For most of my working life, I've had an office all to myself. For the past year, though, I've been sharing space with two girls who seem to believe they're competing for the title of biggest packrat.
Now, I'm the first to admit I'm no neat freak, and I often hang on to things that have long outlived their usefulness, but these girls cart home so much junk there are times there's no room left for themselves.
To make matters worse, I'm something of an enabler. When I go on an organizing frenzy and have stuff to toss out, much of it goes straight to them. If they can carry it, they take it.
Back in December, I was working on the Gazette's Christmas Fund, which involved opening a stack of envelopes, processing the checks, then entering the information into a spreadsheet. As I opened the mail, I tossed the empty envelopes to my left. Later, when I reached around to get them, they were gone. I turned just in time to see Ethel, the head packrat, trying to force a stiff envelope through the small doorway of her shoebox while Lucy, her clumsy assistant, kept impeding her progress.
I should probably pause here to emphasize that this is my home office I'm talking about, and that technically, Lucy and Ethel are fancy rats, not packrats. They're just really in touch with their ancestry.
When my daughter acquired her beloved rodents last year, the deal was they'd stay in her room. But as rats are nocturnal and lack even a smidge of consideration for their host's need for sleep, it wasn't long before Lucy and Ethel were making so much noise (stomping grapes, packaging candy on a conveyor belt, practicing the tango) that they were evicted.
I worried my new office mates would be smelly and annoying, but they're surprisingly clean and well-mannered. I often lock our other animals out of the room so I can open their cage and allow them to run. Lucy and Ethel, however, share my aversion to exercise, preferring instead to sit atop their cage and gawk while I type. Eventually, Ethel will return to her shoebox and Lucy will climb onto my shoulder, then stretch out across the back of my neck.
If you can prevent yourself from thinking Good Lord - there's a rat on my neck!, the experience can be rather pleasant. Rat bellies are soft, warm and ample, and feel somewhat like those microwaveable heat packs. I've grown to enjoy their company, and spend much time watching the two interact.
Brown and white Ethel is a food-hoarding homebody who excels at looking annoyed, while Lucy, who is butterscotch and white, is social and friendly, and unless offered chocolate, will choose human company over food. The two get along well, and I never gave much thought to rat friendships until last week, when I dropped a handful of old socks into their just-cleaned cage for them to use as bedding.
The girls went straight to work, dragging the socks into their shoebox and getting them arranged just right. All seemed to be going well until suddenly, their box began banging around. After several loud chatters and squeals (which I interpreted to mean "You are not putting that brown paisley next to gray argyle!"), Lucy stormed out, shot down their three flights of ladders, and then sat in the corner to sulk.
Several minutes passed with no sign of Ethel, and Lucy's anger seemed to be intensifying. I watched as she climbed to their box, snatched one of the socks, then raced back downstairs. There was no response from Ethel, so she did it again. And again, and again. Being a fair-minded rat, Lucy took almost exactly half of the socks they'd been given before deciding her carefully arranged new nest was just right.
She snuggled down among her socks, but kept glancing up. Nearly two hours passed before Ethel came down to check on her friend. At first, Lucy turned haughtily away, but Ethel began gently grooming her hair, and soon, peace had been restored in Ratland.
And all three of us packrats were happy again.
Reach Karin Fuller at karinful...@cnpapers.com.