving home, it didn’t take me long to realize that the rat who had done this was still at large, and was probably part of a bigger gang (or pack) of pack rats, all of whom would have an appetite for car wiring. I had never seen these rats of course; never even contemplated their existence. But they were out there. And if I was ever again going to have peace of mind about my car, they must be defeated. Surely, I thought, I’m smart enough to figure out how to do this.

I was pretty angry about the money. So my first instinct was to get a shotgun and blast the little suckers. But that would have required a middle of the night stakeout and I’d probably end up shooting out a tire. That would make a great story around the pack rat campfire. So, after consulting with Terry, I decided on a more humane approach. I bought a small animal trap. The trap has a lever device in the middle where you place the bait. When the unsuspecting creature steps on the lever, doors close at each end of the trap. Very clever. No mess and no harm done to the small creature. I decided to bait the trap with mango and cheese. I’m sure most New Mexico pack rats have never tasted mango before, but how could they possibly resist. I placed the baited trap in front of my car about 11 PM and went to bed.

Sure enough the next morning, there was something in the trap. It looked like a large mouse with a body about 4 inches long and a longer tail. The truth of the matter is that it was very cute. Mickey Mouse type cute. (Glad Mickey is OK.  Did you like the mango?) But it must be the pack rat that owes me 500 bucks. The only words that would come to my mind were those immortal words from Jimmy Cagney, “You dirty rat.” And the anger came back. I picked up the trap, put it in the trunk and drove to the farthest end of the Eldorado community where we live. My plan was to release this guy into the wild. Maybe he’ll make a new home. Or better yet, maybe some rattlesnake or hawk will show him some high desert hospitality. No matter. One pack rat down, some undetermined number more to go.

So I walked a few paces from my car toward this old barbed wire cattle fence. I stood triumphantly over the trap, opened the doors, and waved my arms to frighten the current occupant toward his new home. And the little sucker took one look at the open prairie, thought for a second, and ran through my legs back up under the car and into the engine!!

I recognize, your honor, that this might be seen as conclusive evidence that I am dumber than a rat. Since I can offer no meaningful defense at this point, I must throw myself on the mercy of the court.

Testimony of the Rat: Your honor. Over the years, I have developed a grudging respect for the human race; this in spite of its constant diminishment, even scorn and ridicule for my species, the movie
Ratatouille notwithstanding. So I have certain expectations about the intelligence of humans. Humans build cars and houses that provide shelter for many of my kind. They provide huge quantities of trash that my relatives have lived on for centuries. So I have carefully considered the effects my negative testimony might cause for this or any human. Yes it is true that I lived in Mr. Friedman’s car engine for several months. Yes, it is true that he caught me in his trap. It is a mistake anyone can make. (And, God, I need more of that mango!) But it is also true that I survived his ill conceived attempt to remove me to the treacherous countryside. He obviously didn't take the trap far enough away from the car. It was an easy jog back into the car engine. And he gave me a ride home to boot. I’m afraid the evidence is conclusive. Having outwitted him, this human is dumber than me. I am unquestionably a rat. And , therefore, ipso facto, this human is dumber than a rat.

Ruling of the Court
: In consideration of the testimony so offered, I, the honorable E. L. Martinez, find for the Rat, and the State of New Mexico. I find that you, Mark Friedman, are dumber than a rat. Your sentence: you must put mangos around the perimeter of your car four times a year. Case closed.