You were a college student, living in a small, dilapidated apartment owned by an impersonal rental agency. There was black mold growing in the basement where you and your rommates kept your bikes. But the apartment was close-ish to school and your rent, after being split six ways, was only $550 a month. The one sticking point in taking the apartment was the NO PETS policy. You had all just moved out of the dorms and dreamed of having a cat or, better, a dog that you could feed beer to and play frisbee with in the park on sunny days, when you had time. Of all of your roommates, you thought about the pet policy the most. You missed your dog, Cuddles, back home.
It was Lars who, after a night of drinking, said, "Dav. You shood buy a rat pet for da howse. Dere sweed." He was from Finland and on the diving team.
"That is the best idea!" you said, and fell out of your chair.
Your other roommates volunteered that it was "the grossest idea" and proceeded to tell stories of rat's crawling up distant acquaintance's anuses.
"No really! It got stuck and he had to go to the hospital!"
"Only the tail was hanging out."
"Not a true story! I don't believe you."
"It is true. My sister drove the guy to the hospital. I swear!"
"Just like my cousin's neighbor--"
Apparently every roommate knew someone who had had bungled anal rat sex.
You woke the next morning thinking of rats being taken on walks through the park, instead of rats tunneling through human colons and decided, by light of day, that Lars had still come up with the best idea. You got up and went to the local pet store.
Rats and their cages were cheap, you learned. A rat cost three dollars. You bought two. The cage cost ten dollars. Food for a month was less than a dollar. "The best idea," you repeated while paying the cashier.
When you got the rats home you told Lars immediately. He asked a few questions which made you aware that you didn't know anything about caring for rats.
At first the rats hid from you, but once they realized you were a sometimes feeder, they started coming to the side of the cage when you walked past. Their little rat noses twitched and sniffed for food. Lars fed and handled them the most. He named them too. Yksi and Kaksi. You thought they were great Finnish names and continually asked Lars to help you pronounce the names correctly.
One weekend morning, after you had had the rats for a few months, you woke to fair weather. "Screw studying at the library!" you shouted. "Lars! Let's take Yksi and Kaksi to the park!"
"Okei," he said. Lars packed two lunches, and included a forty for himself, which he always drank in a paper bag, like he had seen men do in American movies.
You put the rats in a bag and carried them to the park. They peed through the cloth and pooped where they stood.
Lars said, "Why not put them here." He pointed to your shoulder.
"I hadn't thought of it," you said. You realized then that you weren't the most attentive, thoughtful pet owner and maybe that's why so many landlords and rental agencies had NO PETS policies for college student renters.
When you arrived at the park, the sun was blazing. Lars let Yksi and Kaksi out of the bag. He swore in Finnish at the mess. Yksi and Kaksi immediately ran for cover under a tree. You followed them.
The rats spent the next several minutes digging worms, grubs, and beetles out of the ground. They sat back on their haunches and shoved their food into their mouths with their pink, delicate-looking front paws. They chomped and chewed greedily.
"Whoa! Whoa! Awesome! Kull!" Lars said.
It was exciting to see your animals eat other animals.
Munch, munch, munch. Yksi and Kaksi's eyes looked brighter as they ate.
You found a fat, green tobacco hornworm caterpillar and put it on the ground in front of them. Yksi grasped the caterpillar's head between his front paws and bit down. The caterpillar's head came right off and a green slime emerged from its body cavity.
"Whoa!" said Lars.
Yksi ate the whole caterpillar in five bites.
For the next two years you took Yksi and Kaksi to the park every weekend when the weather was fair. The ritual only ended when they died, exactly one week apart.
Lars still tells people the story of you and your rat pets. How the rats were his idea, but made you a better person. His English is much better now.