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  • 1. Rats in the Water Rats on Fire

    Two memories. One may or may not be a true. May or may not be truly remembered. Both are vague and mostly obscured by the passage of time.

    In the early 1970s the rat population exploded in the northeastern United States. Our semi-rural area was no exception. Most people had open garbage pits in their back yards, the bulk of the trash was burned weekly in a steel drum. Some people had chicken coops. Chickens eat grain. And so do the rats.

    The rodent red carpet had been rolled out.

    At this time, where I lived, rat holes were everywhere. In every yard. Around every woodpile.

    One memory perhaps true:
    I am standing with a garden hose and notice a rat hole near the base of a peony bush. The water runs down the hole and disappears. What else is there to do but to see how long it would take to fill that rat hole? And so I stand, for quite some time, filling the hole of the rat, thinking of other things.

    A rat, of course, will not remain in a flooded burrow. When this particular wet rat surfaces - it bursts from the hole and I drop the hose and scream like a cartoon lady.

    A second memory more vague:
    At the height of the infestation, some of the local men got together and decided to burn the rats from their burrows. They pour gasoline or kerosene down the rat holes and set them alight.

    The screaming is one thing remembered. The other is the sight of rats - flaming, running and then dying in the middle of the road.

    2. We Are Stoned When We Feed the Ducks

    In shop class we have fashioned small mouth whistles made from a sheet of tin with a hole at one end and bent over into a small rectangle not that much larger than two postage stamps. These whistles have replaced whistles of the same design we had always fashioned from flattened bottle caps.

    The rough edges are poorly sanded and bent. They never don’t taste metallic. They could be swallowed or aspirated with ease. We carry them in our pockets like change.

    We are stoned and standing in John Dale’s back yard throwing grain to the ducks that are housed in what used to be the dog’s house.

    Every so often we place the whistles into our mouths and blow in unison. The notes are high pitched and each whistle is tuned to nearly the same note. We enjoy the vibrating dissonance we feel in our ears. The low pulsating hum as two notes nearly the same share airspace.

    The sound doesn’t seem to affect the ducks at all.

    But, we are pied pipers and first one and then five and then what looks to be twenty fat, corn-fed rats pour forth from the burrows they have dug beneath the duck house.

    We scream and run like cartoon girlies.

    3. Ennui is Lost

    There’s a wood-burning fireplace and that’s one thing - but the cockroaches in the apartment are another thing and they are pretty much everywhere. Also, from my bedroom window I can see the alley that runs along the tracks of the Blue Line behind the Walgreens. From this vantage point I can watch the junkies shooting up next door when they are there - which is often - or I can watch the rats crawling through the garbage bins which is fairly nearly always.

    When the cat goes missing I put up flyers and search the neighborhood. Though I may have given my cat one of the best cat names ever, I am somewhat embarrassed to be standing on the street calling out, “Ennui!! Ennu-iii-iiii!!! Here kitty, kitty, kitty!!”

    One evening, a friend joins me in the search, near dusk - with flashlights - through the alley behind my building. We call out again and again.

    “Ennui!! Ennu-iii-iiii!!!”

    Our approach to the rear of the building apparently alerts the head rat of the colony feasting in the city supplied trash bins. There is movement and a high-pitched squealing. A mass of rats pour from the bins and run along the top of the chain link fence.

    Toward us.

    We run away screaming.

    Days later the Ennui returns. Oblivious.

    4. The Dominatrix

    We are minding our own business outside a theater in the West Village where we have just finished performing a show. We are talking and laughing and deciding where we’d like to go for a post show drink. One of us throws an empty Snapple bottle into the trash cans just outside the theater entrance.

    Rats. A dozen or so. Scattering swiftly.

    There is screaming. Laughing. Giddiness and horror.

    The following afternoon I visit a friend whom I’ve not seen in years. She’s living in a tiny East Village apartment. In addition to attempting to finish her novel, she is working as a dominatrix in Midtown Manhattan– fulfilling the fantasies of ad execs and Wall Street high rollers. She shows me a video one of her colleagues has taken of a young investment banker who has requested to be ordered to wear a lacy pink pinafore while being forced to clean a toilet. Later, he dances for the camera while my friend - Mistress Rowena - periodically swats him with riding crop. She calls him names.

    Every so often, as we chat, her pet rat Sven crosses a series of ladders and ropes strung across the apartment. He swings on a swing. He sits on her shoulder and eats a peanut as she shows us the ad she has placed in an S&M magazine.

    5. Old Country Buffet

    Just to the north of my home, just on the other side of a chain link fence, is a concrete driveway cum dog run.

    As many as seven dogs of varying sizes and breeds use this dog run for “exercise” and “business” as much as three times a day.

    The “business” is not cleared three times a day.

    Or even once a day if the weather is inclement.

    My neighbors, the owners of these seven dogs of varying sizes and breeds, pass from their home to their garage and back again - through this concrete dog run minefield we have christened “The Old Country Buffet” several times each day.

    We wonder if and where they scrape their shoes.

    6. Inefficient

    One day a man named Chuck from the Department of Streets and Sanitation, City of Chicago, came for a visit because rats had come to live in our garage.

    Chuck said, “The rats are looking for harborage – or food." Looking out across the back yard, and beyond the chain link fence, Chuck said, "There’s your problem right there.”

    Chuck said, “Dogs have very inefficient digestion. Dog feces are about 70% undigested food. The rats are getting a good meal there. A good meal.”

    I tell Chuck that I’m afraid of the rats in the garage. Chuck says, "You should be."

    I ask him, “Is it true that a cornered rat will attack? I heard that a rat can jump four feet straight up.”

    Chuck says, “Why would you corner a rat? Who would do that? People usually want to get out of the way of a rat. You gotta make a lot of noise. When you go in the garage you gotta yell, 'Hey rat! Here I come! Get out of the way! Go back into your hole!' Nobody wants to meet a rat face to face. You don't want to corner a rat. What kind of person would do that?"
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