The Rats of Willets Basement

Dear Swarthmore Campus and Community,

To put it simply, I am perplexed. As I write these words in my spacious bungalow on the first floor of Willets Hall, my fingers tremble in fear and confusion over the incapacitating debacle that I witnessed just moments ago as I went to do my laundry. It’s a mystery to me whether my mind is frozen in disbelief or whether the neurons that compose my grey matter have been firing futile synapses to convince me that that event — that horrific occasion — was simply a hallucination resulting from nights of missed sleep and one-too-many hours breathing in the mysteriously pungent fragrance that emanates from Sharples Dining Hall.

As I stood just moments ago in the laundry room of Willets basement, hungrily clutching a Tide Pod in one hand, I glimpsed out of the room’s glass door and witnessed it. For a moment, in sheer disbelief, my vision became blurry and the muscles in my hands lost control, causing the squishy chemical delicacy in my hand to tumble and burst on the ground like the refreshing gush of a fallen milk jug. The laundry room of Willets basement seemed to fall silent in the aftermath of my witnessing it.

A rat, its nose pink and its hands unimposing, skittered across the floor. A not-unfamiliar sight for the brick-and-mortar dungeon that is Willets Basement. It climbed into the mouth of a student whom I presumed to be taking a power nap. It engulfed its furry, ellipsoidal gray body in the moist cavern of the student’s mouth and disappeared. Moments later, that student came to life and bade me hello as I stood mystified by the event that I had just witnessed.

I then saw a second rat scurry across the floor, and instead of expressing any disgust, my fellow student merely spoke to it in what I imagine was some sort of ubiquitous rat language. When I entered the residential area of Willets basement, I heard no human language — instead, I merely heard a cacophony of nibbling and squeaking noises. While I did not see any more human beings, I did see three more rats rush into various rooms by squeezing themselves through the cracks underneath the dorms.

The next time that I ventured downstairs to move my laundry from the washing machine to the drying machine, I noticed a human skin in one of the dryers, one in which the rats presumably resided as they moonlighted as Swarthmore students. I opened two more dryers containing human skins until I found one that contained nothing but a warm, fresh load of adult human apparel which I placed on top of the dryer so that I could start my own cycle.

I felt afraid and alienated in the campus that I had grown accustomed to calling my home. Had the rats taken over the human students that had formerly lived here? Or had everyone who lived in Willets basement secretly been a rat all along? A lengthy list of random and disorganized queries flooded my brain cells, but ultimately, I was able to reach no conclusion. All that I know presently about the rats of Willets basement is that they exist and that they masquerade as human beings in the daytime, the rest of us unsuspecting as to their true nature.

Despite the horror that I experienced not but a short while ago, it would be irresponsible of me in this open letter to neglect my previous experience with the Willets basement-dwellers. Of course, in our hyper-sanitized, cosmopolitan society, rats have procured a reputation as disease-carrying pests and nothing else. It must be said, however, that I have had nothing but the most positive and mutually-beneficial relationship with the rats that live in Willets basement. They provide me guidance and true friendship, à la Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” on the frequent but unfortunate occasions that I am forced to venture down to that grievous warzone of a residential area. Never have I once felt attacked or threatened by their presence; instead, I find their camaraderie to be of the utmost quality and their conversation to be of the utmost interest on every subject, whether academic or not.

From this moment onwards, while I am still intrigued and even intimidated by the phenomenon of the Willets Basement Rats, I am committed to retaining their friendship and making Willets Hall a more accommodating space for rats to reside among humans. After all, is it not our duty as homo sapiens in this contemporary era to give back to the Wild Things of this world whenever possible? I plan to create a space safe for the rats of Willets basement by enacting such benevolent measures such as leaving food for them and raising awareness about them through means such as this very letter. If my short time here at Swarthmore College has taught me one key principle, it is to look out for the people (and rats!) around me. With every character that I have typed thus far, I have only become more and more acutely aware that these rats, to a greater extent than anyone else, are in need of an ally.

Ash Shukla

Anatole Shukla

Anatole Shukla '22 is an Editor Emeritus of The Phoenix. He is from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and studied economics, linguistics, and Russian language while at Swarthmore.

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