I live in an SRO (single room occupancy) hotel in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver, in what I devoutly hope is a temporary living arrangement. The Regent is rated the second-worst hotel in the city, surpassed only by its sister hotel, the Balmoral, located directly across the street and owned by the same scum-sucking landlord*. Conditions in this rat infested pesthole are such that a dark sense of humour is a prerequisite; in order to survive down here you just have to see some things as funny.
Like the rat.
There’s a constant patter of scurrying feet in the hallways and the rats are plentiful here, both the vermin and the human variety. At first I tried to convince myself that all the nocturnal chewing was only mice. Mice are bad enough but rats are nasty. Bigger. And bolder. I’d once opened my door to find a rat parked on my doorstep; I stomped at him but the cheeky bastard didn’t move, just sat there staring up at me like I owed him money. Only when the elevator door opened did he scamper off on some ratty errand.
You hear other tenants exchanging rat horror stories in the hallways and exulting over the numbers that have been sent to rat heaven. One night there was a pounding on the floor above, like a person dancing a flamenco, and it was only when a woman asked, “Did you get him, honey?” that I realized he’d been trying to stomp a rat. It’s bad enough the little bastards keep you awake at night frolicking in your underwear drawer, but a close encounter can still give you—as it did me—the willies.
I’d been tidying up, shoving newspapers into a trash bag, clearing out the weekly rubble, and as I reached for the waste paper basket, a movement in the bag caught my eye. The bag was clear plastic and through it I could see a pair of ratty legs scrambling in place and that unmistakable tail, long and naked and loathsome: This is not a Mouse, it’s a Rat—a freaking Rat, and I let go that silent scream you make in your head when utterly repulsed. OMFGawd, Tell Me I didn’t just scoop up a live rat with my bare hands? I quickly mashed more garbage down on top of him and twisted a firm knot in the neck of the bag, reached for my keys—never, ever leave your keys behind in an SRO—and pitched Br’er Rat into the hallway bin. That the bin was actually there was a miracle in itself as they’re either absent or already overflowing, used rigs sprinkled poetically amongst all the other detritus. Hopefully, more garbage would very soon be dumped on his ratty little head, with any luck trapping and asphyxiating him before he’d manage to chew his way free and scarper home to the wife and kids.
It wasn’t until I’d locked my door behind me and sat down on my sagging bed that I considered shaking for a bit, or wishing I had, like Aunt Pittypat in Gone with the Wind—a swoon bottle handy. Holy Mother of Gawd I just put a live rat out with the trash. What if I’d been bitten? Rabies! Bubonic Plague! Insatiable cravings for ratatouille! For days afterward the memory of his twitching hindquarters trying to backpeddle out of what had (hopefully) become his shroud stayed with me. But with no shortage of fresh horrors awaiting in this disgusting hotel, that vision was quickly replaced; the following week I put a mouse out in the bin in the exact same manner and all I did was add another notch to the vermin scorecard I’d taped to the wall: Rats-1, Mouses-1, Roaches-Dozens, Bedbugs-Without Number.
Life in the Downtown Eastside: Keep your chin up and your sense of humour handy, especially if you live at the Regent.
*the Sahota family