It’s 4:15 am on Wednesday and just like last week and the week before, I’m running late. With my defrost blasting and my windshield wipers doing what an ice scraper should have done, I careen down Reisterstown road heading for the beltway. “I can’t be late again” I blurt out to myself as I blast through a long yellow light. Old lady Robinson isn’t a woman I want to test. When I finally make the beltway I know I have 15 minutes no matter how fast I go till I get to my destination. While Baltimore is quasi known as a city that doesn’t sleep-there’s nobody else on the 6 lanes of hell that circles the city and my little trucks speedometer is tapped out.
It’s not that I dreaded this account- it was fairly easy but it did come with it’s challenges. Having to be there at 4:30 am on a weekly basis wasn’t ideal. Being locked in a continual battle with intelligent roaches at times was also frustrating. For the most part I had the upper hand but I just couldn’t knock down the last of them and each weeks new nest location was always surprising. But there was also this mysterious mouse I didn’t even know existed and when I finally did- that thing baffled me at every turn. However, none were as daunting as facing the woman behind the glass…
Mrs. Robinson was THE food services director at St. Agnes hospital and a very serious woman. Dressed in all white and not a wrinkle to be found on her uniform she was always at her desk when I’d arrive. The kitchen was blindingly bright and there wasn’t ONE SPOT of grime or grease you’d ever find even in the deepest darkest corner. Mrs. Robinson saw to that with an iron hand. Her office/ station was a round glassed room almost in the center of this huge kitchen and she could easily see what was going on anywhere inside with a simple turn of her chair. As I burst through the door, no doubt looking like I just rolled out of bed, she’d just raise her head ever so slightly to peer at me over her half horn rimmed glasses. There was no escaping that look. A quick glance at her watch and then back at me she would just shake her head a bit and then go back to her neatly stacked pile of papers. As I settled into the service no words were ever spoken but her timely glances would tell me all I needed to know. If she was watching me, I knew I was in an area of concern. When she’d look down I knew my actions were enough to satisfy her and I could move on. It was her way of communicating & I caught onto it pretty quickly. Also I knew, come the end of my visit I had to enter that glass fish bowl and if I didn’t have satisfactory answers or didn’t spend long enough in one of the areas….well, Mrs. Robison wouldn’t be pleased, and that was something I dreaded.
Roach Lessons Learned
The kitchen was large but it was set up in a way that made service pretty simple. Everything was like it’s own separate island and almost nothing was touching the walls. You could literally go around any of the ovens, refer units, prep tables or other equipment. Even the dish washing area was a stand alone set up. Like a huge metal octopus, long stainless steel counters and racks went in different directions with the large dish washing machine in the middle. This was the only place in the kitchen that ever had any roaches. This was the only place in the kitchen that they really had any chance to survive, the only place to find food or moisture. More importantly, the only place they could escape the grimacing eyes of Mrs. Robinson.
It was here I learned how german roaches thrived in the metal tubing of kitchen equipment and how they could use that structure to their advantage. The limited access for me to insert chemicals was certainly no problem for them. A gap in a weld or the not so tight fit of the collar on the leg/shelf connection was ample room for them to find harborage and escape from my service. In those days we didn’t have roach gels or any good baits so sprays were our answer to everything. The stainless steel jungle gym of tubing made sure my service was never 100% effective.
The Mysterious Mouse
Like I said, stepping into the glass office at the end of my service to face Mrs. Robinson’s glare was the most dreadful part of my time at St. Agnes, but she never really got too stern with her remarks about the small roach population. As if she knew I was doing the best I could and perhaps it wasn’t going to ever be population zero. She would look at my service/ sanitation report and almost always give an approving nod. Well, that is unless I checked something like debris on the floor. When I did that she’d get up immediately and march me to the spot to show her exactly what I saw. Roaches were one thing but a negative mark on her report!!! Well that was a serious matter. It was never much more than a half a cracker or a tiny food crumb but that set off a whole side of her that no one liked, especially the janitor who would be called in and get a tongue lashing as we both just stood there paralyzed by her fury. Eventually I learned it was best just to pick up any such debris and put it in my pocket. Me and the janitor would just sorta smile and wink as we passed by each other, knowing each of us had a crumb or two hidden in our pockets.
However, after the insect report, she’d always pause, take a deep breath as if to gather her courage and ask if I ever saw any evidence of a mouse. She did this every time for many months. Being a weekly account this bothered me. I never saw any mouse evidence at all and it would be easy to spot in this brilliantly white room. I placed a few glue boards out but she never liked that. They stood out like a sore thumb in this all but sterile environment. The ketch-alls I had placed caught nothing but dust and there was never any signs. I just blew it off really and I never gave mouse control much thought or effort at all. The janitor said she’s crazy and was always complaining that she’d see flashes of something running across the floor. He told me that he was scheduled to come in at the same time as her but she insisted he get there 15 minutes early–”to turn on the lights, walk around, you know, to make sure nothing furry was running loose.” (wink wink)
For the longest time I chalked up her constant questioning as paranoia and left it at that. She never pursued the subject much but always seemed relieved when I told her there was nothing to report- this “mysterious mouse” was the one thing, the only thing that ever showed a crack in the armor of this rock of a woman..
The Mystery Exposed
But one rare day, I got to the hospital early, even Mrs. Robinson hadn’t yet arrived. The janitor was busy in a corner sweeping up something and was startled by my appearance. As we greeted each other I noticed in his dust pan he had swept up quite a few mouse droppings. “Shhhh” he said in almost a whisper, “I don’t want her to know. She’d hit the roof and you and I would never hear the end of it if she knew.” I was devastated. Here was the evidence I never saw and proof that her suspicions were correct the whole time. If I ever dreaded her stainless steel piercing, ‘all knowing eyes’ before-just how would I face her now? I made up my mind I had to catch this mouse without her knowledge- I went into full stealth mouse catching mode. This thing had to go.
I know Mrs. Robinson suspected something was up but she never said a word. I stepped up my mouse hunt and added several tin cats, ketch-alls and even some semi hidden glue boards. My pursuit went on for several weeks but still nothing. I tried every trick in the book and was even considering baits. (a food area no no back then especially since we mixed our own–bird seed with Rozol and the seed would get scattered everywhere by the messy mouse- not acceptable) But I had to do something and Mrs. Robison’s penetrating eyes and more detailed questions at the end of each service were getting to me. Still, NOTHING.
Then, one day when I was almost finished with my service and I was treating a maintenance storage closet not to far from the dish washing island, there he was! Although this was a tiny little dark mouse, he stood out like a huge black bear would in a field of white snow. There was no missing him and it was as if he knew it. That furry little terror must have mis calculated this morning or maybe my up tempo trapping efforts was enough to get him off his game. In any case, he was out in the open and there was nowhere to hide. I froze for a minute and was trying to figure out just what to do when I saw that Mrs. Robinson was standing, rigid with fear staring through the glass. It was as if all 3 of us were suspended in time and no one even twitched a muscle.
My only option (as I saw it) was to slowly reach for a glue board from my back pocket in hopes I could throw it in front of him and have it get stuck. Mrs. Robinson was now on top of her desk with a look of horror and looked at me as if pleading for me to catch this thing. This rock of a lady had finally cracked and for a moment I felt sorry for her. Just then, the janitor burst through the door with his mop bucket which set off a flurry of events. Mrs. Robison screamed and squealed some god awful sound, the janitors jaw dropped as his mop handle cracked against the tile floor and the startled little mouse took off like a shot dazed and confused. It headed toward the glass office but that prompted an even louder scream which sent him another way. The poor thing zigged and zagged looking to escape till finally– he bolted straight at me.
I must’ve thought a million thoughts but there was nothing I could do.Still bent forward I didn’t move, I didn’t have time. In a blink of an eye that thing ran right to me and stopped under the only protection it could see….my raised heel.
It was over in a second and standing straight up I could feel the tiny little bones crush under the weight of my foot. Standing in disbelief I turned to see Mrs. Robinson, she was white as a ghost but clearly relieved. As morbid and cruel as this ending of the story was all 3 of us were glad to see the end of this tiny creatures reign of terror. Mrs. Robinson nonchalantly climbed down from her desk top, gathered herself quickly and went about her business of looking through papers and tried to look as if nothing had happened. The janitor just gave me a thumbs up and a wink. It was over.
That days report went like any other, Mrs. Robinson meticulously reviewed my report and gave her nod of approval as she always did. Except today she didn’t ask about the mysterious mouse, there was no question about ‘if’ I had seen anything with four legs, she simply signed my ticket & went back to reviewing her neatly stacked pile of papers.
As my hand reached the knob to open the glass door Mrs. Robinson spoke my name in uncharacteristically weak tone. I looked back to see her peering over her horned rimmed glasses, her grip on the papers was a little shaky. “Thank you” she quivered, and that’s all that was said… and the saga of the mysterious mouse of St.Agnes, came to an end.