Posted by: pendrops | February 22, 2007

the ratman*


Some twelve years ago, when I got my first job as a sales clerk in the shoe department at Famous Barr, my dad told me a story about his days as “The Ratman.” He and my mom had just gotten married and he had a job at the local factory. As low man on the totem pole, his work included, among other menial and disgusting tasks, a third shift spent setting out rat traps and then cleaning up the decapitated vermin.

“Everyone called me ‘The Ratman’,” he said with something like a smile on his face.

“Ewww,” I remember thinking. How disgusted, degraded and undignified that work must have made him feel. But something in the way my dad told it sent a different message. There was a hint of pride. Not the arrogant kind of pride, but the satisfied kind. The satisfaction of hard work done well. The fulfillment that comes with earning your keep.

I thought of dad’s “Ratman” story today as I drove to my own new gig: cleaning houses. Unfortunately, undiscovered novelists working on brilliant manuscripts aren’t in high demand, so I’ve been brainstorming a small “day job.” Thanks to my mom, I have a natural knack for cleanliness, (and I’m talking serious cleanliness…just ask Jason) so cleaning homes was a no-brainer when it came to seeking out part-time work.

But even with this inherent skill and the advice of experienced cleaners, it was a hard day. There’s just something humbling (and sort of gross) about cleaning someone else’s toilet, scrubbing their baseboards, breaking your back to mop their floors.

But dad’s story rang in my ears. And then it got me to thinking about the future: one year, five years, ten years from now. How I’ll look back on this season and have my own “Ratman” story to tell. How I’ll experience that same sense of accomplishment I remember in my dad.

In fact, I already feel it; the sweetness of aching muscles in the wake of hard work completed. Odd as it sounds, I drove away from that spotless house holding my head a little higher. I had just paid some dues. And it felt good, damn good.

So, when I’m a famous author someday, sitting on Oprah’s couch, talking about my latest best-seller, and she asks, “What’s the most disgusting job you ever did as a starving artist?” with a smile on my face I’ll be able to say: “Oprah, I cleaned toilets.”

*For my mom and dad, who taught me everything I know about honest, hard work.



  1. wow, two cusses in two posts. Krista, what’s become of you? 😉

  2. That Ratman job looks pretty good some days. Ah, the simple life. Gas was 21 cents a gallon and we paid cash for everything. Pizza every Friday night with Fred and Deanna at our mobile home, and listening to our ’33’s on our huge Altec speakers. And yes, that’s when mom still let me have a motorcycle!

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