It’s time to rate rats…

A gibbous moon hangs low over the horizon as a fitful wind whips through the cornfields, rattling the stalks like so many forgotten bones.

A nagging uneasiness has crept into your life as the days grow shorter and the nights grow colder.

And you should be uneasy, pal – Halloween is just four weeks away and you haven’t yet purchased a single rubber rat to make your home a little cozier, your life a little squeakier.

Don’t panic. As in years past, The Reporter has dispatched teams of trained rat-wranglers to help you find the best and brightest of the season’s rubber rodents.

For those of you who may not be familiar with our annual retail rat rating system, we grade rubber rodents on:

  • Price
  • Pointyness of tail
  • Beadiness of eye
  • Snaggliness of teeth
  • Shrillness of squeak
  • Foulness of coat

Although discount retail outlets have proven fertile ground for Halloween rat bargains in the past, we found the best, most reasonably priced selection of rubber rats at a seasonal Halloween outlet in Fairfield.

The Spirit Halloween Store there offers a squeaky, life-sized rubber rat for $1.99 in your choice of designer colors – as long as they’re black, white or gray. Spirit also offers a half-dozen other seasonal rodents with prices up to $29.99 for a menacing rat that’s bigger than a cocker spaniel and 10 times as scary.

Like last year, we discovered some of the best rubber rat prices at Vacaville’s Big Lots store. The variety, however, is limited and the size of the basic rats leaves something to be desired. They’ve got rubber rats for a buck apiece, but they’re half the size of last year’s rubber rodents. They’re almost mouselike and, in the words of newspaper’s former criminal justice reporter, Inspector Jon Lewis, “I never met a mouse that wasn’t a punk.”

Nuff said.

Their large rats are a better overall bargain. More than a foot tall (or long), these rats come in two models – standing or crouching, both drooling. They’re $8 bucks each, which pretty much beats most other rodent retailers in the large-rat category. Big Lots also has extra-hairy, radio-controlled rats for $12. We’ve seen these elsewhere for as much as $16.99.

Sad as it seems, we discovered few other regional rubber-rat bargains. There were rubber cats, rubber spiders, rubber snakes and something that looked like a rubber manatee from hell, but reasonably priced rubber rats were scarce.

Our favorite rat-related item was an electronic rat-in-a-mug. These wonderfully annoying, motion-activated devices consist of a rat’s hindquarters sticking out of a coffee mug. The hind legs kick, the tail swirls and the coffee mug erupts in squeaks, gulps, gasps and gurgles. The performance concludes with a satisfied belch.

The rat-in-a-mug comes in a variety of styles, and prices range from $6.95 to $12.95. We found ours at a Long’s Drug in Vacaville for $7.99.

A wiggling, belching rat-in-a-mug for less than eight bucks? You can’t beat that with a stick, amigos…

Originally published October 1, 2006