rousIt was a rainy night in Delmar, and I took shelter away from the doors of the Walgreens, waiting for my ride. There is a Red Box movie rental just outside the Walgreens store and some 30-somethings were hanging around it, smoking and talking about trucks or t-shirt fashion or whatever. It had already been a tough night and I didn’t need to eavesdrop my way into feeling any worse about the state of things, so I wandered back in the direction of the Chinese takeout place and the liquor store.

The strip mall has fractured awnings. The spaces between the stores are not covered, only the spaces near the store entrances. As I stood beneath the one protecting the cellphone store customers, a rat limped its way across the parking lot, the rain having driven it from the drainage pipes and toward shelter. The rat was fat and cartoonishly large, with a body length easily beyond 8-inches. The rat saw me notice him and made a sharp right, the idea, I think, was to slip past the Red Box-ers. Or there was no plan but not to come my way.

In retrospect, I should have taken out my cellphone camera, switched it to video, remained quiet and watched hilarity ensue as this monster rat bumbled into the Redneck Red Box conference.

Unfortunately, I am humane.

“Hey,” I called to the group. “Now, don’t panic, but there’s a rat headed your way.”

What followed were a couple remarks on the rat’s impressive size and a scream. The scream came from a stringy-haired woman. She was a brown-rooted blonde, narrow and hip-less in a way that suggested generational smoker skinniness and made her clothes seem even cheaper and more ill-fitting than they were.

When she mustered her scream, the man closest to her, lept to action. The rat, having nearly made it to their position before the scream, nearly trapped itself in the Walgreens entranceway but shot around the corner and back toward the place I had been. I say, “the place I had been,” because, as soon as the man I’ll now refer to as The Rat Slayer jumped, I saw how everything would go down and wanted no part in it.

At the end of the first act of “The Princess Bride,” Wesley, the lead character, does battle with one of the R.O.U.S.s (Rodents of Unusual Size, pronounced to rhyme with mouse). The R.O.U.S., gets the better of Wesley for awhile and does an amount of damage, scratching and biting. Eventually, Wesley injures the R.O.U.S. and, as it makes it wounded way toward cover, he dispatches it with several stabs to the back. His face shows pain and anger, but mostly disgust. The killing is justified, but it is the disgust on his face that makes it a watchable scene (also the fact that the R.O.U.S. is obviously a puppet or costumed actor).

The Rat Slayer was not so gallant. He pursued the rat at full-tilt, threatening it aloud in a way clearly meant to impress at least the brown-rooted blonde, if not the rest of the company. The first time he caught up to the rat, he apparently recalled that he had no real means of killing it. This was a sizable, fanged animal and, as he came upon it, he realized stomping would not suffice. At least, stomping would not keep him safe from being bitten while he dispatched the rat.

Using The Rat Slayer’s hesitation to his advantage, the rodent darted toward the wall and accelerated. The Rat Slayer picked up a plastic sandwich board, which was maybe three feet tall and not wider than 18-inches.

As he again gained on the rat, The Rat Slayer taunted: “You can’t outsmart me!” at which point the rat came to a full stop. The Rat Slayer hurled past his quarry and, catching himself on his left foot turned and cornered the rat.

He bagan to beat it with the plastic board. It was horrifying.

There are ethnologists who propose the reason humans aren’t adverse to murdering one another is genetic. Unlike our clawed and fanged cousins, who rarely if ever murder, we are not born with the means to kill. Beating something to death is difficult. That is an evolutionary fact.

To be honest and fair, it might well have been a justifiable homicide. I have had to make similar decisions in my life, to kill an animal that was in the wrong place at the wrong time and could not otherwise be removed. I also have killed mammals injured by my dogs. With each death, there is, and should be, a certain amount of revulsion. Had it fallen to me to deal with the rat, I like to think I would have been more disgusted and less joyful than The Rat Slayer. Seeing someone beat an animal to death is unpleasant at best; watching someone enjoy the act makes it horrible.

In the larger conversation about hunting–as with the larger conversation about everything in America–only the moronic have a voice. Those on the anti-hunting side talk about how horrible it is to kill animals. Those on the pro-hunting side talk about how much fun it is. Too often we paint these pictures, depicting the only choices as pacifism and bloodlust. Eventually, because those are the only ways we talk about the world, that is the way we make the world.

If he can write, The Rat Slayer might this moment be blogging about a cowardly fat guy in the suit, who ran from a rat, then yelled for his wife in the middle of the pouring rain rather than do what needed to be done. He’s not wrong. I had no means of killing the rat, and was not creative enough to use the sign. The rat may have need to be killed, but no one needed to enjoy it.

In addition to questions of viciousness, in this week’s Todcast, we cover graduations and faux graduations and the correct attire for each. We’re also joined by Bryan Brushmiller for this week’s State of the Beer.