Renna Beinoris and seeing "rat haus reality"
In September 1990 another life-long friend entered the flow of life when i met Renna Beinoris at a dinner party at Bruce and his wife Gloria's house in Fresno. She came with a friend of Bruce's she had recently met but each of us was acutely aware of the other thruout the evening. By the turn of the year the communication had deepened significantly between us, primarily thru fown calls as well as letters. Renna is Lithuanian. She was born in Salzburg where her parents had gone to from their own country after the end of WWII. When she was five they moved to Chicago. i had never before encountered someone quite as engaging or radiant as Renna. The times we've shared together have provided each of us with a great deal of expansive awareness and rich sense of basking in the warmth of the other's company.
In 1990 i had begun to play with scanning in a subset of 8x10s of the images in the rat haus reality gallery and taking advantage of high-quality printers at work to generate my own blowups. In February i wanted to give Renna a set of these i had had mounted on foam-core backing each with a hanging-hook. The set consisted of four images in the following order:
house cleaning always involves swabbin' the all decks
titled "Dragging My Sponge Home to You"the recording device snaps mr. suave in fluid motion
"at home with Mr. Suave"self portrait of the guy i hired to do the labor
"self portrait"listening to the ever-present bird chorus symphony
"witness to the approaching UFO"As i was deciding how to phrase each title, i also realized the nature of the four as a whole constituted a series and that the series itself needed a title as well.
Some of the people who had seen these images previously had expressed confusion about just exactly what it was they were looking at. The source of this need for clarification was the human house in the background (Steve and Ashley's, built in 1880, and called "Surf Cottage") and how in picture number's one, two, and four, it blended in with the rat house to such a degree as to cause its viewers to question if the rat house wasn't perhaps of "human scale" as well -- but then who or what was this figure that looked like a white rat? . . . . During the creation of the photographs i'd never thought of this "angle" myself, but in later years, when all one cood see was the scene's composition in the image, i began to appreciate just how "co-ink-kee-dink" it was having Surf Cottage in the background where it blended so effectively as an exceptional "realistic backdrop" to the reality of the rat house.
It was at this point of searching for a name to the series to present to my dearest Renna, that appreciation of the riddle of "rat house reality" popped fully into my mind. It was immediately apprehended to be the perfect moniker conveying that same implicit question of just what is "real" and what is not? Since an original intent of building the rat house was to make it be as accurate a miniature representation of a house built to human scale as possible, the extension of such unintended "human-appearing" reality imparted thru these images is just the sort of delightful "double entendre" life overflows with whenever we employ our intuitive and instinctual intelligence to re-cognize such patterns.
It was not until 1994, while preparing the large jpeg and thumbnail gifs and taking dictation from the ethereal and eternal spirit of Mr. Tillo for the text to include the rat haus reality gallery as one of the components of the original web house, that "house" was transfigured into "haus". Friend Anita Schiller had given me a photo some years before while travelling in Germany of a sign pointing to the "Rathaus", the German word for city hall. Applying "rat squeek", to break this apart into its ratical components, i decided that "rat haus reality" carried more multi-dimensional meanings in its subtext than the thru-and-thru plain english of "rat house reality".
In May, i moved into my present domicile at 567 35th Avenue from where i had been living on Woods Street for four years in a marvelous 20x30 foot 2-story garage building with the second floor consisting of one large room. It was in this setting i constructed the most elaborate ratwalk ever manifested by these hands, seen in the above two shots. At left we see the ratwalk beginning on the shelf of Mr. Tillo's cage (occupant visible in left front corner) and running out to its first landing. From there a ladder ascends to a platform where begins the first of the two spans stretching between the room's interior posts. At right we see a wide-angle view of "the museum" (as a number of people so named the feeling it gave them when they first walked up into it).
In the hi-res image this thumbnail links to is seen the results of one of my most enjoyable construction projects since building the rat haus in 1982. This space was perfect for such a rat skyway to manifest itself. When in his cage, many a giggle and laugh was produced by sounding the calling all rats! --report to base alert at the intermediate 2-level landing visible on the post in the foreground, or, when Tillo was roaming thruout the room and report to base was initiated over on the door of his cage. His ladder climbing, ratwalk galloping, ladder descending drop and sprint across the final span back to "home" was a great source of enjoyment to all who witnessed this performance. (Now if only one of those witnesses had had a vid-camera with them to record this feat.... --i cood include the movie file version!)
Since moving, the disassembled ratwalk lies in pieces, parked on a shelf in the closet as this domicile does not sport the sort of expansive ceilings they were built in/for. The Mr. Tillo who moved with me was the last rat i ever had. Renna loved Mr. Tillo and at one point we swapped the camera and him between the two of us. Before Renna had met Mr. Tillo she had never known anyone who had rats as pets and so had not yet seen them in such a positive light. But once she met him, she found the same charm, cuddliness, and love-ability i've always had for these sweet friends.
Unfortunately, the last three Tillos i had all developed terminal maladies and had to be put to sleep after about two years of life. i attribute this to two reasons. As a kid, some of the ratas lived for about four years. Today, as with the frogs, i sense they are like the miner's canary in our present-day world where the biosphere continues to be assaulted and, from my own experience, they register their vulnerability to this degradation in a host of forms. The other contributing factor is my sense that the integrity of the gene pool of domesticated rats is becoming more and more compromised as their interbreeding probably occurs more frequently along close fam'blee lines. The last times i went to the pet store i learned that most of the rats sold these daze go for snake food. Oh the sadness!
Luis Oleson, a life-long friend i met while at UCSC (who i think took the shots of the ratwalks -- among other talents he is a veteran photographer) taught me how to put the second-to-last Mr. Tillo to sleep as he had had to do the same thing with unwanted kitties when he was a kid. It was very painful but the experience taught me a new form of what it means to take care of another one is response able for in the only way that is good for them when they are in such pain and only doing the delayed "slow burn" to their final, anguished breathe. Renna was with me when i had to put the last Mr. Tillo to sleep here at 35th ave. The poor darling was visibly not comfortable (it seemed as if he had had a stroke as he no longer was able to walk evenly with his usual assurance) and i finally felt he was no longer wanting to go on with being here.
The death of so special a friend is always very painful. When one has to "take care" of one so afflicted it is doubly hard. i bebember when Dad and Bruce drove away with Pingo at the end of December, 1967 (Magical Mystery Tour had just come out) to put her to sleep because she was older and had kidney stones or something akin to that. The sadness we carry within for those who leave this place in such a manner is our own grief at being left behind. How terribly we miss them! After putting Mr. Tillo to sleep with Renna i felt i cood no longer invite another rata into my life as their collective health seems to have become so tenuous. And the speed with which daze are perceived to pass has increased so geometrically from the way in which i experienced time as a child, that two years at this point feels much too short a span to know friends as dear as the ratas who have shared their lives with me.
At some point around this time i was given a black rubber rat during Halloween by a friend who'd found it in a stationary store. Later my infinitely precious niece Simone (Patty's eldest daughter) gave me a larger one she'd used as a Halloween prop being a witch with her Mom at Mah'mon's 70th birthday party (which happens the day after Halloween). And later still i found another like Simone's during my own recognizance in San Francisco with Oona. Some years before that i'd registered the car's license plate as RATMNDU. (i was struck by how many licenses already held the rat moniker or some suitable allusion in a variety of fashions -- there was a whole page that began with "RAT"...! Luckily i had more than just "RATMBLE", "RATCAR", and "RATLIFT" in my list of candidates before i went in. ratmandu is the name i gave my machine at work soon after getting there. i was pleezed with the idea of a take off on the land of Kath[mandu]s.)
Thus it came to pass that while i no longer enjoy the company of a real live rata, i adopted these three "stand-ins" as my own "St. Peter" to watch over me while driving in the ratmandu mobile. They actually saved me from getting a ticket on 17 a few years ago. The CHP had me -- i was doing over 70. But when the guy came up after i'd pulled off he asked "Why do you have plastic rats?" i found out he too liked rats. We talked for a bit and then he turned to go back to his car and said, "Don't drive so fast, the rats'll fall off the dashboard." i azzumed he was going to run my license thru the computer. The next thing i knew he had rolled out and back onto the highway.