Whither the Wharf Rats?
A local news item recently detailed a horrific proliferation of rats ruining the serenity of the Marina Green, citing testimonials from concerned joggers and pet owners to support this municipal atrocity. From the sensational tone of the article, it seemed the entire district was roiling with filthy, diseased Rodentia, soon to send residents fleeing in panic across the bridge. Adding to this vermin invasion was another dirty fact: It is breeding season.
Rats in estrus in the Marina? Coupling noisily in full view of the volleyball net, a vulgar symphony of claw, tooth, and tail? Worse still, how will this impact Noah's Bagels?
It is an idyllic weekday morning at the Marina harbor. The green is completely empty. Waves lap lazily at the walkways. Little 2-inch crabs emerge from the rocks to sunbathe. A bird surfaces with a tiny wriggling fish in its beak. The tinkle of wind chimes mingles across the landscape of sun-bleached boats with the excited jabber from a klatch of Swedish tourists. And after an hour of close inspection up and down the pier, not one example of either the hefty Norway brown (Rattus norvegicus) or smaller Alexandrine black (R. rattus) is to be seen.
"I come out here for lunch once a week, and I've never seen a rat -- big or small," says a bald man sitting in a white, unmarked city car.
"No, I don't see any at all," says a guy standing next to his Lexus, combing his hair.
"Naw, I eat lunch here all the time," confesses a guy from the Department of Public Works as he starts up his truck. "You want rats? Go down in the sewers."
"Not at all," answers another guy with an orange surfer-type wet-suit hat, digging in a dumpster. His portable radio blares a religious talk show. "Never have in my life."
A Harbor Office staffer has heard about the news article, but has never seen one since he's worked there.
All right, so where are the goddamn rats?
"Mostly all restaurant areas," says Carol from San Francisco's radio-dispatched Alert Pest Control Inc., explaining that leftover food scraps are a sure sign rodents will be moving into the 'hood.
She adds that Alert is currently working with one rat-riddled restaurant (which will probably be closed down) where the furry scamps live in the floor of an office above, and each night chew holes in the ceiling to drop to the kitchen be-low.
"Fifty percent of all our calls are for mice and rats," she continues. "You wouldn't believe the size of some of these rats."
But not many calls to the Marina?
"No, not very many."
OK, but if there were lots of rats, how would they set about eradicating the disgusting little buggers?
Apparently there are two methods -- poison bait traps and glueboards. As to the first, a gruesome fact emerges.
"Since rodents cannot regurgitate, everything they eat stays down," according to Carol. "Of course, the more poison they eat, the quicker they die."
Glueboards are more controversial, because the animals take so long to die, and emit hideous death squeals trying to escape.
"They make a funny sound while they're struggling and struggling and struggling," she says without a trace of emotion. "A lot of people can't handle that. Some of them are so strong and big -- some of those rats -- that they pull part of their hair off and get off anyway."
The glueboards also are not pet- or birdproof, adds Capt. Michael Knapp from San Francisco Animal Control. "They're real stupid things," he says of the contraptions. "They're legal, but they're real harmful to animals."
There are no glueboards or bait traps today on Marina Green. The little crabs exercise their claws in the sun, the birds continue to fish, and city employees sit by themselves in vehicles, looking out over the bay, waiting for lunch. But there are no rats.
And even if there were, they'd take one look at the four Swedish tourists with propeller beanies and get the hell out of there.
Address all correspondence to: Slap Shots, c/o SF Weekly, 425 Brannan, San Francis-co, CA 94107; phone: (415) 536-8152; e-mail: Slapshawtsaol.com.