Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rat King's Barbecue

There's an unspoken rule at my daughter's high-school that in order to avoid being harassed or singled out by a certain clique, you soothe the insecure teenagers by making a token appearance at a hang-out, or group gathering. I'm grateful when my daughter Sarah, along with her closest friend, a lovely Finnish girl, reassure me that such appearances will be kept to a minimum, perhaps once a year, and only as a means of avoiding confrontation or backlash. Of course, the parent in me would prefer for Sarah not to have any interaction with such cliques; hanging out is tantamount to wasting time, as far as I'm concerned. But my daughter and her friend insist that their method of inclusion dilutes hostilities and aggression, thus preventing them from being perceived as stand-offish and unfairly targeted. If Sarah were still a little girl, instead of going on 16, I would sit her on my lap and tell her a story:

Once upon a time, there lived a stick-wielding Rat King. Each spring, he'd invite his spit band of mice to attend a barbecue at his home. What Rat King lacked in ability and talent, he aspired to make up for with his brand of hospitality. The Rat King kept tallies of which mice appeared, as well as the ones who declined. For those in attendance, especially if they brought the required sacrifice (ego strokes), they were rewarded with job security and salary increases. For those mice who preferred to stay away from Rat King's barbecue, they suffered torment, retaliation, and threats of demotion. A violinist mouse told her side of the tale:

We are so afraid. If we don't do everything according to Rat King's wishes, our jobs might disappear. That's why at the most recent barbecue there were more mice than ever before! Even the Assistant Rat participated, and I don't recall him attending in the past. Maybe he's scared also, or has dreams of being anointed Vizier. And you know so-and so mouse, a ringer cellist? She was immediately placed on top of the hiring list just for showing up and stroking Rat King. What can we do? This is our means of survival. She looked up in despair with tears in her eyes.

And all the little mice felt more vulnerable and less worthy than ever, because they accepted Rat King's sinister ways.

"King Rat" by Priscilla Nicholson

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