D  e  s  e  r  t     E  x  p  o  s  u  r  e    February 2006

Features

Have Spacesuit, Will Travel
Is space tourism the ticket to success for the proposed spaceport?

For Love and Money
Ivan Thompson, the "Cowboy Cupid," stars in an award-winning documentary.

Connecting the Threads
The Southwest Women's Fiber Arts Collective weaves together area fabric artists.

Blooming in the Desert
"Little Vampire" author and painter Angela Sommer-Bodenburg.

Out of Africa
Festus Addo-Yobo, new director of NMSU's Black Studies Program.

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Packrat Love

When animals attack a man's most cherished sanctuary, it's no more Mr. Nice Guy.

With February being the month of Valentine's Day and all, you'd expect this column to be about love. Instead, it's about hate.

But let me explain. One of our few indulgences since moving to New Mexico was the purchase of a "spa"—you might call it a "hot tub"—for the backyard. It's housed in a lovely little wooden shelter called a "spazebo," that keeps the blazing New Mexico sun off us when we're, er, spa-ing.

Let me tell you, after spending 12 hours schlepping thousands of copies of Desert Exposure from Las Cruces to Deming to Silver City, nothing feels better than crawling into the spa and letting hot jets of water massage the kinks and sore spots. In a just society, we would be able to take the spa off our taxes as a business expense, but our accountant just frowns and shakes his head whenever I suggest this.

We don't hop into the spa as often in the winter months as during the rest of the year. The water stays plenty warm enough all year round, but getting in and getting out can feel a bit nippy. So the spa didn't get much use after that November cold snap—at least not by us. But I'm getting ahead of my story of hate and bloody revenge.

Once the weather warmed up and stayed unseasonably warm, even for southern New Mexico, I began to think about the spa again. At least during the brilliantly sunny daytime, getting in and getting out wouldn't feel all that bad, I figured. So I went out to check the spa, thinking maybe I'd sweet-talk my wife into testing the pH and adjusting the chemicals if necessary after the spa's early-winter hiatus. (I can't explain why this chore has fallen to her rather than to me, the almost-chemistry major. At least I do tend to the chore of cleaning and lighting the fireplace, as an almost-arsonist.)

That's when tragedy struck. Rather, that's when I discovered that tragedy had struck sometime earlier in the winter. Although the spa was still happily burbling and filtering the water, the LED control panel was as black—well, as black as my spirits when I saw it. Punching the buttons brought no response. Trying to turn the pump on or off—nothing, nada. Everything was dead.

Naturally, I did what any self-respecting man would do in the face of this sort of soul-destroying disaster: I hollered for my wife. "Honey, would you come take a look at this?"

When she couldn't fix it—this woman who can build bookcases, unclog toilets and, for all I know, get the flailing American auto industry back on track (hey, they haven't asked, and besides, she's busy)—that's when I began to panic. If there's a problem she can't fix with a bobby pin or a plunger or a hex wrench (whatever that is), that's a serious problem ya got there, buddy.

When we finally got ahold of an electrician after the holidays—long, cold, spa-less holidays, I might add—the cause of the problem became all too clear: packrats. Motivated by whatever packrat logic makes them also do stuff like collect spiky cholla pieces, the little critters had dug their way into the area at the base of our "spazebo" (think of POWs tunneling their way under the fence and out of Stalag 17). There they had found packrat heaven: warm, thanks to the ocean of heated water overhead and all the machinery, sheltered and fenced off from whatever predators eat packrats. (Predators, I might add, I would now happily breed and unleash upon the world. Do Bengal tigers eat packrats, you think?)

Not content to simply wallow in this packrat paradise, this spazebo Eden, the little monsters began chewing on the wires.

How did they not get electrocuted? I wondered. Well, maybe one did, because a nearly flesh-free rodent skeleton was also found beneath the spa. But did they learn their lesson? You may here make a sound like John Belushi: Nooooooooo!

The savvy electricians managed to splice the wires and reconnect the control panel, which sputtered to life—sort of. Not everything was illuminated, and the buttons still didn't work. The spa manufacturer in El Paso, who'd been walking them through this procedure by cell phone, like a surgeon trying to save a patient too distant to make it to the hospital ("OK, can you see the spleen?"), confirmed that the wire damage must have shorted out key parts of the controls.

A new control panel was soon winging its way from El Paso. In the meantime, however, we declared war on the packrats. Ordinarily peace-loving folks who wince at columnist Larry Lightner's gleeful descriptions of mayhem against the animal kingdom and who would sing along at the drop of a hat to "All we are saying is give peace a chance" (or "Kum Ba Yah," for that matter), we had been. . . pushed. . . too. . . far!

Move over, Rambo, we've got some packrats that need killin'!

As you will already have guessed, I made my wife do it. This was not merely shirking some gruesome chore, but sheer self-preservation. Put me and a trap in the same room for five minutes, and there'd be fingers in need of reattachment. ("Honey, can you pack this in some ice?")

I tore around the house, cursing packrats and all their evolutionary ancestors from the primordial ooze on up. (Unless you go for Intelligent Design, in which case there's a designer with some 'splaining to do. Packrats? What was He thinking? And don't even get me started on mosquitoes or telemarketers.) I vowed eternal vengeance on all packratkind. How dare they interfere with my one luxury, my one indulgence, my splashy splurge? THEY MUST DIE!

While I was taking care of business, curse and imprecation-wise, my wife went to the hardware store and bought a pair of nasty-looking traps. (We each have our role to play, right? That's what makes a good marriage. My wife can't curse worth a damn.) She baited the traps with dabs of peanut butter (creamy, not crunchy) and set them amid the works underneath the spa, while vowing to replace the multi-screwed panel guarding these works (and doing a mighty poor job of said guarding) with a hinged door, to facilitate access. Hey, each to his or her own vows.

The next day, the stink from under the spa told us the traps had done their duty. Not one but two packrats—big suckers, though with nice fur (packrat slippers, anyone?)—had been nearly snapped in half as they quested for creamy peanut butter. At least they didn't suffer, though that might have been OK with me by this point.

While my wife relocated the corpses to a cardboard box (yes, Mr. Trash Hauler, that's what smelled so bad—sorry) and re-baited the traps (so far, no further trappees), I did my job. That's right, I screamed like a banshee at any packrats still lurking out there: "There's more where that came from, you dirty little, er, rats! That'll teach you to mess with my spa!"

I was just getting into "You wanna piece a me? Huh? Huh?" when my wife made me come inside and lie down.

The new control panel has now been installed and the spa seems to be working perfectly. The electrician protected the wires with about a mile of duct tape rather than letting them dangle to tempt packrats (a flaw in the original design, if you ask me). And my wife has some sort of scheme to bury bricks around the base of the spa—or maybe it involves razor wire, klieg lights and guard dogs; this sort of thing just goes in one ear and out the other when she's explaining it to me—to keep out rodent intruders.

Me, I've almost started to feel sorry for the packrats. But I guess this sort of thing is inevitable when civilization—in the form of a spazebo—intrudes on the wild. I'll be thinking about them (not to mention sniffing for them) when I try out the spa—at last!—this weekend.

Speaking of which: OK, Mr. Smarty-Pants Accountant, now that I've written a whole column about the spa, surely I can deduct it from our taxes, right?

 

Desert Exposure editor David A. Fryxell is getting really pruney
even as you read this.


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