Our fifth flatmate

The way it works in a boarding house, the only way it works, the way it has to work, is with enough common courtesy to skip some of the common courtesies. If you spill something on the kitchen floor or get some brown on the toilet seat, you clean it up — those common courtesies are necessary — but hello and chit-chat are niceties that need to be suspended.

May 1, 2022

We're sharing a house, seeing each other at random moments all day, so say "Hey," if you're feeling sociable, but you can't embark on a genuine conversation every time you see a flatmate. We gotta be able to pass each other in the kitchen, in the hallway, like ships in the night, without words. 

Dean, though, always wants to talk. This morning I stepped out of the shower — wet hair, wearing a bathrobe, holding a towel — and into the kitchen, on my way to my room. Dean was making coffee in the kitchen, so I knew he'd say something.

"Hey, Doug, I got curious and measured how much my giant coffee cups hold — 14½ ounces." I don't know who cares about that. Not me, but my damned good manners wouldn't let me walk past or flip him off, so we talked about his coffee cups while I inched toward toward my door, or tried to.

As I fumbled with my keys, he told me where he'd gotten his fine matching coffee cups I'd never noticed and did not care about.

As I turned the lock and the knob, he told me how he washes the cups by hand so as not to damage the shine, or something.

By the time I'd successfully closed the door, he was telling me the history of coffee as a morning beverage. 

It's a mental issue, if you ask me. Dean cannot see another human without wanting to talk at that human. I, uh, can.

A trip from the bathroom to the bedroom via the kitchen should take ten seconds, but that trip took two minutes. It happens ten or a dozen times every week, and I kinda dread opening my bedroom door and stepping into the house's shared space. You never know when Dean's going to come out of his room and seize another couple of minutes, or longer.

Which brings us to John, the tenant who had my room before I moved in. I met John once; he showed me the room, told me a few basics about the house, etc. Seemed like a nice enough dude, though of course I never saw him again.

Since living here, Dean has told me about John, or about John from Dean's perspective. "He seemed like a nice guy when he moved in," Dean said. "John and I used to talk in the kitchen, but after a while he talked less and less, and completely stopped talking to me and Robert."

Dean's account makes John sound like a guy who became completely anti-social, but my hearing of that story is different. Sounds to me like John decided the only way to live with never-stop-talking Dean was to ignore him, so for the last year that he lived here, John ignored Dean.

I'm hoping it doesn't come to that for me, because Dean isn't a bad guy. When you're talking with him, he does let you get a sentence in once in a while. His stories are usually at least borderline coherent. And anyway, I don't want to make him my enemy down the hall.

Problem is, Dean never wants to let you go, never wants the conversation to end. He's started every conversation we've had, and other than the time he was disgusted by the cream cheese in my beard, he's never yet ended a conversation. Ending it is always up to me.

A few days ago, in an odd mood and as a test, I sat down on the chair in the kitchen and simply let Dean talk, to see how long he'd go. Occasionally I nodded or interacted, asking him a question about whatever he was on about, as he went on and on about everything, about chefing at the Hyatt, about proper seasoning of pork and chicken, about his dealings with aggravated or allergic customers…

He talked for seventeen minutes before I couldn't stand it any more, before I stood up and said "Gotta go" and went. So I'm hoping not to be the second coming of John, but I do understand John's strategy of silence.

Two and a half weeks in, obviously I'm still the new guy in this boarding house, just getting to know my three flatmates:

• Dean, the retired chef who never stops talking about the politics of working in a three-and-a-half star restaurant

• Robert, the quiet but friendly guy, also retired, sorta geeky, who's into video games

• and L — it might be Larry, might be Lance, might be Leroy, I can never remember, and don't need to remember. He has his own shower and toilet, so I haven't seen him in a week, and when I do, I'll probably just call him L.

I'm the fourth flatmate, and this story will be about our fifth flatmate.

A few days after I'd moved in, Dean said he'd seen a rat sauntering along the kitchen wall, under the toaster and microwave table, toward the refrigerators. Since this was Dean's story, it went on to include rats he'd seen in various restaurant kitchens, details of how restaurants combat rats, etc. I only escaped as he tried to segue the subject to cockroaches, which, he informed me, are a much more persistent problem in restaurants than rats are. Good to know.

Rats in our kitchen don't worry me much. They're a nuisance, but I've lived with rats and mice before. You play defense — wash the dishes after dinner, put your open box of cereal in a sealed bin, etc. And anyway, our house is fairly tidy, including the kitchen. There's not much for rats to feed on, so we probably wouldn't attract a crowd of them.

"We have a cat," I said, not nominating my cat for rat patrol — she'd hide from a rodent, never attack it — but L's cat. We see that critter more than we see L, and I've petted it, and it's a nice cat, but has a mean streak. It could definitely kill a rat.

"L's into peace, love, and rock'n'roll," Dean said. "He doesn't let his cat outside because he worries it would kill birds, so I don't think he'd want his cat on a mission to kill anything, not even a rat."

Over the next few days, Dean lectured Robert and I on the habits and habitat of kitchen rats, and said he'd called the landlord, who'd promised that a trap would be supplied by the weekend.

Robert's approach was quicker and better addressed the situation, by leaving the landlord out of it. He simply went to a hardware store and bought traps. "$3.99 for two traps," he said, holding the package up for show and tell.

Ah, dang it, it was a glue trap. I prefer snap traps, like you see in cartoons and old movies, with a spring-loaded metal bar that breaks a rat's back, kills it instantly. But it wasn't my money nor my traps, so — no comment.

In a mouse situation many years back, I used a glue trap. It was before my conscience and empathy had fully matured, and the glue traps came with no instructions on what to do with a corpse afterward, so — sorry, but young and stupid Doug simply tossed the glue-trapped mouse into the dumpster, where it eventually died of thirst or starvation.

I have not forgotten that animal's terrified screams as I approached it and it couldn't escape, and as I carried the trap and the mouse down a flight of stairs, opened the dumpster, and dropped it in. Ever heard a rodent scream? It sounds like a crow cawing, but you can also hear the fear. It's not a sound you want to hear twice. Or even once.

Probably, that's where my conscience and empathy came from, at least regarding rats. I hate 'em and want 'em dead, but there's no need to be mean about it, so for subsequent infestations I've used snap traps to kill 'em quickly. (Well, there was also a battle where I killed a mouse with a broom handle, but that was on a day I was in a bad mood.)

As I watched, Robert unwrapped a glue trap and set it on the floor, near the wall, where the rat had been spotted. Too late for my tiny moral quibbles, or my tiny morals. Our rat was gonna get glued.

It was the next morning, after I'd emerged from my bedroom to make toast for breakfast, when I heard the rat's demise. I was chewing cream cheese on crunchy wheat toast when I thought I heard a crow cawing, and then two loud thuds. But it's a big house in a big city; there are noises. I gave it barely a moment's thought and continued chewing my toast.

A few hours later I grabbed a jug of detergent and a pocketful of quarters, and emerged from my bedroom with a basket of dirty clothes and towels. Robert was in the kitchen cooking soup, and he said "Good morning," and then said, "We got the rat, right there." He pointed to the floor under the toaster, where there was an empty glue trap, nothing else to see.

"Excellent," I said.

"I put down the second trap," Robert explained, "because where there's one rat, there's likely a second."

"Thanks for disposing of the dead one," I said, imagining it screaming, terrified, in the dumpster.

(Eight people live in our house — four on my floor, and four more on the floor below — population enough that our house has a dumpster instead of a trash bin.)

"I didn't want it to suffer," Robert said, "so I wrapped the glue trap and rat in a rag, and hammered its head."

"Ah," I answered. "Twice?" Those must've been the thuds I'd heard.

"Yeah, twice. Once to kill it and a second time to make sure it was dead," he said, pointing at the kitchen's half-full trash can. "It's dead." In the trash can, yup, was a lumpy beige rag with two overlapping hammerhead-size red circles.

"Rest in pieces," I said to the rat. If I'd done the deed, I would've taken the rat and trap all the way to the dumpster instead of leaving it to rot in our kitchen, but when someone else does the dirty work I'm not going to complain.

Excusing myself (which is much easier with Robert than with Dean), I made my way to the laundry room, one door down from the kitchen, between Robert's room and Dean's. There I filled the machine, pushed a few buttons and plopped a few quarters, before seeing fresh red on the wall. 

Like a noir detective, I pondered the clues. A small splatter of blood and bits on the wall, at the same height as the table. Conclusion: Robert had wrapped the rat in a rag, as he'd said, but not tightly enough. Then he'd hammered the rat there in the laundry room, on the sorting table, and a little of the rat's brains had exploded past the loose rag and onto the wall.

With some water and a few paper towels I wiped away the evidence, because like I said, this house is fairly tidy and I want to keep it that way. It's another of the flatmates' common courtesies. Now you'd never guess what happened in the laundry room, just this morning.

♦ ♦ ♦

And here's my internet history, from the library… 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Portland soccer fans protest during games 

"You knew!" Fans were yelling to the world that the Timbers and Thorns front office was aware of abuse carried out against women by men inside the organization but did little to address it. Simultaneously, numerous banners suddenly surfaced in the Timbers Army supporters’ section, each hoisted up on two sticks and featuring pointed slogans directed at the front office of the Timbers and Thorns.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Caltrain shows off its plans for world's ugliest office towers and a public plaza at Diridon Station 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Find books set in your hometown with this neat tool. 

♦ ♦ ♦

The End
Neal Adams
Ursula Bellugi
Naomi Judd
Jimmy Wang Yu

Cranky Old Fart is annoyed and complains and very occasionally offers a kindness, along with anything off the internet that's made me smile or snarl. All opinions fresh from my ass. Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.
Tip 'o the hat to All Hat No Cattle, Linden Arden, ye olde AVA, BoingBoing, Breakfast at Ralf's, Captain Hampockets, CaptCreate's Log, John the Basket, LiarTownUSA, Meme City, National Zero, Ran Prieur, Voenix Rising, and anyone else whose work I've stolen without saying thanks.
Extra special thanks to Becky Jo, Name Withheld, Dave S., and always Stephanie...


  1. Considering our location in Buttfuck, Pennsylvania, we have surprisingly few four-legged pests. Maybe it's the barn cat, or the roving bands of other cats that generally avoid Barn Cat's territory.

    But a couple of months ago, we had (I think) a vole living in the kitchen. Killed it, and shockingly, it was the only one. I'm guessing it didn't come in via a hole or crack, and instead accidentally snuck in the door somehow?

    1. I had to Google 'vole'. Not a critter from my experience.

      Did you kill it with your bare hands?


🚨🚨 Click here if you have problems posting a comment. 🚨🚨