If ever there was a crowd that lacked a decent public relations profile, it is rats.
Even politicians, for mercy’s sake, have a better image than do those ugly rodents with the long hideous tails. (Not too much better, mind you.)
There was at least one attempt to improve the reputation of the God-awful rat in the early ’70s, some members of the geriatric set might recall, when Michael Jackson recorded a rather syrupy, if not innocuous song, about a rat who went by the handle of Ben, the titular character in a movie of that era.
The words were deceiving; if you didn’t know any different, you would have sworn Jackson was singing about the loving relationship between a young fella and his pup, right out of “Old Yeller.”
But, no, this was about an unusual — to say the least — rapport between a boy and his pet rat:
“Ben, the two of us need look no more
We both found what we were looking for
With a friend to call my own
I’ll never be alone....”
So, why all these column inches about Ben and his buddies?
You may have already guessed.
Because those evil rats have taken their menacing manoeuvres to sacred ground, scurrying into our movie theatres (the kind of places where “Ben” may have well been shown years ago), causing countless townies and residents of bedroom communities on the outskirts of Sin John’s to discontinue their regular trip to the Avalon Mall to take in the latest foolish blockbuster or the critically claimed award-winner (depending on the taste of the movie-goer).
Granted, the amazing amount of crap that finds its way to St. John’s via Hollywood and placed in an inordinate number of outlets at the mall cinema, while many decent flicks remain on the mainland has, indeed, curtailed somewhat my own excursions to the movies.
But I’m not going to let those sewage lovers force me to spend even more time watching movies and series on cable (as good as a fair number of them happen to be), and less time in the locales where I’ve been feeding my addiction to films for 60 years — local theatres from Gander (a dime to get into the Crescent and a nickel for candy) to New York to St. John’s, and numerous points in between.
Besides, this is the time of the year when movie producers start to unveil what they hope will be Academy Award nominees, and we, the film buffs, are the beneficiaries, getting the opportunity to watch “A Star is Born” or “Bad Times at the El Royale” (By the way, local managers, where’s “The Sisters Brothers”, a four-star western based on a tremendous book by Canadian Patrick deWitt?).
Now, I may have to keep an eye out for the rats or their smaller relatives, Mickey Mouse and his assorted relatives, running over my feet. And I may not buy popcorn or nachos; after all, the last thing I wish to see in this lifetime is the hairy nose of a rodent poking up through the salt and the butter just as I’m about to shove a handful of popcorn into my gob.
But I’m heading to the mall, even if alone (my regular movie companion is staying clear of the place until there are guarantees that all rats have been dispatched to hell).
And speaking of rat killing, my first experience with the rodents occurred in Gander when I was 11 or 12, one I have never forgotten, an oddly satisfying, almost exhilarating father-son bonding event.
In today’s world of instant video, it would make for a grand reality sequence, twisted at that.
When Ganderites moved from army barracks into what we called the “town site,” miles and miles of ground had been dug up to make room for new homes, and rats appeared everywhere, it seemed, including in our basement on Balbo Street.
Dad and I were forced to become Killers Elite, armed with hockey sticks, especially when the rat traps failed to kill our unwanted rodent-residents, and we spotted them, wounded and slowly dragging the traps around the basement floor.
“Nail ’em, Bobby!” Dad shouted.
I didn’t have to be ordered a second time. Blood and guts were everywhere. No wonder I was tagged with so many stick fouls when playing hockey in later years.
Afterwards, Dad had a beer; I was rewarded with a Pepsi.
Early in life, I also witnessed another kind of rat, the muskrat, while trouting on Radio Range Brook just outside Gander with Mossie and Syd Doyle, my parents’ closest friends. Syd, wearing hip rubbers, was waste deep in the brook when a muskrat began to swim in her direction; She screamed and fell backwards into the water; the muskrat headed in another direction, and Mossie and I buckled over with laughter. Syd was not impressed with Mr. Muskrat nor with her husband and me.
And now, of course, the muskrat is everywhere in Newfoundland, making regular appearances throughout our newscasts, in our newspapers. As in Muskrat the falls. And he’s as scary as that Radio Range rodent to most of us.
Not to all, of course, especially former premier Danny Williams, Muskrat’s creator.
Perhaps Danny might wish to adopt Michael Jackson’s song as his anthem:
“Muskrat, most people would turn you away
They don’t see you as I do.
I don’t listen to a word they say.
They don’t see you as I do.
A friend like Muskrat.”
As for me, I’m off to the flicks. Rats be damned.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org