Jin goes looking for tongs to pick up the
rat with. She finds them under the sink, next to the sharpie
container, but by then I have already picked up the rat
with my hand wrapped in a plastic bag and dropped it in
the garbage can. Jin is staring at me, freaked out I guess,
because I picked up the rat without tongs. People don't
pick up stuff here much because it could make you sick.
"I had a rat once", I tell her. "Two actually."
Jin is telling me I should have used the tongs and not
to tell Margo about the rat. Jin is short and pronounces
every word like it hurts her mouth to say it. She has
a five-year old son and a Master's in art history and
every morning she washes down the tiled area in front
of the door because it stinks like piss. There's a guy
who sleeps there every night and pisses there every morning.
I feel bad that Jin has to clean it up but nobody else
will. Ming, the janitor, never gets here until the afternoon
and he probably couldn't do it anyway; everyone says Ming's
not good for much.
Rats don't bug me. What bugs me are people like Roberta
who won't stop talking to you. Yesterday Roberta kept
following me around and mewing in her little voice.
"Hi," she says. "Whatcha doing?" she asks.
I can't explain what I'm doing to Roberta.
"Just stuff," I say, and become busy with the coffee
Today I wrote a list of questions for people who used
to be in an educational program. I wrote, "How did the
course affect the manner in which you form opinions?"
Also, "How would you describe the way you participate
in groups?" I am being careful to ask open-ended questions.
A book I read said there are some kinds of open-ended
questions that aren't really open-ended. I want to be
completely open-ended. I think of writing "HOW?" in 48
size text on my interview guide and giving it to Margo.
Deirdre from next door phoned this morning.
"Please don't let anyone go out back today," she said.
"We're having a confidential meeting."
When I told Jin what Deirdre said. Jin just stared at
me, then she turned to her desk and made a sign saying
"The back is closed today because of a confidential meeting
next door," which she taped to the counter.
Now it's crowded because no one can go out back, and
it's hot. I sit right in front of the fan for a while
and Pierre moves it so it blows even more in my direction.
Pierre is bald and has a Russian accent. He carries a
book around with him called Micropaleontology and writes
in a spiral notebook. Yesterday he thanked me three times
for buying real milk for the coffee.
The first rat was really my brother's, but he got turtles
and gave the rat to me. The second one's name was Splot
(for two reasons). He died from a stomach tumour that
made him walk in circles. When my Dad gave him a shot
of morphine, Splot convulsed but wouldn't die until my
Dad gave him two more shots. You wouldn't think a rat
could withstand that much morphine.
I accidentally killed the first rat by jerking too hard
on the string attached to the harness I had made out of
a sock for him which probably damaged his internal organs
and caused him to die that night. My Dad and I cut him
open to look for a cause of death but didn't find anything
and I didn't tell him about jerking the sock-harness for
a long time.
I hate being hot. The paper says it's the fifth hottest
June day ever in Vancouver and Roberta is wearing green
jeans, army boots, a flannel shirt, a fleece vest and
a wool beret.
"Whatcha doing?" she asks and zips the zipper on her
fleece vest up and down. I pretend I don't hear her because
my face is in the fan.
My questions still need a lot of work. "How has participating
in the program affected your political involvement?" and:
"What personal strengths did you discover through the
program?" I thought of those questions yesterday. I read
the questions out loud in my most open-ended voice. I
want to be completely open-ended.
does not look like you.