Sunday, March 02, 2008

1 Dead Rodent, 2 Thurifers, and 3 Firetrucks

1-2-3. The excitement never ends at Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church (whose real name is Evangelical Salem Lutheran Congregation).

It seems that a rodent of some kind (mouse, rat, nutria?) got into a nook or cranny near the entrance of my office. It has given up the ghost, and is now decomposing. Needless to say, the stench is getting worse by the day. Nobody can find the critter - but we all know he's in there. Somehow, I think he's way too pungent to be a mere mouse - though I doubt very much that a nutria has found his way into our air conditioning ducts. My guess is that I have a dead rat doing what dead rats do best. It got so bad today after the Divine Service and Confirmation class that I nearly retched.

This sounds like the set-up to an episode of Bless Me, Father. What Would Duddleswell Do?

After everyone except my own family was gone, I tried burning little sticks of incense (gifts of frankincense and myrrh from one of my elders), but the relief was only slight. Big dead rodents need big solutions. This called for the "nuclear option."

So, I had a "brilliant" idea: a fully charged thurible (the traditional ceremonial censor such as is found in the Bible and in traditional Christian worship), armed to the teeth with a large charcoal covered with a hillock of Pontifical brand church incense. I stoked the coal, heaped a mass of the little stones of resin, closed the lid, and very soon, the smoke rose majestically from the holes in the top shaped like the Greek Letters "Chi" and "Rho" - the first two letters of "Christ" in the language of the New Testament. Billows heaved forth, curling in blue clouds to my ceiling.

The plan was working beautifully. The office looked like a cross between a French Quarter jazz club and "Smoky Mary's" Episcopal Church in New York. The golden censor happily hurled its symbolic prayers toward heaven in a divine haze as the odor of the deceased rodent yielded (though stubbornly) to the blend of the bite of frankincense, the sweetness of myrrh, and the bouquet of cedar.

As to be expected with a three-year old boy, the tableau of fire and smoke was a cause of joy for Lion Boy. To Leo's delight, I taught him the rudiments of being a thurifer. He examined the thurible mechanism. He observed the broiling melange of sooty coal and melted sap. He devoutly blew inside the censor and watched the smoke increase. His intensity was interrupted by the occasional giggle and observation about the smoke. You can never start subdiaconate training too young, I say. Leo and I shared the solemn duty of swinging the thurible back and forth on the gold chain.

We were having a great father and son moment, when our smoky reverie was interrupted by the ear-splitting claxon of the fire alarm.

Oops. I hadn't considered that. Mea culpa, which is Latin for "my bad."

The screech was nearly as unbearable as the dead rat smell that started this blasted chain of events in the first place. Adding to the confusion, my cell phone was buzzing at the same time as the landline was ringing (of course, I could only see the blinking red light). I picked up the phone, and indeed, it was the fire protection company. They wanted me to punch in a code that I didn't know. I wandered outside and called the school principal on my cell. He informed me that there is no such code to punch in, and that the alarm controls are in his office. He told me how to disarm the wailing sentinel, but (as one would expect from an episode of Bless Me, Father) I had no key with which to open the door. For the want of a nail... and the principal was returning from a trip, and was still an hour away. Furthermore, the poor thurible didn't know what all the fuss was about, and naively continued hurling his spicy-sweet smoke into my office. Mrs. Hollywood took him aside and convinced him to wait until a more opportune time to offer his priestly supplications before the Lord's throne.

Well, I sure hope the dead rat was amused.

I hunted and hunted in vain for a spare key to the principal's office, as my blood pressure continued to rise to match the decibels. And to think we were going to have a relaxing Sunday afternoon. Finally and suddenly, the air-raid sirens stifled themselves. The flashing white lights went back to sleep. Quiet once more reigned; quiet as a church mouse? The smoke dissipated. Even after all that, not even a full load of Pontifical could completely eradicate the smell of death (and as a certain seminary professor was wont to say, "Sermon illustration!"). But at least my ears were no longer being shattered.

We were finally free to go. We gathered our things and prepared to stroll in the sunshine back to our peaceful abode... only to hear another round of sirens - this time outside, from a distance.

Uh-oh. I hadn't considered that either. I think we'd just entered part two of this week's Bless Me, Father episode.

To the further delight of Lion Boy, three (count 'em, three!) fire trucks showed up in front of our building (Davy Crocket Volunteer Fire Company No. 1, Gretna, LA - the oldest continually operating volunteer fire company in the U.S.A.). The firemen were courteous, and didn't even blink as I recounted my red-faced tale of woe. I'm sure they have heard much worse. One of the officers was naturally quite happy to find no fire, and said he could now get back to his franks and beans. I should have asked them if they could at least blast the fire-hose into our AC vents to try to get rid of my rat.

So, I think I need a less churchly (not to mention less "brilliant") solution to the rotten rat problem. I may just be working from home for a few days.

Never a dull moment!


Chris said...

I recall what Luther said about scaring the Devil away with flatulence. Perhaps (since he lacks the plumbing) the Devil learned this lesson well and placed the rodent in your duct to cause you consternation and angst :-).

When is Leo going to don the Acolyte apparel? You should start strength training him to carry the crucifix in (if you have a processional one).

Peter said...

Now, that's a funny story! Having spent a week at a cottage with a dead porcupine underneath it, I share your pain. It also happens that my son once dialed 911, bringing a patrol car to our house. He was, maybe 1 1/2 at the time.

Peperkorn said...

I've had at least one similar experience here, only it also involved our daycare. Why does no one recognize the smell of heaven?

Mark said...

I'm thinking the firefighter should have returned to the church after his meal of franks and beans.

Perhaps the natural by-product of his lunch could have set a back-fire (so to speak) odor against the other resulting in the eradication of both.

Or, more likely, it would have compounded your problems.

Father Hollywood said...

An update from one of our custodians:

Dear Pastor:

Yes! We got your critter. It was a rat, not a mouse - and it must have died recently, it was still pretty fat. I hope this helps the smell. That was the only one we found.

Thanks God he was close enough. Any further and Mike wouldn't have been able to reach it.


Jeff said...


That's like the greatest story I've ever read.


Jane said...

My three sons--acolytes all--and I just enjoyed a great read-aloud of your story.

For all of them the presence of the thurible and the initiation of young Leo into the brotherhood of incense loving future acolytes was the high point.

Glad they found your critter.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jane:

I'm really glad you enjoyed our little adventure vicariously. You are absolutely right about acolytes being a brotherhood. It's a great privilege to serve at the holy altar. Blessings to you and your family!

chris said...

And to think, people at my church whine over the least bit of incense. At least we are thus far rat free. I love your (warning!! obviously bad pun ahead) rat tale.