Let’s Hear it for Rats


Picture 6


Conversations from the middle of the night:

A man, asking the woman with her arm in a sling:
“Is that a mouse?”
She manages to be old, sprightly, craggy, skinny, tattered, wounded, exhausted, and energetic all at once. The man several seats behind is asking about her pet animal, nestled in a sea of coat pockets and crevices.
“Huh? No, it’s a rat. A mouse is a fish with fur.”
“A fish with fur?” He laughs. “I thought mice were supposed to be all cute and shit.”
“No, mice are just like fish in terms of how they get attached to stuff. Rats are, rats,”
“Rats got more personality?”
“Yeah, rats are more emotional.” Just like a dog or other pets. “They remember you. Mice, mice just, fuckin….”

She gets detailed, expounding on why there are lab rats as opposed to lab mice, how rats imprint on their owners, size and cleanliness concerns, and more. The man learned more about rats in ten minutes than he probably has in a lifetime. Last night she got on my bus with a broken wrist, the hand extending in a painfully impossible angle. She’s confident she’ll need surgery, but tonight is better. There is a cast and sling.

Very late last night her boyfriend, a pony-tailed, camo-jacketed grizzle of a man in his sixties, rode back with me after dropping her off at the hospital.  Some people can talk with that confiding and friendly air which makes you feel like you’ve known them for years. With merely their voice they put their arm around you, and you feel privileged, like you’ve made it into their inner circle. Presidents know how to do this, and so does the rat-owning lady’s boyfriend on the 7.

We spoke in warm tones about his son and newly born grandson, about the heavy rainfall in Texas, the value of traveling, and a day when he asked his twenty-three year old son to help with some manual labor. The father, despite being two generations older, ran circles around his son, and we reveled in the fact that old age can still mean life, setting a good example, and showing the world how it’s done.

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Nathan Vass is an artist, filmmaker, photographer, and author by day, and a Metro bus driver by night, where his community-building work has been showcased on TED, NPR, The Seattle Times, KING 5 and landed him a spot on Seattle Magazine’s 2018 list of the 35 Most Influential People in Seattle. He has shown in over forty photography shows is also the director of nine films, six of which have shown at festivals, and one of which premiered at Henry Art Gallery. His book, The Lines That Make Us, is a Seattle bestseller and 2019 WA State Book Awards finalist.