Year of the Rat; or, The Best Laid Plans O’ Mice and Men …

Last week I mentioned that a book debut was a little like temporary insanity … what I didn’t know is that I was actually making a prophecy.

In short, dear readers, insanity in the form of the most improbable series of coincidences since the plot of Murder on the Orient Express struck my household on Sunday.

Now, I don’t normally like to write about my life blah-blah-blah stuff. Writing in the Dark is, at its heart, supposed to be about noir with a dash of history and esoterica thrown in for good measure. However, the events of Sunday afternoon were so bizarre as to warrant their own blog post. After all, if not to chronicle life’s strangeness — and truth is, indeed, far weirder than fiction — what else is a blog for?

Noir will return next week, when I resume my top ten countdown (with the truly strange and wonderful Nora Prentiss! Stay tuned!). For now, I’ll share a little noirishness of my own …

Sunday afternoon I was type-type-typing away, trying to finish a chapter of my work in progress … when I hear some noises that alarmed me, opened the door of our very small, 1941-built San Francisco home, and found my loved one in a state of consternation. Make that great consternation.

First, a little architectural background. San Francisco houses of the district in which we live were usually built with the living space on an upper floor and a garage below. A substantial (for this city) backyard appends the rear. Our house is virtually unchanged from 1941 — the garage is still a garage and storage area, not an extra living space. One day, when I’m not trying to launch a new career, we’ll add an extra bedroom or library downstairs. For now, however, our living space is very small, very crowded (especially with a 70 pound Springer Spaniel) and (at this point in time) messy.

It’s called “debut book syndrome,” and it happens to the best of homes.

Anyway, we like things old-fashioned, and I am, after all, currently writing about 1940, so hey–our house is like built-in research.

Anyway, back to Sunday. The consternation was because:

A. Said Springer Spaniel evidently had a medical emergency … in the nature of a urinary tract demonstration. This was brought to our attention by the fact that the living room futon was beyond salvation.

B. At exactly the same time as the dog was tracking pee in the hallway, the cat was hissing and howling outside the door that leads from the hallway downstairs to the garage. And said cat chased a large mouse or small rat under the door, into our house and into the bedroom.

Well, let’s just say I didn’t get that chapter finished on Sunday. We spent four or five hours trying to clear out the bedroom so that we could find the rat. In the meantime, we also had to make sure the dog was all right, take him out every fifteen minutes, and haul a very, very wet and heavy futon mattress downstairs.

We combed the bedroom looking for the rat, finding it at one point, but then poof! he seemed to disappear under the bed. Fearing the worst, we examined the box springs … not there, thank God. But that meant … no, it couldn’t be … one of the eight foot tall bookcases. Maybe he was behind it.

So we stripped that bookcase, dear readers, removing all the precious books until we ran out of room, boxes and bags. We carefully moved the bookcase, and … no rat.

By then it was time to take a break, and we were faced with:

A. Having to stay in a motel for at least one night
B. Obviously missing work the next day
C. Dismantling 2 (two) more bookcases … same size

We were in the Slough of Despond, the Pit of Despair, feeling like noir protagonists (you-know-what on page one).

And that, my friends, is when the clouds cleared, if only for a moment, when the magical sound of the Ice Cream man rolled down our street, signaling “Don’t worry!”

There’s something magical about the Ice Cream man, and no more so than when your dog has ruined your futon and there’s a rat in your bedroom.

After a delicious Fudgsicle and Blue Bunny Chocolate Sundae Bar, we resumed our daunting and gargantuan task. We started to clear the room of everything, examining each bag and box to make sure there wasn’t a rat in it before we moved it to another spot in the house.

And, lo! I peered into a bag of books, lifting it off the floor … and I immediately dropped it again, because Mr. Rat was tucked next to a hardback of What Charles Dickens Ate and Jane Austen Wore or something similar.

I stood over that bag like my cat. Loved One cleared the path between the rat and freedom, flinging open the guilty door which led to the basement and the back yard.

Faster than you can say “Fudgsicle” I rolled up the top of that bag (thankfully, it was double-bagged), tucked it under my arm, and performed a 50 yard Rat Dash to the backyard, where Mr. Rat was able to scamper and hop through the grass and up and over the neighbor’s fence, from which (we surmise) he had emerged earlier. The cat chased him again, but couldn’t be bothered to go over the fence herself. There are limits to Sunday work for cats, or they contact the union.

The literary Rat thus lived to read someone else’s library. I immediately fixed the doorway so that, should the universe ever attempt to repeat this insanity, the rat would be forced to make a U-turn.

We were able to stay home that night, though the next day was spent in trying to achieve equilibrium: finding clothes, locating books, rearranging furniture, buying another couch, and of course, getting antibiotics for the dog.

The moral, dear readers, is that something good actually came out of this rather tortuous adventure. We are now in the middle of a late Spring cleaning, foisted upon us by an uninvited guest, and have a great head start in a home improvement project … despite the impending book launch.

And think about how amazingly lucky we were … first, to have seen the rat getting chased, and thus be able to do something about it, and secondly, to have found it in a bag.

So here is my Year of the Rat challenge to you: what seemingly horrible event has resulted in something positive for you? When have your best laid plans gone awry, and yet you later discover that that was a good thing? And what has been your equivalent of “The Ice Cream Man” — that one, shining moment that seems (in retrospect) to have turned everything around?

Share your stories … it’s the Year of the Rat!