‘What do you mean I can’t buy a rat if I have to feed it to a snake?” I ask the girl behind the counter at Petland. “Those are the rules and besides, this is a fancy rat,” she says to me, not missing a beat. “A fancy rat?” I repeat, slightly puzzled. “Yes,” she sighs, as if she is pointing out the obvious. “What’s the difference?” I ask. She sighs even louder and rolls her eyes to the heavens. “A fancy rat has long fur and is raised as a pet.” With this said, she tries to walk away from me. “Okay, okay,” I put up my hand to stop her. “What if I don’t have a snake and I just want to buy a rat?” “Oh, that would be a completely different story,” she replies and positions herself in front of the register. “Okay,” I say, “I need to buy a rat.” “What kind of rat do you need?” she asks. “Oh, anything you have lying around,” I respond, holding my breath. “I have a fancy rat,” she says, motioning to the drawers behind her. There are about thirty rats climbing all over each other. Now, I have always been a member of the ASPCA and PETA and this is the downside of owning a snake, but unless the snake is going to eat my cooking, this is what I have to do. “Sold!” I sing out. “You’re not feeding this rat to a snake, are you?” the girl asks narrowing her eyes. Not believing that this is really happening, I cross my fingers in my pocket. “No, no, not at all,” I say, placing my other hand up in the air like a good boy scout. With this she reaches into a drawer, lifts up a big black and white rat by the tail, and drops him into a box, then pushes out the air holes. I hand her money and she drops the box into a plastic Petland bag.
Thanking her, I walk back onto the street and head over to St. Mark’s Place to wander through Trash and Vaudeville. I roam through the racks; the rat is starting to become very active in the box. I am not really seeing anything that I like, and walk into the shoe department. I am delaying my return to the apartment because my friend Missy has moved from Boston to NYC. After a couple of conversations, Susan thinks it’s a great idea to have Missy take over her bedroom and let me keep the loft. Before this time Susan’s bedroom door had been kept locked, so she could travel from coast to coast and have a place to stay. Missy has moved to New York to study at NYU and could actually save a couple bucks living with me. I have no problem with this at all. I would like to give her some space, because today she is studying with some friends. Missy has told me how hard it is to make friends here in the city and I can’t be her only one.
My friend Regina will also be staying in the apartment for the next couple weeks, as she is in between theatre jobs. Susan thinks this is a great idea and pockets the extra income. After a couple of months, Regina and I will end up moving in together at The Imperial Courts Hotel on 79th Street. That is, after we meet Susan’s mother during an unexpected visit and realize that it’s going to become a regular thing.
I have some extra time to kill; I called my agent earlier. My audition for the Japanese company will take place later in the week. I would like to wander some more but the rat is really active. I walk back to Astor Place and show my ID. It’s the same doorman I saw as I was leaving. “What do you have in the bag?” the doorman asks. The bag is out of control, and I have to keep giving it a little shake because the rat is trying to save itself by eating through the box. I shrug my shoulders and ignore the doorman.
Alone in the elevator, I can see the doorman leaning over his post to watch the doors close on me. The ride up is quick. I get to the apartment and unlock the door. Regina is on the phone in the open kitchen. The cord is stretched within an inch of its life. Missy is sitting in the living room, holding court with two other students. “Geoff, I want you to meet two of my friends from NYU,” she yells to me. I wave and let them get back to studying. Regina waves from the stool she is perched on.
I walk over to Jasmine’s cage and release the clamps that hold the lid in place. Jasmine is wide awake and knows what’s about to happen. She begins to climb to the top of the tank. The rat is now out of the box and spinning in the bag.
To feed a captive boa constrictor, you need to stun its food or it will attack the snake, sometimes hurting or killing it. I swing the bag, hoping to make the rat dizzy and stunned, but swinging it causes the bag to break and the rat flies into the air. Missy’s friends just sit there, looking stunned by all of this. I run after the rat, who hits the floor and runs into the living room. Grabbing the box, I chase the rat into the corner of the room and trap it underneath. Regina is sitting on a stool, still on the phone. She has witnessed the feeding of Jasmine on several occasions and this doesn’t faze her in the least. She has however, put one finger in her ear so she can hear her conversation.
I dump the contents of the box into another bag, swing it and bring hard down on the counter. Missy’s friends jump up, grabbing their things, and almost fall over each other trying to get out. I swing the bag again and bring it down even harder. Missy has followed her friends to the door; they are horrified by what I am doing and suddenly have a million reasons why they have to leave. “Hand me the hammer,” I scream, as the rat is fighting for its life. Without missing a beat or getting off her stool, Regina reaches down into one of the drawers and hands me the hammer. This is so not the way I want this to go and it is one of the reasons I will find Jasmine a new home. I don’t have the stomach for this.
I bring the hammer down hard and the rat stops moving. Grabbing the end of the bag, I drop the rat into Jasmine’s tank. Jasmine wastes no time grabbing the rat, and wraps it up with her body. Missy is now an inch from my face. “Fuck you Geoff, you ruin everything!” she screams and walks into her bedroom, slamming the door. The pictures on the wall jump.
Regina and I just look at each other.