A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.

By Nina Pajak

Much has been made of late of Joseph Bolanos and his “rat crossing” signs on the Upper West Side.

It’s been covered on local news, on blogs, in every free subway rag, in The New York Times, even (mysteriously) on thehollywoodgossip.com.

In case you’ve somehow avoided it: Bolanos is the president of the West 76th Street Block Association. In an effort to bring more attention to the nightmarish rat problem in the area which he says has been exacerbated by a nearby construction project, he created fake road signs and posted them around the neighborhood. The rat in his sign is pretty dastardly looking, hunched over, ears back, nose pointy, stringy tail alert and nearly spilling over the border. Definitely your standard-issue, Upper West Side rat.

Nothing at all like Rizzo and the rest of his Muppet rat pals. I mean, if our rats wore hobo coats and spoke in high-pitched Brooklyn accents, I think I’d be feeling a lot more neighborly towards the little creeps.

But as it is, they’ve been plaguing me far longer than Bolanos’s construction dumpsters have been on the scene.

There was a time, when I lived just a couple of blocks away from the one in the news, when I was pretty sure that one day my buzzer would ring, and rather than the Chinese food delivery guy, a giant rat with a suitcase and a semiautomatic weapon would be standing in front of my door ready to hijack my home.

Whenever I had to leave or return home after dark, they’d be everywhere, without a care in the world. Crisscrossing the sidewalks, tussling in the street like wild dogs (and roughly the same size), darting out from underneath cars and garbage hutches onto unsuspecting feet. One time, I stepped on one as it lunged in front of me. I could feel its weight with the sole of my sneaker, and that feeling traveled like lightening through my entire body. It felt like I’d had rats crawling all over me. I used stomp down my block loudly, yelling “YOU’D BETTER STAY AWAY FROM ME, RATS NO RATS NO RATS NORATSNORATSNORATSNORATSNONONO!!!” I considered carrying a SuperSoaker with me wherever I went, but the logistics proved too difficult.

When friends from non-rat infested areas would come to visit, I’d warn them about the problem. They’d say, I don’t see any rats, and then I’d start pointing out the scurrying silhouettes all around us with a sharp-shooter’s accuracy. Bam: rat. Bam: rat. Ping: rat. Kapow: another rat. Slowly, their eyes would refocus and they’d realize that we were surrounded. The street before us was like a moving minefield. Like something out of a scene from an Indiana Jones movie.

There was no dumpster. There were rarely any dumpsters. Occasionally, there were craft services vans from nearby film shoots, and they’d leave a mountain of food trash behind. But mostly, they just lived there. Sometimes the block association would band together to lay down poison, but I always got the feeling that our lone rental building was non-compliant. I don’t know why. It probably had something to do with the fact that suddenly ALL the rats were living in our bushes and under our garbage structure. That, and all the dirty looks we’d get as the tenants of the non-compliant, derelict landlord’s building. I can’t say I blame them.

Now, our current block is blissfully rat-free. Like some people who have managed to memorize street parking regulations around the city, I have a mental map of rat and rat-free blocks on the Upper West Side. I’m thrilled that Mr. Bolanos has gotten some widespread attention for the issue, but I don’t foresee a time when our neighborhood will be purged of rodents. One day, they and the cockroaches and mosquitoes will organize and rise up, and we will all be forced to move to the suburbs or invest in some heavy artillery and suits of armor and steel-soled boots. The end.


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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