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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

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Joe Jarvis

Rats chew their entire lives. Vermin have hypsodontic incisors: the teeth never stop growing. Rats must constantly file their chompers, which grow seven inches every year and are completely replaced every forty to fifty days, or the top incisors will grow through the bottom jaw and the bottom teeth penetrate nasal cavities. Thus, a rat can gnaw through carpet, insulation, wood, plastic, tile, brick, metal and concrete. Only three substances prove impenetrable against the rodents: adamantium, steel wool and vibranium, and two of those exist only in the realm of Marvel comics. Steel wool splinters when chewed and jagged strands dig into gums, pierce tongue and palate. Even an animal as vicious and resilient as the rat, whose bite load approximates ten pounds, can bear only so much pain. Actually, one another material withstands the rat bite. Rats trapped on a glue board -- a rectangular plastic block topped with a half-inch of industrial strength adhesive -- lose control of their snared limbs and so begin eating an escape route through the glue. This masticatory reaction, albeit reflexive, has nothing to do with biology. The glue eating results from hubris: having eaten its way into silos, banquet halls, diners, houses, canneries, feed bins, feedbags and my apartment, the filthy vermin's brain automatically overrides reports from the impaired extremities and orders construction of another tunnel.

In my hallway, which slopes downward on your way from the kitchen to living room, you find two closets, one on the west and east walls. Opening the folding pantry doors you see a furnace in the east closet, and in the western space a water heater, at the foot of which a rat struggles in a glue board. Its back legs slowly churn, forcing its torso deeper in the mire. Its front legs trapped under its chest and head at a ninety-degree angle to its shoulders, the filthy cunt attempts to sing once more.

For three months of my life I gave up, quiff growing increasingly implausible, given lessening volume and devil's horns retreating from the seat of knowledge to claim my crown, with the hair above my ears silvering more each day. A once-svelte torso, impervious to copious sugar intake and unmarked alcohol consumption now sagged -- bloated and gurgling -- metabolism unmoved by steady diet of energy drinks and cocaine.

Worse still, I felt my teeth rot in my skull, all thirty-two of the little shards of dentin and calcium throbbing in sync with my pulse. Every heartbeat seemed to flush my teeth with blood, creating in each tooth the sensation you feel when squeezing your engorged penis head between thumb and forefinger, or for a woman -- well, whatever congruent sensation you care to imagine. I brushed between meals, then between drinks, then between cigarettes, to no avail. Desperate, I attempted to halt the disintegration by correcting my overbite, forcing the top row of teeth back under the bottom, but only managed a great deal of nasty scraping, and to pop my jaw from its socket, necessitating an emergency room visit.

I resigned myself, not to growing old, but the bitterness and general misanthropy symptomatic among those unwilling to resign themselves to growing old. I alarmed friends with long distance calls to their Ohio offices and homes, recollecting the time I had sex with three women in twenty-four hours, or "Hey, remember that time I beer-bonged a bottle of vodka and woke up at nine the next morning to play rec league and dished fifteen assists?" I began closely monitoring magazine racks at Reckless Records and once tried to strike up a conversation about The Vines with a little undergraduate thing upstairs at Earwax. Then I flew home, in some flailing attempt to resurrect past glories by visiting conquered fields, and found myself asking the amiable guy who ran one of the city's two music stores, "So, what should I be listening to?" He sniffed, addressed the floor with a contemplative canine half-turn of the head and said, "Gorillaz will go down as our generation's Velvet Underground." I understood it had all gone horribly wrong.

Outside the north entrance in the communal hall the washing machine sits in a bleak concrete hole riddled with divots and draped in webbing. When loading your laundry you hear a triumphant chorus inside the walls -- cacophonous bleeps and whirls -- that sounds like two thousand modems simultaneously seeking their host. This is the overture of a complacent nest happily going about the day's business: cutting up each purloined slice of Bimbo-brand bread into morsels for the pregnant; adding another verse to the family work song between mouthfuls of dirt and mortar while burrowing under my bedroom, kitchen tile and water heater; eating remainder of the poor sod who stumbled home last night after mistaking anticoagulant for wheat; and self-satisfied arias of blind bald children, bellies swollen with milk generated from a body sustained by garbage from the outside dumpsters; that bread the tribe's braves scaled six feet of refrigerator grid to snatch; half of a pepperoni Hot Pocket, and protein from two paper towels -- folded over one another into a square and starched stiff with my own very life-force and left in last night's garbage.

Worse pain unimaginable erupted behind my top right molar just as David Beckham created one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in the form of free kick converted for goal on Mama's satellite television. The wisdom tooth instigated and promptly lost a territorial shoving match with the molar and emerged sideways from my gum line, lodging in my jaw. Every time I closed my mouth the ridges of the superfluous crown wore through my cheek: considerable pain for a two-pack-a-day smoker and boy home from the big city to see his ma'am, who, upon hearing of the arrival of her last-born, prepared a spread of fried chicken, greens, coconut crème pie, barbecued chicken, venison steak, rhubarb pie and so on and so forth. For six days this Judas lacerated my cheek, until finally my no-dental-care-havin-ass caved in and admitted to Mama that her boy's incessant moaning owed not to immediate reaction to and subsequent recollection of Beckham's strike.

A little local anesthesia, a tremendous amount of pressure and the thing disappeared. Immediately after the extraction into the afternoon, slurring through an explanation to the entirely sympathetic State Highway Patrolman, who said he once too spent five good hours of his adult life slurping up strands of drool like a common retard, I understood the pearly crown jewel had been plucked from the ostentatious headdress of time.

Woe unto this miserable twat in the westward heating space, for the few squeaks he can manage out his mangled jaw, which remains anchored as he pulls his head from the bed of death, amounts only to his own dirge. Why assign the attribute of wisdom to these bearers of pain? Previously, I assumed because they come in so late in life; older and wiser as it were. But in the near-week the thing afflicted me, I began to consider that they harbored long-hidden secrets; like all rebels, from Jesus to Copernicus to The Flaming Lips (I am deadly serious; give it time), atavistic pulverizing capacity returns to a space that has shrunk with time, creating a "no room at the inn" scenario. Of course, a cynic would say the final additions to our mouths impart the ancient wisdom that life is pain.

The trapped rat's whimpers bare no import save the bubbles they lift in the red gelatinous pool globbing from its mouth. Bits of teeth pulled from the beast's head by the glue float in the pool. We imagine rats have yellow teeth due to their generally nefarious nature, but no, yellow signifies high iron _self, testifying to superb rodential health. Now his only song is a hymn, that of the death procession his brothers will not witness as I carry him to the dumpster, his kin's favorite pantry.

This is the fate of the prideful.