New homes for rubber rodents

Oh, ye of little faith…

Three months ago when I proposed humanely winnowing down The Reporter’s newsroom herd of leftover rubber rats from past Halloweens, several of my cynical colleagues – and not a few members of the public – opined that my efforts to find adoptive homes for our decorative rodents would be in vain.

“Dude, nobody’s going to want to take home an ol’ beat up rubber rat that some sportswriter’s spilled cheap bourbon on,” declared one decidedly skeptical newsroom denizen. “Face it, we’re stuck with ’em.”

Admittedly, many of our older rubber rodents – gathered during seasonal Halloween rat consumer-testing forays – were clearly the worse for wear. Some were downright, er, ratty…

And at least two of the hardy Halloween icons had been batted about the newsroom with rackets during an impromptu game of ratminton several years ago.

(No, this sport never caught on at the Olympics. A pity…)


Considering the amount of joy even the most ragged rubber rat can bring into an otherwise dull and lifeless household, though, I decided to press forward in my effort to share the beady-eyed, pointy-tailed surplus with our readers.

I was not disappointed. The sometimes quirky but lovable community of Vacaville came through again and the rubber rats that were overrunning our newsroom in mid-October are now down to a manageable number.

Thanks to several big-hearted Vacans – and one entire kindergarten class – no fewer than nine of our resident rats have new homes and we have room to walk around without stepping on one of the pesky critters which, unlike real, live rats, do not get out of the way when you’re rushing out to cover a drive-by shooting or pick up a pizza.

Among the adoptive Vacans who answered the call were Harry Coburn, Kathy Domenech and Katelin Whipple.

Perhaps the most notable rubber rat adoption, however, was made by Linda Patrick’s kindergarten class at Sierra Vista School.

Shortly after our adoption notice was published, the class wrote to us requesting a classroom rat:

“We are kindergarten kids.

We cannot have live critters.

We want to adopt a rat.

We will love him

And not get the jitters.”

The kindergartners eventually adopted one of our larger, “museum quality” rats and promptly renamed him “Sponge Bob Ratso” because of two strikingly yellow front teeth that reminded them of one of their favorite cartoon characters.

Mrs. Patrick’s 20-member class also presented the newsroom with its own “Sponge Bob Ratso” coloring book featuring a series of striking rodent portraits suitable for, er, inclusion in a rubber rat coloring book…

Gratifying? You bet! After all, how many other daily newspapers in the United States can boast of receiving their very own celebrity rubber rodent coloring book?

Eat your heart out, Los Angeles Times…

Originally published January 25, 2015

Some stuff you should never do

Each year as summer drifts gently into fall, Solano County’s lively rattlesnake population slithers into mainstream suburbia for a month or two.

For some reason, this tends to alarm citified yuppies who have moved here to get closer to nature – but not closer to noisy, venomous snakes.

So, being a responsible newspaper, we periodically tell people what not to do when they encounter a rattlesnake.

We try to keep abreast of all the latest rattlesnake-avoidance techniques as well as what to do if bitten by one of the playful but notoriously short-tempered reptiles, and to share the information with our readers.

Invariably, readers find some holes in our rattlesnake lore and call to tell us what we’ve left out.

(Things like, “When my uncle Elmo got back from the Ko-reen War, he figured out you could keep rattlers outta your backyard by tossin’ a grenade back there every couple of days…”)

I have to admit that I recently left out one very important tip when I presented the newspaper’s rattlesnake report this summer.

I neglected to mention that you should never, ever, play golf with them.

Perhaps I should explain.

(Sure, why not?)

I became aware of the golf-rattlesnake dilemma a few years ago while attending a fish fry at the old Benicia Arsenal.

A well-fueled individual there buttonholed me over a plate of smoldering smelts and, for no apparent reason, informed me that he loved golf but hated rattlesnakes.

It seems that the bourbon-addled Benician had been playing a round of wilderness golf somewhere near Ione earlier that month when he followed one of his balls into the rough and found himself standing in the middle of a rattlesnake den.

“I had my nine iron with me – not really sure why, old chum – and I laid into them with great vigor and purpose,” he informed me while bleaching part of my shirtfront with his breath.

“I was triumphant, with eight dead rattlesnakes at my feet and nary a bite.”

My 90-proof golfer explained that he was going to simply retrieve his ball and get back to the game when he remembered that people sometimes make belts and hatbands and wallets out of rattlesnake skin.

“A rattlesnake hatband would be deeeeee rigueur at Pebble Beach,” he related woozily.

“So I picked up the lot of ’em and tossed ’em in my car.”

As luck would have it, my newfound friend hadn’t exactly killed all the rattlesnakes with his trusty golf club and, before long, he found that he had a scaly companion with a bad attitude and a worse headache slithering around in his car while he attempted to negotiate a winding country road.

“I tried to reason with him, but you know how rattlesnakes are,” my new acquaintance declared in apparent exasperation before launching into a long diatribe about ditches, fence posts, roadside trees and tow trucks.

My bibulous buddy survived the reptilian confrontation, but his car didn’t.

There is, of course, a lesson here for everyone, and I should have brought it to readers’ attention long ago: If you insist on golfing with rattlesnakes, make ’em ride in the trunk…

Originally published October 5, 2003