Mikey's Tale
© Robert Lund
Sept. 10, 1997

Zoë loved her rats dearly. At first there were just two, in a 20-gallon fishtank. They had offspring, and became a close family. Soon, Z started letting one or two at a time out to play for a while each day, just to allow them to enjoy the absence of those glass walls. Soon it became harder and harder to put them back inside at night. After some time, the tank was left uncovered, and they were permitted to come and go as they pleased.

And come and go they did - mostly come. Over a period of months, their numbers multiplied steadily, to the point where upon entering the apartment one would encounter a veritable "ratrug", made up of over a hundred little black-and-white bodies, with a few whites and tan-and-whites mixed in, eagerly greeting you. Of course, they weren't given free access to the entire 7-room apartment. Two of the three bedrooms were closed off to the little ones - leaving them more than enough space to roam.

Aside from our actual bedroom, the other ratless bedroom had been converted years earlier into something of an office. Atop a thick green wall-to-wall carpet sat a work table and an industrial equipment rack full of ancient minicomputers and peripherals. A bathroom was also accessed by going through this room, as well as a closet.

Zoë and I used to throw all our empty dope bags into a 30-gallon trash bag, kept in the office closet. We did this not only out of fear of someone coming across contraband trash in our garbage, but also because of the residue that came in handy on desperate days. You can scrape up quite a healthy dose out of nearly 30 gallons of "empty" dope bags.

Some rats were more exploratory in nature than others. Eventually, one enterprising young rat apparently found (or made?) a hole in the wall behind the piano in the living room, leading him to a space behind the bathtub, from which he wandered around to some loose tile behind the toilet. Voila, he found himself in the cut-off bathroom, then making his way into the off-limits "office". We had no knowledge of his journey until one needy day, looking for bag-residue in the trash bag, we found a hole torn in the bottom of the trash bag, and many dope bags chewed to bits. Clearly the work of one of our little friends. We soon detected the means by which he must have gotten into the closet, but couldn't find him. On successive days, we found more and more bags chewed up, but never caught him in the act. But it was clear that we had a regular little user on our hands. Just like in the experiment they used to show us only the first half of on TV, where the rats placed in the cage with cocaine would gobble it up until they died, but the rats placed in the cage with heroin would take enough to feel straight, and level off their usage - so this little fella seemed to be using it regularly, but not gorging himself on the entire pile in any one day.

This went on for some time. We gave up on using our trash bag as an emergency supply, since Mikey seemed to be keeping well ahead of us, and evading detection. (He was called Mikey after the signal the lookouts at the 2nd St. dope spot used to shout when cops were approaching - "Mikey! Mikey!" - scattering everyone on line to the winds.) Finally, one day, I happened to open up one of the old PDP-11 computers mounted in the equipment rack. On the surface of an unused portion of the backplane, there was Mikey's nest. This little guy wasn't commuting from the living room anymore - having found happiness in the closet trash bag, he had settled in the office, alone. His little nest consisted of the basic rat essentials: a floor made up of chewed up toilet paper; a pile of food pellets, collected from what we used to pour out onto the floor for the rat mob, who made a sound like that of hail on a tin roof while eating it up; a single bar of soap (?); assorted chewed up bits of cardboard collected from around the house; and, most alarmingly, a neat stack of Monopoly money - totally untouched by rodential teeth, in pristine condition! He knew better than to chew up the cash.

I realized then that Mikey was indeed a self-sufficient fellow. Obviously, aware that the finite scrapings in the trash bag were diminishing faster than we were replenishing them, he had gathered up a supply of cash for the day when he'd have to go out and cop on his own.

Oh, The Great "G of J" (God of Junk) as Zoë used to exclaim so often. He tends to all creatures great and small.