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Looking for humor in problem? It's rat here

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© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001


They fought the dogs and killed the cats,

And bit the babies in the cradles,

And ate the cheeses out of the vats.

And licked the soup from the cooks' own ladles.

* * *

Ever notice how someone else's serious problem can be your humor-fix for the day?

Two immediate ideas came to mind when I heard of Spring Hill's rat problem.

For those of you who don't know, parts of the massive Hernando County subdivision are having a serious rat infestation problem, similar to some that happened a little less than a year ago.

My first idea was to spread the word that there had been another massive election foul-up in hopes that all of the Spring Hill invaders would go to Tallahassee like last time. Then I remembered. It was lawyers, not rats, that were attracted to the chadfest.

Then I wondered why nobody in Hernando County had thought of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the Robert Browning story-poem for children about how one small German town dealt with a rat infestation.

Then it dawned on me.

The Browning yarn deals with lying politicians (who refused to pay the piper) and animal cruelty (drowning is not an approved method for disposing of animals).

There are vast political correctness problems with the poem. The city residents mock the mayor for being both old and obese. There is a handicapped child who is too lame to go with all of the children when the piper leads them away. There is mention of "vampyre-bats," which is sure to make those who fear the supernatural connotations of vampires queasy.

My point is that it sounds like the kind of book that would be pulled, more quickly than you can say "weak-livered knee jerk," from the Hernando County school system's bookshelves, and it's quite possible that nobody there ever heard of that method of getting rid of the rats.

Probably just as well. Most of today's music doesn't make anyone want to jump into a river, other than to get away from it, and the modern version of the Pied Piper would probably have a car full of those high-earbleed-impact bass speakers in it.

As I recall, the folks in the first edition of the CBS hit Survivor found a use for rats. They ate them. And there was someone at a booth at a recent "Mountain Man" retreat in Dade City selling smoked prairie dogs on a stick . . . how much difference could there be?

Okay, now that I've offended practically everybody:

I'm pretty sure that the real genesis of the rat problem in Spring Hill is environmental. We have jerked Mother Nature's chain so hard and so often when it comes to animal habitats that the predator/prey cycle is disturbed, or non-existent, for a bunch of species.

The reason we have a love-bug problem twice a year is that we have managed to import an insect that has no natural enemies and, in fact, no enemies at all other than the automobile windshield.

Whatever species should have been eating the rats, probably owls and other birds of prey, has probably forsaken Florida for somewhere less crowded and with more water -- like Arizona. (Yes, I know it's a desert. Checked your lawn lately?)

Actually, a group of residents in Spring Hill has taken on the problem, trying to get weeded areas and dried up retention ponds cleaned out and advising neighbors on how to deal with the pesky rodents.

And there still are some people who associate a rat infestation with dirtiness and feel stigmatized by it.

That's kind of a regional thing.

Growing up in South Florida in the constant company of snakes and roaches, I didn't know there were people who objected to either until I was well into my 20s.

I'll never forget the first time a neighbor in North Carolina called me over to kill a "big" roach in her kitchen.

I explained to her that, in Florida, we would have thrown it back for being undersized.

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