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Little pleasures

I suspect that there isn't any such thing as a big pleasure. A big pleasure is what we make of little ones.

Today I ventured outside for the first time this weekend. I had breakfast with jblindsight, on a beautiful morning, in a nice restaurant, and ours was a good conversation. Later, having tasted a hint of the social, I felt the urge to find another cup of coffee in a room full of people. I went to the Nautical Bean but found it closed. So I went to Borders, intending to have a cappuccino in the cafe.

I got stopped at the entrance, was lured in by the art kits, picked out three different kits, two for Joey and one for me, then of course I had to look at the books. And here is where another pleasure lurked.

Rats, by Robert Sullivan. I vaguely remember reading of this book some time ago but I have forgotten where and I didn't have it on any list. It is about the rats of New York City, and by extension the cities of the world, as observed by this one man. The cover is a drawing of manhattan with the streets in the middle colored in in the shape of a long rat. A terrific cover and what a book! He writes of rats as a nature observer, with a touch of humor and font of knowledge. He spent four seasons in dirty alleys at night, observing, and must have spent days reading. And what results is not your everyday nature book.

Just a hint:

A rat phenomenon that is based only partly on fact is the Rat King, a kind of rat often mentioned in stories about rats. The Rat King is usually described as the rat that leads other rats when rats amass and herd. Policemen on late night patrols sometimes report seeing a Rat King lead a group of rats across a street. Drunks frequently report Rat King sightings. It is true that from time to time rats run in huge packs. I have seen them do so. Likewise, it is true that within a rat colony a dominant male emerges. However, it is not the case that one rat leads the others. Something that has inspired the notion of a mythical Rat King is the actual phenomenon of rats whose tails have become knotted togehter with other rats' tails in their nest. The resulting entaglement is called a Rat King. There have been Rat Kings ranging in size from three rats to thirty-two rats. Sometimes the rats die, sometimes they are fed by the other rats and stay alive for a time in the nest. In myths and stories about marauding rats and secret rat leagues, the Rat King sometimes sits in the center of tied-up raths' tails, the lesser rats his throne. But again, these are rat stories. An actual Rat King is really nothing more than a rat that takes advantage of his natural strengths and of other rats' natural weaknesses. A Rat King is just a big rat

I can't help liking this. The pleasure I get from reading this book is in part from its being such an unexpected find.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 31st, 2005 04:17 pm (UTC)
Rats are one of my abiding phobias, mice are alright and other rodents I just think are smelly but rats send me to a dark hole inside.

This is more about the unpredictability of rats their lack of fear.

If you've heard this before, skip it. :-)

I was walking home from a gig the band I roadied for had had at the Cavern that night (yes that Cavern), and I had to walk across a deserted stretch of intersecting highways that covered what had been farmland and heath, the ditches and brooks still criss crossed it.

About half way across I started to hear them. A scampering and bounding troupe coming towards me from way across the intersections. They leapt and skipped and rushed past me. I remember them flicking my shoes and at least one that just shot me a glance as he went past and it was a fairly disparaging glance at that.

Then an old car stopped, an old black Morris Oxford and inside was a very odd person that belongs in a Gaiman story, which was more than a little apt that night.
May. 31st, 2005 04:26 pm (UTC)
No, I haven't heard that one. The author of this book says rats will cross alleys but not roads, but I suspect that doesn't apply in more rural areas where there isn't so much traffic.

As for the phobia...obviously you are not alone. Even nature writers can't seem to help themselves. They assign character qualities to rats, saying things like "nothing good to say about them". I don't feel this way, obviously. I would not be wanting to spend a lot of time in their midst but I can see them as interesting creatures, smart and worthy of study.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


Judith Lautner
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