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TODAY’S FACTOID:

 

th-3

 

1548 – The Hispaniolan Edible Rat becomes extinct.

The kitchen of our Bangkok apartment is infested by rats (the non-edible kind) that at night after the lights are out gaily scamper about the room. Recently the maid put out an anti-rodent device that consists basically of a plastic sheet covered with a glue type substance that traps the rat unlucky enough to step on it and results in what appears to be a cruel and painful death of the creature.

My feelings about the Rodentia situation in my apartment are somewhat ambiguous. I feel neither fear, sympathy or disgust for the circumstances of either the infestation or the rodenticide. It is more like the feeling one has when one seeks to avoid meeting with someone one prefers not to meet, on the one hand, one feels a bit cowardly skulking away while on the other hand one also is generally aware that forcing a meeting through some misplaced moral sense is probably as stupid a thing to do as can be imagined.

This ambivalence about rats I find strange given my history with the species. Growing up in New York I generally fell asleep with the sounds of rats scurrying through the walls. As a child, I was never able to settle on whether these sounds in the walls by my bed frightened me or comforted me.

When I was about Hayden’s age my family was homeless for a while. Ultimately we found an empty store that we moved into and soaped up the glass front for privacy. There was neither heat nor hot water and at night the large Norwegian roof rats would enter the room through the spaces between walls and ceilings of the store and the various pipes and plumbing servicing the residential apartments above and the grocery store next door.

Every night my mother would remain awake armed with a knife to chase away the rats while my brother and I slept. One evening while so armed and on guard she fell asleep sitting beside the kitchen table. She was suddenly jolted awake by the sound of the rats scrabbling to get into a cake box on the table. The rats startled by her movement, leaped on to her face and head as it was the highest point in the room between the floor and the exposed pipes available to them to make their escape. She fell to the floor in an epileptic seizure beginning a 10 year period of seizures and hospitalizations.

After her being taken away in an ambulance that night, I spent the next four years living with various relatives and strangers who took me in but mostly with my grandparents. I never knew where my brother lived during this time.

After a few years and hospitalizations we began living together again but her periodic fits continued until I was about 17 years old and in a surprise to everyone mom became pregnant again with my sister and the seizures stopped. She considered both the pregnancy and the curing of epilepsy a miracle. I was not so sure.

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