Wage Slavery 3: Rats!

When last we left the WildeRix, he had turned to a life of crime while stuffing tacos. Let’s see what happens next…

After Taco Bell, I worked at a summer camp near Marble Falls, TX, as a day camp counselor.  I had a blast teaching kids how to make wickiups in the cedar woods, canoeing in the pond, experimenting with the saponin in yucca roots as a primitive soap, and cruising the “down town” in my 72 VW bus.

Once camp ended, I got a job house sitting for the family that did the cooking at the camp.  They had renovated a little shack of a house that the camp owned on the banks of Marble Falls Lake.  They lived quite peaceably there with their chickens and goats and rabbits and dogs and cats.  I never felt lonely during the few months I lived there by myself because I had so many non-human friends around me.  A wild turkey even decided to join the other fowl in the yard.

That turkey taught me a valuable lesson about posturing.  I feared him at first because he would act aggressively toward me, closing in on me like he wanted to bite me.  If I backed off, he would keep coming and sometimes even nip at my legs as he chased me off.  But if I stood my ground and turned the tables on him, I could take the dominant position and chase him away — enough to leave me alone, at least.

I also had a few other friends to keep me company: rats.  I forgot to mention that my roommate in Austin (who also worked with me at the camp — in fact, he introduced me to the crowd and essentially got me the job there) raised rats.

It stared with two little critters: William and Ruth.  William got his name from William Penn, renowned as the father of Pennsylvania.  I can’t remember exactly how Ruth related to William, historically.  In terms of the rats, though, Ruth came along as William’s second wife after his first wife passed away — possibly at the hands of my roommate’s girlfriend’s cat.  Keep in mind, too, that my roommate, his girlfriend, another female friend and I all lived in a tiny little studio apartment in Austin, TX, at the time.

My roommate wanted the rats to have babies — probably as another one of his serious life goals.  I even wrote a song for him about his rats having sex in the aquarium he kept them in.  Well, eventually, he got his wish.  Boy, did he ever get his wish.  As soon as we could tell the boys from the girls, we separated the babies, putting all the boys with William and all the girls with Ruth.  Unfortunately, we acted too late.  We had no idea that female rats reach sexual maturity in two weeks — before we could even tell the sexes apart.  So all of William’s daughters gave birth to passels of his grandchildren, and the cycle continued and continued for months and months.

We kept the rats in giant Rubbermaid tubs that we cut breathing holes in, and we fed them a variety of rodent food pellets and crunchy human snacks.  My roommate loved to come home and dump a bag of left over taco shells and chips from work into the tubs of rats and listen to the sound of all those little rodent teeth munching on their dinner.

I developed a great relationship with one of the rats.  We became fast friends.  I named him Yossarian, after the main character in Catch-22 which I had just finished reading.  He loved to steal food off my plate and hide it in various places around the apartment.  When we moved out, we discovered that he had actually categorized his caches.  All the burrito scraps sat in one place, all the Cheerios in another, all the sweets in another.

I recently talked to my friend about all the rats we had living with us.  Our best guesses hovered around having about 80 in the apartment with us at any given time, and having over 200 total in the 9 months we lived in the apartment.  We gave some of them away to friends — who promptly returned a litter of “kittens” to us after their rats gave birth.  At camp, my roommate’s girlfriend got the idea to give them away to the campers as prizes for any random achievement.  “Oh, you made a necklace.  Here, you win a rat.”

In the end, though, I inherited the remaining rats.  Fortunately, I only inherited a handful of boys, so I didn’t have to worry about exploding rat kitten populations.  William and Yossarian had a couple other relatives in the tub with them when it passed to my hands — one of whom became the first gift I ever gave to the girl I would eventually marry.   My roommate’s girlfriend had named him Chim Chim because of his black coat (and because she liked Mary Poppins, I guess.)  But I named him Ahminak after the way I heard a waitress at a diner pronounce the word “almanac”.

Back to the house sitting job:  I lived off the few groceries the family had left for me and supplemented them with fresh eggs from the chickens and a few bags of granola bars that I stole from the camp kitchen.  I thought about eating a rabbit, but I figured the kids from the family would miss it if I did.  So my thoughts turned to the rats.  I remembered just how many critters we had accumulated in such a short time, and I figured that I could have an endless supply of meat.  Plus, I had watched the movie Never Cry Wolf with the family before they left their house to me, and I felt inspired by the main character of that movie who lived off mice the same way the wolves he studied did.

But the family got back from their vacation before I ran out of granola bars, so I never had to find out if I could eat my fuzzy friends.  Eventually, the family absorbed me into their life, and with their amazing cooking I never had to think twice about my dilemma.  I lived with them for another month, working on the engine of my VW van before I got the call from a friend back at college that he wanted to start up a band.  Eventually I left the loving, communal life I had grown accustomed to and headed off into the turbulent world of wannabe rockers.  My experiences there, though, flew to my heart like a bullet with butterfly wings.  And despite all my rage, even to this day, you really still could describe me as just a rat in a cage.

Next: Wage Slavery 4: Rockstar

3 responses to this post.

  1. Wage Slavery 2: Will Work for (a Chance to Steal) Food

    When last we left the WildeRix, he had taken a job at Taco Bell after trying to work for a half day as a “Scary Person”.  Let’s see what happens next…

    You know, one of the things I love most about having such a varied…


  2. Posted by Rix on 09/17/2007 at 2:21 pm

    I just spoke with my roommate on the phone, and he gave me some more information on the rats:

    He named William the Rat’s first mate Guli after William Penn’s first wife Gulielma.

    William the Rat’s second mate Ruth got her name from a sweet potato that my roommate raised in a glass of water a few summers before (the same summer that he quit his dish washing job and declared that he wasn’t gonna take it any more.) He really liked the sweet potato, but nobody liked Ruth the Rat.


  3. Wage Slavery 4: Rockstar

    When last we left the WildeRix, he had contemplated eating some rats. Let’s see what happens next…

    Back during the year when I lived in Austin, TX, I would often make road trips back to my alma mater in Arkadelphia, AR, to see my …


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