rats!

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When I was in eighth grade, I lost the part of a lifetime to my best friend, Katrinah. No, I’m not talking about “Abby” in The Crucible or any other classic teenage girl role. I’m talking about “Charlotte.” You may remember her from a little tearjerker called Charlotte’s Web.

I got cast as Templeton, the garbage-loving rat, instead of the beautiful, noble, tragic spider. I got to wear ears and a tail and one night my contact lens popped out while I was eating at the trough with my boyfriend, who I think played a farmer or something, which does nothing to explain why he was sitting next to a human-sized rat. His name was Jason and he was quite moody – at the time, I mistook it for genius. I hadn’t yet learned how to distinguish between artistry and adolescence.

Funny thing, even though Katrinah got to sing the pretty notes and the inspirational lyrics, at the end of the show it seemed to be my character the children remembered most. Charlotte the Spider, it seems, died for nothing. The kids only wanted to pull on Templeton’s tail and run away in fear.

The summer after that, I choreographed the rat dances for a musical version of The Pied Piper. I think I made some costumes as well, marking one of the three occasions in my life in which I’ve used a needle and thread to make clothing.

Later, I moved to New York and twice lived with families of mice as well as larger, less cooperative roommates. At night, I’d wait on the empty platform for the Marcy Ave. train and listen to the squeaks of the giant rats below on the tracks, their mammoth tails my only companions. Seriously, the J train came about once per hour after 9pm. This was in the days before smartphones and Kindles. What was I supposed to do? Watching the rats seemed like as good an idea as any. It’s important to look unapproachable when waiting for public transportation. In this, I think I succeeded.

In the apartment I was living in before my boyfriend fiancé and I moved in together, I got mice again! My then boyfriend came over and stuffed every hole with steel wool, then injected expanding foam into the holes to make sure nothing could get in or out. He did a good job. One night, I heard a baby mouse trapped behind the radiator, squeaking in vain for its mother.

That totally broke my heart. Would I have had such deep sympathy for a baby mouse had I not accurately captured Templeton’s pathos so many years before? Probably so. I am a sympathetic person. I’m still not entirely convinced that stuffed animals and walls don’t have feelings.

However, rodents are disgusting and it’s hard to feel sorry for them, which is why, when I moved up in the theatre world and started playing old people instead of animals, I vowed never to play a duplicitous rat again. Sure, people remember the Templetons of the world – the brassy, crass, clever, and sardonic souls – but inside I’ve never stopped wanting to be a Charlotte.

She’s kind of boring but she is a genuinely good person, in the way that only a fictional character – or a martyr – can be.

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