The Existential Dilemma of Oswald the Sewer Rat
Mar 31, 2023
The year was 1976, the year of our nation’s bicentennial, and Oswald was a sewer rat living his best life in the big city. It was a good time to be a sewer rat. The nation’s cities were as filthy as ever. Smog was in the air, litter was on the ground, and raw sewage flowed underground. Oswald’s small world circulated within a few hundred meters of the sewage grates next to the dumpster of Pistol Pete’s Pizza & Taco Restaurant & Sports Bar. It was wildly popular with both college students and the rats who lived nearby. Oswald’s favorite meal was beer marinaded dumpster French fries.
But Oswald wasn't really happy. He had been running the rat race for a long time, and he was very burnt out. He told his friends and family how burnt out he was, but they just encouraged him to toughen up. That things would get better. But things didn't get better, and one day Oswald had a meltdown. In the middle of the night, several hours after a large human celebration on the streets above, Oswald started screaming, “I can't take this anymore!” He was inconsolable. He laid on the sewage soaked concrete and sobbed. All the rats surrounded him and gave him some much needed love and support, but they couldn't make Oswald feel any better. Oswald whimpered himself to sleep that night. The next day, Oswald’s family and friends got together and they discussed the situation. They decided that Oswald worked long enough, and hard enough, and that he deserved a better life.
They built Oswald a nice home made out of a large cardboard box. They filled it with couches and televisions. They made it as comfortable as possible for Oswald. They got Oswald a clean comfy pair of boxer shorts with hearts printed on them. Now he could lounge around on his couches in peace and comfort. The other rats brought him beer marinaded dumpster French fries every night.
Oswald was now quite content. He enjoyed his tv shows. He enjoyed his couches, but most of all, he really enjoyed the peace and quiet. Oswald was a rat though, and lounging around all day was a little boring. Eventually Oswald started picking at his furniture. Eventually he broke it into pieces. He did the same to his televisions. He gradually pieced them back together. Eventually these rebuilt pieces became a maze. And then the last of the pieces turned into a large spinning wheel in the center of the box. This all happened so slowly and so gradually that Oswald didn't even notice what he was doing. Eventually Oswald was running nonstop on the wheel.
Oswald couldn't believe he had done this to himself. He was once again sad, and this time a bit angry. After many, many hours running on his wheel, he finally screamed out, “Why!!! Why is this happening to me! I don't wanna be here anymore!” Then suddenly a hand reached down and pulled Oswald out of his box.
Oswald found himself high up in the air, in the arms of a large caped superhero.
“Who are you?” exclaimed Oswald.
“Hi, I am Adlai Championella. I am the president of the Greater Earth Superhero Guild. And you, Oswald, are a very special creature.”
“I am?” Oswald asked.
“You certainly are, Oswald. And earth could use could use a superhero just like you.”
“Well I don't feel like much of a superhero. In fact I don't feel like much of a rat.”
“Ha ha ha!” laughed Adlai. “Well maybe it's because you've never really been given a job with purpose.”
Oswald thought for a second. “Well maybe. But what kind of purpose could I have as a sewer rat?”
“Oswald, you have a very special skill that the earth could use right now. As we speak, hundreds of Doomsday machines are being built across planet earth by some of the most dastardly villains alive. Us superheroes watched in awe as you took apart those televisions and sofas in your box, and pieced and them back together to make exercise equipment. Not only is the world in danger from the Doomsday machines, the children of planet earth are growing increasingly out of shape. The world could use someone like you Oswald. You're the hero we've all been waiting for.”
The superhero guild fashioned a cape for Oswald. It was dark grey with a bright pink O. It complimented his heart boxers nicely. So Oswald set out around the world dismantling Doomsday machines. He methodically picked apart each machine. He then re-purposed the parts into playground equipment for the children of the world. He built metal jungle gyms, half geodesic dome's, seesaws, 30 foot tall metal sliding boards, monkey bar swing set combinations, and all sizes of spinning metal merry-go-rounds.
Eventually Oswald got to the final Doomsday device. It has been built by the great villain, Minquo Zebulon. Even this monstrous machine was no match for Oswald. In no time at all, Oswald took the machine apart. He then build the last of the world’s greatest collections of metal playground equipment.
Oswald was actually very happy at this point in his life. He found purpose, and now he could go back to his retirement. He found a really nice playground with some of his best work. He built himself a little nest out of mulch underneath of one of his 30 foot metal sliding boards. Luckily for Oswald, nearby was a restaurant with a dumpster that had plenty of beer marinaded dumpster fries. He lived there for many years in peace.
Over the years, the children of the world played on Oswald’s metal playground equipment. Most the time they were very happy, but every once in a while somebody got hurt. The parents of the world grew impatient and eventually demanded change. By the mid 1990’s, Oswald's fantastic gym equipment was being torn out at a frantic pace and replaced with new equipment made out of composite plastics.
And then one day it finally happened. In late 1999, Oswald’s happy retirement changed forever. Workers from the city came in and removed the last of metal playground equipment, including the sliding board that was Oswald's roof. The workmen quickly put in a new much shorter composite sliding board. This new sliding board wasn’t the same. It was a translucent orange color, and created an annoying orange glow inside of Oswald’s home throughout the day. That extra sunlight also made his home very hot. And the plastics, when heated up by the sun, released toxic fumes. Oswald was hot, and he smelled really bad. It wasn't long before Oswald once again cried out, “I can't take this anymore! Somebody please get me out of here!” And once again a hand reach down and pulled Oswald out of his home.
Oswald was now held in the air at eye level by the angriest looking man he had ever seen. He was tall, skinny, and had short grey hair with a neatly trimmed grey beard and mustache. We wore a designer gray suit, with a grey shirt, and a black tie. He stared at Oswald through his wire framed glasses with thick, slightly tinted round lenses.
“Are you Oswald the rat?”
“The same Oswald the rat that dismantled all of the world’s greatest Doomsday machines?”
“Yes? Who are you?”
I’m Minquo Zebulon. You destroyed my baby,” (he paused and took a deep breath) “and I want it back.”
“Well I don't know how I can help you do that.”
“Well you took it apart. I'm sure you know how to put it together just as fast.”
“Yeah, but all the parts are gone. Just a few months ago the workmen came in and took all the old playground equipment away.”
“Yes I know. Minquo seethed. “Who do you think lobbied all the local politicians all around the world to remove those metal atrocities?”
“Wow.” Oswald whimpered in return.
“It was easy. I went from town to town, and city to city, and as they replaced their gym equipment, I bought all the scraps. And now Oswald, I have an offer for you. Come with me to my island lair and help me rebuild the Doomsday machine. You and I together. We will live in peace and quiet for the rest of our lives.”
The offer was certainly intriguing. Oswald had longed for many years to live in peace and quiet. Though he wasn’t really fond of the idea of destroying the world for it.
“Well, it sounds like a good idea, but do we really have to destroy the world with the doomsday machine?”
“That Oswald, is not up to us. That is up to the world.”
“You mean they don't have to be destroyed?”
“Not if we get what we want. And what do we want? A little peace and quiet.” Minquo explained.
Oswald nodded in agreement. That's all he ever really wanted.
So Oswald and Minquo Zebulon got on a jet, and they flew to Minquo's island in the middle of the ocean. Oswald was once again back at work. It didn't take him long to get the doomsday machine rebuilt. He was down to the last few pieces. But the last big piece was very tricky. This was the detonation laser. Oswald looked at it carefully. He had only seen this particular laser once before, and that was when he disassembled this same machine years ago. He wasn't sure which end of it faced out, and which end of it faced inward. If the machine were used, and it was installed backwards, it would destroy everybody in the glass dome protective chamber on top of the machine.
And then Oswald stopped. He really didn't know what to do. Oswald was a little unsure of how the laser should go in the machine, but he had an OK idea. What stopped Oswald was deciding which way it “should” go in. Should he destroy humanity? Or should he destroy Minquo Zebulon, along with himself? He really wasn't sure. He sat for a long time and thought to himself about the pros and cons of each decision.
And then he heard Minquo shout out, “Let's go Oswald! Times a wasting!”.
So Oswald made up his mind. He put the laser in, screwed in the connecting bolts, and went up to the top of the machine towards the glass dome.
When Oswald reached the entrance to the chamber, Minquo was standing there.
“Hi Minquo, are we ready?”
Minquo responded by kicking Oswald as hard as he could. As Oswald flew through the air he could hear Minquo laughing and the door shutting. Oswald finally landed in a patch of grass about 100 meters from the foot of the Doomsday machine. Oswald could hear him laughing through the glass from a distance even after the door closed.
Suddenly the machine turned on. Gears started turning. Everything was lit up. Oswald got to his feet. He just stood and stared while all of this was happening. Even through the sound of the grinding machine, he could hear Minquo laughing from within his glass enclosure. The laser tip started to glow, and there was a high-pitched noise that got louder and louder. Then there was a loud boom. The glass enclosure lit up like the sun with the brightest yellow you could imagine. And then there was a pop. And with that popping noise, red splatters hit the glass walls inside of the enclosure. And as it hit the glass walls, it started sizzling, and turned brown, and then black. The doomsday machine started to rattle, and then shake, and then the glass enclosure on top fell into heart of the machine. There was a large explosion followed by an intensely hot fire. The doomsday machine and the remains of Minquo Zebulon burned into a solid molten chunk.
As the fire started to recede, up walked a man in full military dress uniform.
“Oswald, is that you?”
“I’m so glad you got here first. I am General Victor Powers, head of the United States Armed Forces. You Oswald, are a hero. While the world was celebrating New Year’s Eve of the new millennium, you were here, doing a hero’s work. And because of our Y2K equipment failure, we had no chance of getting here on time. Thankfully you beat us to Minquo’s island lair, and you saved the world. All of humanity is in debt to you.”
Oswald and the general flew back to the United States. Oswald was given a hero’s parade on 5th Avenue in New York City. He was then taken to the UN headquarters. There, the Secretary General of the United Nations gave Oswald the highest award ever given to any animal of planet earth.
“Oswald, what you have done for humanity is unparalleled in the annals of the rat/human coexistence. The world can't thank you enough. Is there anything that we can do for you in return?’
“Well” Oswald said after a moment of deep thought, “I really liked it when I lived in that box in the sewer, with a nice soft couch, and the televisions, and a comfy pair of boxer shorts.
So the world put its resources together and rebuilt Oswald's box. But this time the box was not made out of cardboard, it was made out of brick and the walls were painted a soothing ecru hue. The furniture was soft but indestructible. And the televisions were covered with inch thick acrylic sheets. As well, Oswald got a new pair of boxer shorts with hearts printed on them. And every day Oswald was served unlimited helpings of beer marinaded dumpster French fries.
Oswald lived out his remaining years enjoying his retirement. In those later years, I went and visited Oswald myself, and I asked him this question, “How did you know which way to insert the laser in the Doomsday machine?
“Well, I don't know, I really just took my best guess.”
“So you guessed correctly!”
It was an incredibly uncomfortable pause, so I interrupted it by asking the question again, “You did guess correctly, didn't you?”
Oswald snapped out of his haze, and looked at me and said, “Well sure, I guess I did.”