Category Archives: rats
When I left home I was 14 years old. When I was 15 an arrangement was reached whereby my Dad would send 300 dollars of child support that was court ordered to my mom and then, most months, she would send it to me.
I moved into a room up on the eastside of Olympia at 16 after trying to secretly move to British Columbia. My secret mission was publicly foiled by Read the rest of this entry
Whidbey Island until the End
Somewhere in there Otay had reached sexual maturity and night time cages became more necessary when we were outside or in dilapidated houses that were less like inside than a tarp. His testicles, which were as big as his torso called him to wander in a way he was less likely to return from.
We moved to Whidbey Island in the spring. Otay met a lot of goats and passed the time tearing keys off laptops that were left open and unattended. Sometimes he could get one off while a person was just a few steps away from their computer.
We hopped around to Olympia a little, and sometimes stayed over in Port Townsend, me in a bed in the back of a box truck and him leaving pee trails on the front seats.
These were the days when he took up a rather curious hobby of chasing Skrap (or any other dog I trusted not to eat him) and trying to nibble at their penises. He was dedicated and would not give up the chase until such time as I took pity on my patient dog and picked up Otay and tucked him in my shirt. Tucking Otay in my shirt was like putting a towel over a birdcage and he would go right to sleep.
Otay lived nights in a condo built from an old rabbit hutch so that Skrap could rest a few hours in the evening unmolested.
When we moved back to Olympia it was summer. We bounced around for a hot minute and then moved into a little house made of windows in a luscious backyard. It was a place I had seen in my dreams and not surprising to me that it showed up physically.
Otay took no time finding an escape under a gardening drawer; at least I think that was where the hole was. Truth be told it was months of me plugging up holes I though were ‘the one’. Eventually he could only be off me when I was right there and even then sometimes he would disappear and materialize outside in the tall grass.
Once he escaped for less than five minutes but I found him covered in leaves as though he had fashioned himself clothes chewing on the bark of a tree he was clinging to. It was as though he had been on his own, surviving in the wild for months. This was Otays only foray into re-wilding.
In October that year I put together an art instillation at a hall just outside of town. My dear friend watched Otay for a few days so I could work around the clock without him leaping off of ladders or chasing raccoons to try to taste their junk.
That was our first time apart. I would not have thought it was possible but when I would walk into a room after being separated from him for any length of time he would scamper to me as fast as his little legs would go, or he would sneeze to me where he was until I picked him up.
When we cleaned up the show we had a load for the dump. I was heaving bags of non-burnables and smashed toilets down about twenty feet into the otherwise empty bin. I was just about to throw down a very heavy object when I spotted none other than Otay at the bottom of the bin sniffing broken glass, wading in dumpster soup.
I nearly had a coronary incident. I put down the heavy object and ran to the lady in the booth where the dump handled money. Like a cartoon, 8 very buff men showed up quickly like they just hid all day, polishing their muscles, waiting for someone to rescue. They talked about trajectories and strategies and action plans. I offered that someone could put the ladder they had brought down into the bin. Then that person could climb down, pick up Otay and climb back out.
I was told to keep quiet and let the professionals do their job. Twenty minutes later one of the men put his ladder down into the bin. He then climbed down, picked up Otay and then climbed back out. The team left Hi-5’ing each other and talking about God’s grace in the face of such adversity.
It was a good summer for Otay. We did not know it would be his last. He rode with me on bicycles, went to the beach and the river, and ate everything his mouth touched. He spent more and more time on the bodies of other friends. My roommate learned the hard way about his computer key habit, three times.
We went to New Mexico in the winter for our first trip to the little round trailer I have since lived in twice a year. The folks in La Madera had never heard of a pet rat, and wanted to hurl when they saw how he drank. So Otay stayed in the trailer and ate avocados and drank water with Osha in it to fix up what seemed like a urinary tract infection. This was the only time Otay was ever sick. When he was healthy we went back north to our glass nest.
These final months he had a more active social life than myself. We would go to a party and people I had never met would stick their hands in my shirt to flirt with him and coo about some recent adventure they had shared. These people would regard me about as much as the chair a friend is sitting in gets regarded.
Otay was a man about town. He had many more girlfriends than me.
One day we went to Elma to see the horse that had recently become the newest member of our family. Otay stayed in the van because when he rode on me during manual labor, my neck would look like a scratching post afterwards.
He had never escaped from a car. After work we got back in the van and drove the 40 miles home at 65 miles per hour. I did not see Otay but there was any number of places I figured he was hiding.
When we got home there was still no sign of him. We searched and searched. I called his name 1000 times. We called Elma so they could check their own driveway.
Eventually we all sat crying on the porch, wondering if he had escaped or if he had gotten into the engine somehow and fell off on the highway. I had a strong feeling that he was alive but in danger. We went back to the van. My friend checked the back again. I sat in the drivers seat and closed my eyes. I called his name and spoke our secret clicking language and then I listened, hard.
Then suddenly, a sneeze!!!!! Halleluiah! From inside the dashboard. Behind the steering wheel, so many sneezes then. 16 screws, a lot of prayers and a dashboard removal later he was free. As near as we could figure, Otay had crawled through the gas pedal hole up to a tiny platform in the dashboard where he had clung on for dear life, surviving high speeds and bone rattling pop music.
In spring a trip to California brought Otays first stay in a five star hotel. On our way back north we were stopped at a friends place and I put a watermelon rind in his cage. In the morning he was scratching like wild at his bars. I looked and it was like a horror movie, everything in the cage was covered in ants so thick it was all you could see. There were two lines marching out of the wall right into the cage with no sign of stopping. Otay was rescued in the nick of time.
In retrospect this was the closest he ever came to being eaten.
In Portland we met a rat named Augustine Octavius who was being called Cointel-pro, living a lonely life in a basement. He was not older than Otay but he was bigger and paralyzed from the waste down. He was supposedly a biter.
We learned that Oggy (as we called him) was a sweet flower waiting to blossom with love and avocados. We adopted him as a pet for Otay who had been lonely in his cage when I found steady work.
They were quick cuddle buddies. Oggy was the only rat Otay had ever liked. Oggy thrived in Olympia. Otay on the other hand began to wither. It was too much time in his cage and not enough on my body. Even with Oggy as a pet, I believe his heart was broken.
Two weeks later he got sick. It came on fast, a matter of a day or two. By the time I noticed he was not well he was hardly moving and not eating or drinking by himself.
For two days we sat watching him. I fed him nettle tea in an eyedropper. I had seen nettle tea bring goats back from the gates of death. I also fed him pedialyte and at one point he ate applesauce and we thought he would recover.
It was not so. He passed away, cuddled between our greatest friend and me. It was the early morning of June the 8th. We wrapped him in lace like the sweetheart of Mel Gibson in Brave Heart. We had a public viewing for the entire day and then he was buried by a parade of children who loved him, in a bed of flowers and stories and a boat made of flute melodies created for his journey.
In a world where complacency can take us over so quickly Otay was a living and constant reminder of lifes’ magic. Though he may be sitting on a golden throne eating dog dick in rat heaven, we are hear missing him and forever listening for his sneeze.
A day later we headed north. Grandpa left us in San Francisco and Otay, Skrap and myself moved on alone (together).
We went through Petaluma, hot tubs at parents’ houses, so much wine with so many Dads, washes, olde theatres and punk shows.
We got dropped off one afternoon at a very strange spot that was not in walking distance of food or water. It was the Y where one kind of large road became two much smaller roads. The sun set and we walked into a spooky park called ‘Organ Donors Grove’.
Skrap and I slept hard. Otay stayed by my head and kept watch. I was worried about him in my dreams but in the morning he was curled at my feet. I drank a warm beer in my backpack, the last one left and we went back out to the road.
By afternoon we had not been picked up. Otay was the only one of the three of us that had food, funny because he did not mind missing meals nearly as much as Skrap and myself.
Mixed in with Otays’ food were raw almonds in their shells. Rats have ever growing teeth and if they don’t have that sort of thing to grind on then their teeth can actually grow up into their little skulls. I picked all the almonds out. I stomped them open on the road and picked out the smushed guts. I ate some and gave some to Skrap.
Some dogs love vegetables, some love nuts and tofu and all kinds of strange things. My dog is not like that. He likes meat and butter and things that taste like meat and butter but since this day he has also loved almonds.
By the time we got picked up in a ride going clear to Oregon we had eaten all of Otays nuts.
We got another ride and made it to Olympia that night. We got to stop with each ride for soft serve. It was a good day.
Skrap is very polite when sharing ice cream. He takes small licks and never bites. Otay, on the other hand, would burrow in with his whole head leaving claw marks and head sized holes all up in your cone. I never minded because I always got the largest of the largest cone available. Next to that, his head was pretty small.
Once we got back to Olympia it took quite a while to reach Montana again. The pass snowed over, I lost three or four days here and there in a bottle and I kept ending up in Portland with my so many loves there.
My brother, from a different and so similar mother, in Portland had a house that loved Otay. There was always a bedroll for us in the basement workshop with two bowls of water beside it, one big for skrap and one teensy for Otay.
Otay had run of that workshop. He loved to chew and play in the pallets that lined the floor so that all the desks, tables, and shelves were raised up when it flooded each winter.
When I went outside Otay would make the herculean climb up the stairs to find me. I always heard him coming because on each step he would stop to sneeze and clean his face.
He was always a big sneezer, when he had play dates with other rat buddies I had to calm the minds of concerned people because sickness spreads so fast among them. Sneezing was not a symptom for Otay, but rather a lifestyle.
When we did finally make it east to the moldy teepee it had been a good while since Otay or I had taken any kind of solid poop. I quit the sauce when I got back to Montana, which is an entirely huge and different story but I will never forget what a milestone it was when me and my rat received the blessing of solid bowel movements…
It is a story best told by Grandpa, but I will do my best to give the gist of it. Grandpa had been pretty sick ever since we had left the bay. Various symptoms digestive and otherwise had afflicted him. These symptoms were above and beyond what was common for our kind of diet and alcohol consumption. They included tremors, fevers, flashes and all kinds of not funs but none of them in any order or pattern that was familiar to me.
One night, in the bus, as Grandpa and Otay hung out alone, the sickness came worse than ever. Grandpa seriously thought he might die, like he had been poisoned or possessed or something. He was laying there, to sick to get help when Otay crawled onto his chest. Otay proceeded to do an elaborate dance that Grandpa later described but that I believe is best left unpublished. The dance took place down the length of Grandpas body and he said he could feel the sickness moving around, following Otay.
When Otay reached his feet he shook the sickness right out of them. A very tired Otay then came to Grandpas lips and drank drank drank.
That mystery illness never came back after that night.
The beginning of our life in Monatana was me passed out on a tiny karaoke stage at the neighborhood bar. Otay was on his hind legs, teethe barred, balanced on my shoulder defending himself from a barkeep who was swatting him with a broom.
She had never heard of a pet rat.
Folks would come try to get me up and back on a barstool and he would defend me too.
That night was the horribly predictable result of me rewarding myself for being sober 12 hours. The next weeks in Montana Otay slept tucked tight in my sportsbra, safe as I marathon jumped on and off the wagon.
We lived in a teepee buried by 12 foot snowdrifts.
He ran around at night over our moldy futon making trouble in the dry goods box on the desk, chewing candles and leaving pee trails on the ever-growing piles of pictures and poems drawn o the inside of grocery store bags.
A neighbor dog broke into the teepee through a loose seem and chased ota out of where the back corner would have been if a tee pee had corners. It was then that we acquired a big chicken wire cage that had brought chicks to the land the spring before. It had a cute wooden roof and a straw floor and fit perfectly between the futon and the barrel stove. This way he stayed toasty without catching fire.
The cage irritated him a little but kept him from being eaten. My strong preference was that Otay never be eaten.
The sides of the cage were very nice for climbing. A couple of times Otay managed to suspend himself long enough to chew through the corners of the roof and I had to repair them with various methods and masses of electrical tape. Why did we seem to have so much electrical tape?
The dogs would wine at the cage but they knew not to get to close or they would be out in the snow. It was hard for them to understand, having been raised with rewards when they kept Otays’ wild distant cousins out of the barn and the big cabin where the family who belonged to this land lived.
We took a short walk to Oakland California at some point to see my olde drinking buddy from Cottage Grove. He is one of my favorite people I have ever made a series of poor decisions with. Otay nibbled our toes in the loft built above the kitchen built above the bike shop.
When we stumbled back to the car in San Francisco he narrowly avoided the nervous kitty. I was no help to him, curled up and shaking. Then it was back home through stormy mountain passes in a car with no heat whose windows had to stay down to keep the windshield from fogging over.
In December we traveled over to Seattle for Otays first Christmas. He lived on cookies and cheese wedge shaped chew toys and took extra long naps.
We decided to go down to Olympia. Then we decided we may as well borrow little white truck and drive to Arizona since we were already there. Otay rode on the seat behind my head or between the laps of myself and the friend who came along. We picked up 3 of our closest friends in S.F. and drove south a few miles at which time the trucks engine exploded because I had forgotten that trucks need oil.
We left it by the side of the road. We broke into two teams of two and hit the highway one after the other. Our fifth went back to the city. He was in love up there anyways and found it very fortunate that he had a good reason not to go south with us. For all I know he had put sugar in the gas tank.
It was the middle of the night and Skrap, Otay, Grandpa (our buddy) and myself were the second team on the on-ramp. A bottom hitting football star cokehead in a big big big shiny shiny shiny black car picked us up.
We slept that night in an R.V. parked in his side yard. That R.V. was larger and more luxurious than most homes either of us had ever been in. Otay got to tunnel in and out of fresh sheets while we watched belly dancing on public access on a large TV mounted between the driver and passenger seats.
Like I said, by that time we did not travel with a cage. By night we would be sleeping in the bushes and I would periodically wake up and hear him nibbling around, but come morning he would be curled in the bottom of my sleeping bag or scratching at my lips. I bet Skraps smell and over-all awesomeness lent itself to Otay never becoming a snack in those days.
It was a whirlwind down thru L.A. and out into the desert. We stopped only to charm people in Wal Mart parking lots, take our naps and drink beers when we tired of pouring them into to-go cups.
Then there was McDonalds. Oh McDonalds. Grandpa and myself had inadvertently found us on a spiritual journey where everything in our lives was being questioned. This included such no brainers as- McDonalds is not actually food. So we ate it. It was our new attitude, breaking away from all preconceived notions. Freedom tasted not like a baby and not like bathwater, we had thrown both out! Freedom tasted like double “cheese burgers”. We ate it until out poop turned black and we dreamt about vegetables. Then we ate it again, big macs apple pies chicken nuggets….it was not a proud time.
Between decisions like that and the booze, Otay, who basically lived in my mouth and refused most other water, suffered similar digestive struggles as myself. Diarrhea became very common for both of us. Rat diarrhea on me in 105-degree weather, racing toward Bisbee where we hardly had enough water to keep us conscious let alone bathe… that was love.
Grace had a dear friend scoop us up. She was visiting family in southern California and she drove us through the miles of one-exit-at-a-time that some people get trapped in for years.
Tucson was wild. We met back up with the friends who had been in the white truck. We got drunk in a tunnel in the morning. When I woke up t was afternoon, Skrap and Otay were curled up on the dirt with me. We walked back to our friend’s house and got drunk again. I had sex with a nice girl on the front porch then went inside and had sex with another nice girl who didn’t normally do that sort of thing. Certainly not on the kitchen counter, then in the middle of the dance floor, then in a sleeping bag 3 feet from her ex boyfriend. Otay was a real trooper. I have no idea where he was but in the morning he was beside me.
Grandpa and I woke up early and got while the getting was good. A hippy headed to Bisbee for the same New Years Hoorah we had our sights set on picked us up. We listened to a cassette tape of chicken stompers from a tribe that lived half on this side of the border and half on the other.
In Bisbee Prince Otay rode in and out of all kinds of music and pubs and parades. We stayed out in the desert. Otay stayed in a bus with Grandpa so that the dog of the guy I was boning would not eat him.
It was here that Otay performed his first miracle…
48 hours later
As I balanced on top of a fence thin trail that dropped drastically several hundred feet down to a waterfall that then dropped another couple of hundred feet it dawned on me that this might be why the trail was lovingly named, ‘Dread and Terror’. Skrap had run ahead to where the road widened. Otay was perched on my shoulder, swaying along like a king on a pillow suspended between elephants.
The cage I was carrying was either helping me hold my balance or responsible for throwing it off. I guess that doesn’t matter if the decision has already been made to carry it.
There were horse prints and bicycle tracks even where the trail dropped off completely and we had to leap to pick it up again. My hat is off to you if you have ever left tracks like that on trails that dreadful or terrifying.
Otay slept the days away, waking to shift around my torso as it suited him. By night he scurried around that silly cage filled with leaves, fir bows, and a handful of morsels from the big zip lock bag I had filled before we left the ranch. We didn’t know it but Otay would never again see that place.
It was only a few weeks of me lugging that foolish cage around. Hiking, hitching, busking, begging always carrying a cage that only got used for a few hours every night. I just didn’t know Otay well enough to trust him to stay close while I was sleeping.
Through Eugene, Portland and Olympia we traveled and then I abandoned the cage. He stayed on me along highways, in grocery stores, at punk shows. In Olympia we stayed in rooms with my extended family of the heart. We would shut the door and Otay would rage.
Little water bottles were duct taped to the bottoms of walls for him and food dishes were kept at the end of sunken mattresses on the floor. Cat pee covered towels were shoved under doors to keep him in and other rats (not the kind that lived on a human) out.
From the time that Otay crawled up out of my collar, the first night I had him, his favorite place to be besides asleep, was my mouth. He loved to drink from it no matter what other sources of water were available to him. He loved my spittle whether it was flavored like cheap wine or cheaper smokes. We developed a lion tamer show where I was the lion and Otay the tamer. The finale was him sticking his whole head, which was growing like a weed, in my mouth.
For a while at first I thought Otay might be sickly because he slept all day. I laughed hard when I learned that rats are nocturnal, that made an awful lot of sense being as how he was very energetic and thirsty in the night.
Born the end of July 2007 all the way, died the beginning of June 2009
Survived by his living roof, Knee-otni McNett
At a rat ranch in rural Oregon, close enough to Eugene that one could meet their quota of self serving hippie bullshit and far enough away that one could still be who one was, where a lot of beautiful people lived off a combination of moonshine, Wal-Mart and giant home grown vegetables, Otay was born.
The rat ranch was the sort of place where rats were born and not so much raised. Rather they were sold as domestic snake food or sold to pet stores. The difference between a pet rat and a food rat was how colorful they were to the human eye.
Funny thing, people paid more for rats to feed to their pet snakes if the rats were already dead. It was like a denial tax. There o the property was a gas chamber built from an old beer cooler. Rats who had the misfortune of being born white with pink eyes were often killed there then shrink-wrapped and shipped.
Otay was born with 5 or 8 siblings, a pink, bald, blind little critter. He was unaware, as he suckled, that the shoebox-sized drawer they lived in would become very small, very fast. Under his mamas comforting weight his skin changed colors. It greyed around his face and tiny neck, an indicator of what color his precious fur would grow and in what patterns.
After he had grown just the first little bit of said fur, armor if you will, his little eyes cracked open for the first time. The box, however dark, dank and crowded, must have seemed huge in that moment. Unbeknownst to Otay, he was not far from discovering just how big this new world was.
Soon he began to wiggle, then to chatter, then to hop. Occasionally a blinding light would wash over him and his family. The food bowl would be wiped out of pee soaked morsels and they were replaced with fresh ones by giant faceless hands. He learned about the water pipe that came through the light crack.
For the hopeful possibility of future breakouts, I will not disclose the precise way that Otay escaped, nor will I give the details of his accomplices. Though you can be sure it was an amazing story he told often when he had a little wine in him.
Instead, we jump like Otay! There he is running for his life on the tiny edge of wood planks that created the structure that supported the little plastic rat filled drawers up along the wall, 8 high and 30 long. Every few feet he was evading a ginormous wall of calloused flesh that smelled like engine grease and 1000 other rats.
Through a series of what life is made of, those crazy turns, friendships, love and a universal sense of humor, I happened to be standing in the middle of the same room at the exact time when Otay was exercising his freedom for the first time.
The man who belonged to the hands that seemed to be every direction our young hero turned, was flailing around like a ballerina on speed, bending over quickly to catch glimpses of the escapee and then shoving an arm that barely fit, in and out between rat boxes. Eventually and all at once his closed fist popped out of the wall. Otay was wrapped and almost smothered in warm and rough.
I had rescued a half starved ferret I lovingly called Jaws earlier that year and as a result had developed a rather healthy fear of being bitten repeatedly by any small mammal. My scarred fingertips avoided holding them all together at that point in time.
It was an inconvenient fear and I was looking to loose it. I asked to hold the little fellow. Perhaps his tinnier, cuter mouth could act as a gateway for my willingness to interact physically again with yet larger small mammals. Thankfully I did not know then that even a rat the size that Otay was in that moment, can bite with 333 pounds of pressure if they get a mind to.
Otay breathed heavily in his hot seat as I was warned that he was in a stage of rat development known as hopper and that he would likely try to make a jump for it if he saw the opportunity. As the sentence ended the hand that held our sweetheart, our captive, this stories sweetheart, was opening. As soon as Otay saw a piece of light his size he leapt for all he was worth into the unknown.
Where he landed was on my shirt just above my left breast. As quick as day he followed his guts up to my collar and down my shirt where he found my right hip, the perfect ledge upon which to rest and collect himself. For the next six hours he stayed on that hip…collecting himself.
As it happens, if one rat escapes from an institution like that and then is returned to the population it is likely that he will teach all of the rats, seemingly by osmosis, how he did it and then…RAT MADNESS.
So as Otay sat n his new flesh couch cleaning his paws and sneezing, I learned that he was doomed for the cooler, or better yet the next pet store run. He did, after all, possess a rather attractive grey hood with little white diamonds that began in the middle of his ears and ran down into the white that was the rest of his body.
I pretended that it was I who decided that day to welcome Otay into the little family that was my world-renowned canine companion, Skrapen Lacken and myself. In reality, Otay called that shot, and it was only the first of many.