Helmut Groendenberger ca. 1924

A Rat's Belly Measures Man's Folly

(The following is excerpted from a speech given by Helmut Groendenberger to the Dorcas Circle of St. Gretchen’s in February of the year 1928. Groendenberger had just completed a successful term as the “Rat King” of 1927 and was about to embark on a wildly popular lecture tour. Most people are familiar with his endearing “hearth chats,” but until now only scholars, and of course that original group of 11 Dorcas, had the privilege to experience Groendenberger’s fiercely human spirit in its unrefined form. Now you too can bear witness to the genius and charisma of the “Rat King” against whom all others are measured.)

The Dorcas Circle of St. Gretchen's

Thank you, fine women of the Dorcas Circle, for the immensely satisfying opportunity to speak before you this afternoon. Thanks are also in order for the wonderful kitchen staff that so ably accommodated my dietary concerns. The aspic indeed looked appetizing and I greatly regret my inability to digest rendered suet.

I have had little experience in speaking about the work of Adolph’s Rat Brigade [ed. note: as this speech was given prior to the outbreak of the 2nd Great War the Rat Patrol was still known by it’s original name] to those other than fellow Ratsmen. That said, please be patient with me as I find a voice for the passion which characterizes the A.R.B.

Flesh rots! Iron rusts! The twine breaks and the dogs are loose! What are you doing? The day is at hand when you too will be forced to live by your wits, by your cunning. You. What is your name? [woman answers, “Mrs. Harold Scranton”] Mrs. Harold Scranton how long do you think the contents of your ash can would support you? Don’t answer. What if I were to tell you that not only could you survive indefinitely, but that you could thrive?

The wheels of industry may grind to a halt, but the bowels of refuse continue to belch out their rich mulch. Let us fertilize the gardens of our lives with the quenching drool of commerce. Let the industrialists manufacture their goods from the raw goods of Mother Nature. I will take their refined oil, smelted iron, pasteurized milk and create a product they could never imagine: Ratopia!

Some of you may find these ideas a bit difficult upon first encountering them. I truly do understand why you want The New. There is a thrill, a novelty in goods that have been created and then deposited in your hands. You have power over them. They were made for you. Or were they? I propose that The New subverts you to the role of servant under a master named Progress. I hear your questioning grumbles. My ideas are not wholly accepted even among the Ratsmen. I sympathize with your apprehension, but I must stress this: I am right.

Forgive me Mrs. Harold Scranton, but I will further utilize you as an example (with your permission of course). Dear, How much do you budget for Mr. Scranton’s morning sup? [Mrs. Scranton’s reply is inaudible on the source tape] Outrageous! Mrs. Groendenberger is able to fill my belly for a mere nothing. That’s right. Nothing. While you are at your market spending and spending the Missus and I are in the alley behind your guest quarters sifting through the days discards. Just when you believe all the nutrition has been squeezed from that sausage casing I step in and uncover a flavor yet unknown. You have consumed the style of the thing: I the substance. French stockings: anathema to me. Corrupt that fine silk, relinquish it to the ash can and it may be of some use to me. I have only contempt for your finery. Frippery cannot elevate you, but I believe it may bury you. I shall adorn myself with your discarded follies and foil your foolishness. It matters not the article’s manufacturer, but instead its savior.

Once again, thank you all for your hospitality. I do hope that my talk has been at least somewhat enlightening. I would also like to cordially invite you all to the A.R.B.’s Spring Biennial. This year’s theme will be: “The Safety Bicycle. A coward’s mount.” Thank you and good afternoon.