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

By Nina Pajak

Scene 1.

Last Saturday afternoon, I decided to drag myself away from the Breaking Bad streaming marathon and (begrudgingly, angrily) go to the gym for what I will acknowledge was some much-needed activity. Here is what I got in return for my good behavior: A panic attack.

I was on my way home after a pretty decent workout during which I burst into hysterical tears while on the elliptical due to something I was watching on the TV (note to all: crying while exercising is embarrassing, messy, and leads to hideous wheezing and spluttering noises; refrain from watching A League of Their Own on the treadmill).

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Feeling pretty decent, I make my way down to the 1 train just in time to watch the subway close its doors in my face and roll on without me. I reflexively looked back in the direction from which another train would hopefully emerge, and that is when I spotted a rat the size of my dog moseying around the platform, heading slowly (not slow enough! not slow enough!) towards me.

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Oh dear God. Oh holy crap. Please let a train be coming soon. I glanced up at the schedule board.

NINE MINUTES. Nine whole minutes until the next train.

And the rat continued to inch closer.

I began hopping up and down on my tiptoes and doing Lamaze breathing. An older man nearby looked at me sideways.

“There’s . . . a rat . . . on the platform!” I exclaimed, pointing dramatically.

He laughed. “Oh yeah! I thought I saw that!”

I looked at him in horror, then immediately snapped my gaze back onto the rat so as not to lose track of him. I felt dizzy and suddenly became convinced I would accidentally fall onto the tracks, at which point I’d be covered in rats. I backed away from the edge of the platform and continued my tiptoe dance as the man amiably chatting me off the proverbial ledge until the train arrived.

Scene 2.

A few days ago, I was walking with Gus to the dog run at around 7:00 a.m. You know 7:00 a.m. Broad daylight, birds singing, people milling about, broad daylight. All of a sudden, I saw movement on the sidewalk up ahead. A giant rat the size of two of my dogs skittered from behind a planter and sprinted half a block, under awnings and past front doors, then disappeared behind another planter.

I stopped dead in my tracks, choked up on the leash and bolted for the opposite corner. Gus didn’t know what hit him, but it was a great game.

When I’d caught my breath and composed myself, I started to get a little angry. What. The. Hell! What in the world is going on around here? Did I miss a headline? Did the rats win in some sort of species war, and are we now at their mercy? Did we sign a peace accord or change the terms of our deal?

Because, in the immortal and never-too-often-used words of George Costanza, once again, we had a deal.

Here’s the deal: We live here. Rats live here. Both parties are aware of the other. They don’t come into our homes, and we don’t play around in their ivy beds. If anyone violates those terms, that individual’s fate is his or her own problem. During the day, the streets are our domain. We hustle and bustle and drop trash on the ground and spill things and make noise and stomp our feet a lot. That’s when the rats lay low, because they don’t like us anymore than we them. But at night, the rats emerge to feast and fight and poop and do whatever other nasty crap they do. And we know it. We don’t stay home after the sun goes down, but we know the rules. There’s risk. The rats could be anywhere. One could run over your foot if you’re not careful. Those are the breaks.

But now, evidently, the game has been changed. We can’t count on safety while the sun is up. They’re like vampires who discovered some secret to surviving the daylight, and now all bets are off. Nothing is certain. No one is safe.

I’m going to have to start carrying a spear.


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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