New York City Diary

Words and pictures from my interesting life in New York.

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Monday, May 09, 2005

Rat Circus

It is Monday night. The Yankees have won, and I turned off the Pacers-Pistons game in the third quarter so I could write this.

I left work at 6:30 p.m. and went to the dojo for a 7:00 p.m. karate class. The class was excellent. Lots of sweat and energy, exactly unlike sitting at a desk, no matter how hard I'm Lexis-Nexising.

After the karate class ended I got cleaned up and walked to the nearest subway, which is the F train at 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue. Now is the time we talk about the rats of New York.

We in New York City enjoy the company of a type of rat known as the Norway Rat (Rattus Norvegicus, for you fans of Latin or Black Flag). Here's a good description.

The New York neighborhood known as Chelsea is, for some reason, Rat Central of New York City. This is both from rat reports published in The New York Times and my own research over ten years.

The rattiest Subway station is definitely the 23rd Street F-train station, particularly the downtown platform. Super-specifically, the south end of the downtown platform, right by the tunnel entrance, where they keep bags of trash waiting to be picked up.

It's also where I have to stand and wait for the F train to be well-positioned to meet my connection to the L-train, one stop away at 14th Street. Real New Yorkers will understand that one. Rat or no rat, nobody wants to miss the connection.

But tonight, as I was coming home from karate, there was a Rat Circus on the south end of the downtown 23rd Street platform. I almost always see rats when I wait for the F train there (actually, I think I can safely say always) but tonight was the absolute rattiest it's ever been. It was, and I mean this literally, filthy with rats.

It's one thing to see a rat down by the subway tracks. That's nothing. But rats were swarming all over these bags of garbage on the platform level. They were squirming and crawling all over each other to get to the garbage.

There are two dirty blue sheet metal dumpster things, like big lockers that the workers put garbage in while it waits for the "trash train" to pick it up. More on the trash train another time, but in a word, you don't ever want to see the trash train.

Anyway, rats always find their way into these trash lockers, but worse, there are almost always bags of trash next to and on top of these lockers, and those trash bags are always crawling with rats.

One of the symbols of New York City should be a half-full black plastic trash bag that's moving and wriggling from the inside. For me it's more of a symbol of Chelsea, for I live in clean, sanitary, rat-free Brooklyn (yeah right). Actually I had a rat incident here once that I don't want to talk about right now.

The most amazing thing about tonight's Rat Circus was that I witnessed several big (one-pound plus) rats scaling the corners of these big metal trash lockers to get to the trash bags up on top. I couldn't believe how adept at climbing these rats were.

They were crawling into the bag that had been tossed on top of the garbage locker. There were about six or eight rats that I could see at any one time (I was standing about ten feet away, disgusted but also a bit fascinated, obviously) and I imagine there were at least three more inside the trash bags. Ugh! Grey and brown and whiskery and nodding all the time and squeaking and crawling over each other with their scaly tails.

The big rats certainly had priority over the smaller ones. The big rats would literally walk right over the small ones to get at the trash. One big rat almost knocked the smaller one off the side of the garbage locker to the platform about five feet below. I was hoping he would fall but he hung on, the rat-faced rat.

Rats are absolutely vile for so many reasons.

In Africa, when you go on a game safari, the guides usually can't guarantee you'll see lions. Well, I can most certainly guarantee you'll see rats at the 23rd Street F-train station in New York City. Rat safari!

One time, when I was working as a freelance fact checker at Forbes, which is on Fifth Avenue in the Village right above Washington Square Park, I saw an art student girl with a pet rat out on the sidewalk in front of the school in the place art students smoke cigarettes (the art school was next door to Forbes).

She let the rat crawl all over her, through her hair, along her shoulders. She was giving the rat little kisses. I almost got ill. I wanted to tell her "Congratulations. You have successfully differentiated yourself from others. Perhaps you are a true artist. A contrarian. You have become completely disgusting."

But I didn't say these things, though I do remember actually having a physical gag reflex.

I'll try to wrap up this rat tale but there's one more thing. I was standing there watching rats eat garbage on the F-train platform at 23rd Street, waiting for the where-is-that-f**king train, and the platform was getting crowded.

A guy, white guy, mid 50's, kind of bumbles past me, not paying much attention, and goes over to the nearer of the two garbage lockers and starts to lean against it, and I immediately went up to him and said "no, you don't want to lean against that, it's a rat circus!"

This is all a true story, by the way.

There were two trash lockers. The farthest locker had the trash (and rat party) on top of it, and the closer one just had internal rats and rats around the base, but not on top. He was leaning on the closer one, but still, as soon as he turned his head to see where I was gesturing he said "oh" and moved away from Rat Nation. We both kind of shared a New York look as we marveled at the rats. Then he said "I guess I should thank you. Thank you."

I said "You're welcome." We wished each other good nights. It was about 8:30 p.m. The train came and we both got on. He was a Jewish guy, or at least he was wearing a yarmulke.

I transferred to the L train at 14th and came home to Brooklyn. Beautiful, clean, rat-free Brooklyn.


Blogger Jenn said...

Ah... beautiful, clean, rat-free Brooklyn--as long as workmen aren't digging up the street in front of your apartment to lay down new sewage pipes.
Glad this rat sighting took place a borough away.

11:35 PM  
Blogger x said...

Good post. I remember that spot vividly, too. Used to jump on the train back to Park Slope there from Variety when we were in Chelsea. What possesses the City to allow trash accumulation in what is undoubtedly the rattiest tunnel network in the developed world?

3:33 PM  

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