By Jack Rawlins
Wednesday, April 28, 1994 Today was my first day at work at a brand new job. It was also my last. It’s hard to decide if I’m a wimp or a man of decision. It’s easy to decide though that I’m not right for the job, and that I didn’t really like the work. But right now, I’m too traumatized to be philosophical, forgiving, understanding or capable of finding any redeeming virtue in the job—except that somebody has to do it. Just so it’s not me.
On the positive side, yesterday I was flat broke. Today I am $125.00 richer. And did I ever earn it!
The ad in last week’s Lancaster County Farming News said, “Wanted. Rodent Control Specialist for large caged layer operation. Excellent salary.”I figured anyone can catch a mouse; so I called. Herman Zucker answered the phone. He said, I’ll give you $125.00 a day and pay you cash every day. No deductions. You can start tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.”
I wondered why he paid every day. Now I know. Nobody lasted more than a day.
This morning Herman gave me a thorough orientation that lasted all of five minutes.” One of The Pennsylvania Egg Quality Assurance Program’s (PEQAP) requirements,” he said, “is a rodent control program. It’s to help protect consumers against Salmonella Enteritis’s which can be transmitted by rodent poop to chickens and end up in eggs. So we’ve got to get rid of the little sinners. ”
Herman then gave me a suit of blue paper coveralls, a dust filter face mask, a paper cap, plastic boots, rubber glove, and a basket of rat and mouse bait cubes. By comparison, my outfit would have made hospital emergency room attire look chic.
After I struggled into my suit, Herman flipped open a trapdoor and said, “You are now a mouseketeer. Get down in that manure pit and duel with the little devils.”
The trapdoor was over a vertical wooden ladder that ended in a fifteen-foot deep pit that was three-hundred feet long. A double access door at the far end led to ramp for a front end loader. Once a year the many tons of manure would be scraped out and spread on Herman’s farm while neighbors for miles around complained of odors and a sudden increase in the fly population.
“What do I do,” I asked.
“Just dump out the old bait in each of the plastic bait stations that you’ll find along the wall every twelve feet and put in fresh bait.”
When I climbed down the ladder I realized how a newspaper must feel at the bottom of a canary’s cage. I should have it so good. I had 100,000 chickens over my head with their droppings cascading into the pit. Most of their missiles missed the area along the outside walls where I was doing battled—but not all of them. It was like playing paint ball but I couldn’t shoot back.
I’ve got to write all this stuff down right now or I’ll never believe it myself. It just happened hours ago and already I don’t believe it!
For Herman, it was just business as usual. His mission is to supply clean fresh, safe eggs to the market. Without a rodent control program—and mouseketeers—the rodents would have one big bacchanal while they spread Salmonella among the hens.
This morning, when I picked up the first bait station three mice scooted out. Two scurried off to a new hiding place, but one scooted up my sleeve into my smock. I squealed like a little girl when I felt that tiny creature scurrying about in my undies looking for a place to hide. I clutched it through my suit and squeezed like I was strangling a bear. When it stopped moving, I unzipped my suit and retrieved its poor limp little carcass.
After that, I tapped on every bait station to announce that there was still time to leave before I added fresh bait.
Putting all this down is like taking a good hot shower or maybe a laxative…maybe both. I feel cleaner inside and outside already. Keeping a journal is a lot less expensive than therapy. And my word processor is not judgmental ---and did I mention, it’s cheap?
Anyway, you had to be there to capture the full ambiance of the experience. Whoever may read this, consider yourself lucky that you were not. One of the reasons I journal is in hope that someday someone will read this and say, “Oh my, that poor man!” I guess belated sympathy is better than none at all.
I stuck it out for the full day and believe me I earned my $125.00 for it. But I did lean two valuable lesions: I no longer believe that I’ll do anything if the price is right. I also learned that even though it’s a dirty job, somebody has to do it. But not me.
Someday, but not for a long time, I’ll look back on today and think that although it was traumatic, it was also funny. I was a flesh and blood cartoon character in a goofy outfit doing an important job in a crazy environment. I just wish I had a video of it to post on The Internet and share with the world.