Monday, November 3, 2003

Rat Guy

Every day, I walk by him - Rat Guy. You've probably seen him. Oily olive trenchcoat, thick spectacles, long greasy hair, matted beard. He wiles away the days, months, and years on a rickety lawn chair on the corner by city hall. He reads a lot - sci-fi mostly. Every day, I walk by and read his sign: OUT OF HOME AND WORK. He's been in the same spot for at least two years. Isn't that home? He nods to me each morning, his eyes darting from his novel to me, then back again to his book. My MP3 player acts as a ward against conversation, and I pass on by, sneaking a look into his change box. As far as I can tell, he makes out quite well. Isn't that work? Sort of?

This morning I've got no music - dead batteries. As I approach Rat Guy, we both start evaluating the situation. He notices that I have no music, that my ears are free. I notice that he's yakking on a cell phone. I find this odd considering that he's also feeding a family of rats. There's about six of them. Multi-coloured dependents. They sit obediently on his arm in a line. I toss him a quick smile, and as I'm about to pass, he puts his dirty palm over the mouthpiece of his phone and asks, "spare any change, sir?"

I don't even think, I just stop right there on the sidewalk, flabbergasted. "What! You're talking on a cell phone," I exclaim, "I don't even have a cell phone, how can you possibly afford one?"

He just gazes at me through grimy lenses. He pulls the phone further away from his mouth. "Hey man," he says to me, "as long as my rats are kept fed, what business is it of yours how I spend my money?"

And there's so much wrong with that statement, that I can't be bothered to even respond. I just shake my head and carry on my way. For sure I'm going to purchase some batteries.

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