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Nina In New York: And I Still Refuse To See “Ratatouille,” Too.

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Ratholes next to the Tompkins Square Park Playground (credit: Terry Sheridan/1010 WINS)

Ratholes next to the Tompkins Square Park Playground (credit: Terry Sheridan/1010 WINS)

A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.
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By Nina Pajak

Oh, the rats. Ratsratsratsrats. Rats in Tompkins Square Park, “rabbit-sized” rats in Grand Army Plaza, rats here, rats there, rats everywhere.

Seriously. Everywhere. Especially on my old block.

It’s one of those beautifully picturesque pre-war Manhattan blocks lined with trees and impossibly lovely single-family brownstones and townhouses. And, um, our apartment building, which was . . . slightly less charming. Be that as it may, it was on all sort of “prettiest streets” lists year after year, which was well-deserved. We even had a celebrity of “Sex and the City” fame a few doors down. Of course, when the sun began to go down, it was a slightly different scene. A rat scene. Not quite as big as a big rabbit, but perhaps bigger than a small Chihuahua.

As we were coming home from work or walking the dog for the evening, we’d see them running about in the street, play-fighting with one another, gnawing on a bit of orange rind, riding bicycles and skateboards and selling Rolex watches out of their trenchcoats. You know—rat stuff. When I turned onto my corner at night, I’d freeze in utter terror as they crisscrossed the sidewalk in front of me. My heart would leap into my throat and I’d stand there for a while, paralyzed. Then I’d gather up all my courage and begin stomping and yelling as loudly as I could, repeating a sort of half-hearted hollered Maori war chant to simultaneously send my enemy scattering and give me the strength to get to my door.

“I’M HERE RATS! YOU’D BETTER STAY AWAY! GET AWAY FROM ME, RATS! NO NO NO RATS!”

Okay, so maybe it was a little more Jewish grandma than Maori tribesman. But you have to remember that I can really project. And you know, rats don’t speak English.

On winter mornings when I’d rise before the sun to go to the gym, I’d stand at my windowed front door, staring out at the sidewalk. In order to get there, I’d need to cross a very small area next to our building’s garbage hutch, which I also suspected to double as a rat hotel. I would wait and watch, quietly, patiently, like a really really freaked out panther, to see if any little rodent would choose the same moment as I to dart out into the street. When I was satisfied or realized I’d been standing in our vestibule for ten minutes in my coat and hat, I’d throw open the door and break into an all-out sprint, squealing the whole way until I made it to the corner. I  misjudged once and had a rat run directly under my foot, brushing the sole of my sneaker. It took all my strength not to set it on fire that instant. My sneaker, that is. Not the rat. Or my foot.

I know at least two people who have had their actual feet run over by rats, one in broad daylight. And she was wearing sandals. Dear god. The humanity.

Naturally, Animal Planet has announced a new show for their fall season, entitled “Rat Busters NYC,” in which (according to the network’s website) “New York’s finest and most entertaining exterminators, Jimmy Tallman and Michael Morales of Magic Exterminating (a New York City and Long Island based company), invite cameras to see just what’s ‘rat’tling New Yorkers. These Brooklyn-born pest experts strip away the city’s protective veil as they bring the reality of the army of vermin that are a part of The Big Apple’s immense population to light.”

Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I pretty much can’t think of a single thing I’d rather watch less. If I wanted to see hoards of rats, I’d just take a moonlit walk in my neighborhood. Any of us could. If I have “the city’s protective veil” stripped away any further, I will literally just start barfing all over the place all the time. That’s not an exaggeration. People make a lot of jokes about reality television, but I cannot fathom how infestation is entertainment. Infestation is infestation, and it’s freaking people around here the eff out.

Rats the size of rabbits, people! Now in your own home, through the magic of television! Do you even know how big a rabbit can get? Way big! Thanks, television.

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Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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