ZERO PLUS 1109 DAYS,--New York, NY, Saturday,
September 25, 2004--A
rat is a rat is a rat! Or, is it?
can be little doubt that the vast majority of humanity looks
upon rats as they do Terrorists.
for carrying such horrible diseases as the bubonic plague
and living in the sewers and subways where infestation and
disease breed, the rat has little chance of being considered
a "pet" or a "buddy" or a "pal"
or something you might let kiss you, sleep with you or crawl
all over your body.
are famous for carrying the plague and other disgusting
that's what Jake allows Sheetee to do.
female rat, he says, thinks he's her mother and acts that
way. Whiskers twitching, Sheetee crawls all over Jake, an
East Village Street Person--his tatooed arms, neck, face,
head...just about any where she wants.
ran into Jake and Sheetee on my way home to catch the last
few innings of the away Yankee/Red Sox game on tv.
irony of seeing a rat crawling all over a human being at 9
p.m. on a Friday night in the heart of the East Village stopped
me in my tracks. Suddenly, the Red Sox and Yankees had little
priority over the Rats of New York City.
in the day I scheduled myself to attend a special Rat Terrorization
Meeting being held next Thursday evening at 6:30 pm on Bowery
Street. It seems a major infestation of rats has the community
disturbed, and Thursday's meeting is all about rallying the
Sentinels of Rat Prevention to action.
community is holding a "Terror Rats" meeting
next week since current rat-abatement techniques have
days ago I was a major fan of executing every rat in sight.
On my way home in the middle of the afternoon I came across
the body of huge dead rat stretched out in the middle of the
rat's carcass formed a No Walk Zone directly in front of STOMP,
one of New York City's famous shows where performers use garbage
cans and other common items to produce beats the dancers choreograph
to the delight of the audience. It would seem impossible a
rat would be anywhere near the beats emanating from the building.
live just around the corner from STOMP. The dead rat was violating
my community, my backyard.
took some pictures of the rat. Flies were feasting on his
body, and from tip of his nose to his tail was close, if not
more than, two feet. I didn't get that close obtain an exact
rat formed a "No Walk Zone" in front of STOMP
couple of things bothered me as I stepped back as any good
journalist and tried to dispatch my feelings by observing
the actions of others. Everyone was veering around the rat's
body. It was right in the middle of the sidewalk--like a Terrorist
with explosives strapped around its body.
surprised me at first that no one moved the rat at least by
kicking it off the walkway into the gutter. Instead, people
stepped out in the street or hugged the wall as water splits
when it hits a boulder in the middle of the river. Also, I
looked into the window of STOMP and sitting there was a big,
strong guy eye balling the rat. The rat was intruding on STOMP's
terrority--in fact, it was barricading STOMP's front door--but
then it was early afternoon, and the show was hours away.
Still, I wondered why the guy just sat on his stool looking
at the rat.
took my pictures, getting close up and personal with the rat.
I've seen lots of rats in my life--the biggest and ugliest
in Vietnam. They often required blasting with a .45 caliber
to exterminate them, and would pull the traps we set as though
they were elephants.
was also an anti-rat guy regarding my younger daughter. She
fervidly despises and fears rats. I would say, she has Rat
apartment building in the East Village on First Street was
built on top of old coal bins, well over a century plus old.
Below the ground were deep caverns where rats have bred for
decades, and slip up through holes in the concrete they chew
to feast on humanity's garbage.
of the rat entrances was near my daughter's apartment door
and she would run wildly at night to stab her key in the door
and enter before the fleeting body of a scuttling rat sent
her into emotional shock.
younger daughter has a rat phobia and used to live in
a rat infested neighborhood
this particular daughter carries two 9mm Glocks. She's a federal
special agent and can shoot the eyes out of rat at 25 yards,
but, the mere sight of a New York City Rat at night puts her
into a state of apoplexy. She now lives in the Bronx with
her husband and doesn't miss the rats.
times when I would walk her home at night after coffee, I
made all kinds of noise while she waited across the street
under the lights of the Mobil station until all the rats had
fled--for the moment.
the coast was clear, I'd yell "Go!" and she would
make an Olympic dash for the door I had opened with her key
so she could leap inside, free from Rat Sight.
second concern I had about the STOMP rat was my grandchildren.
We have three of them who are constantly negotiating the sidewalks
of the East Village. I thought of this dead rat fouling the
cement, as though it wasn't already fouled, with the intent
of leaving some vile disease that might crawl up and roost
upon one of our grandchildren.
after watching the dead rat for a good ten minutes, and noting
that the hundreds and hundreds of passing people avoided it
like the "plague," I decided to be a Rat Sentinel
six-four and 265 pounds, a former Marine combat veteran, I
sucked in a deep breath so no one would notice the sweat dripping
from my brow and marched up to the dead rat.
stood there for a moment as though I were looking at the fly-infested
and decaying body of Osama bin Laden and pondered if I really
wanted to risk any body contact with the rat, however insulated
it might be.
looked down at my feet. I had just purchased a great prize--Timberlake
loafers that normally retail for well over $100 for $34 on
sale at Paragon Sports near Union Square, a few blocks northwest
of us. I also had these shoes shined the day before with my
grandson at a famous shoe shine stand on 42nd and 5th Avenue.
I touch the body of a dead rat with these wonderfully new
and shiny shoes? Or, did my grand kids come first?
didn't stomp the rat, but I did kick it
could feel the guy inside STOMP was watching me. So were passersby
who noted this big giant of a guy standing next to a dead
rat. I wondered if they thought I was going to STOMP it, or,
in keeping with the weird nature of the East Village, eat
the dead rat.
kicked the rat.
didn't want to touch it with my foot, or any part of my body,
or even make contact with it even if I was wearing a biological
protective suit. But I did. I kicked the rat.
scooted a few feet. I kicked it again, not too hard so things
on it like germs and bugs and fleas might leap from the body
to me. I kicked it again until I gave it one firm toe drop
sending its dead body into the gutter next to a parking meter.
turned around and there was the guy in STOMP and a young woman
looking at me. They didn't give me a High Five, they just
looked. I didn't hear anyone applaud, and frankly didn't care.
My mission was to remove the rat for my grandchildren.
was the Grandpa of Rat Vigilance, not the community Pied Piper.
But I did think of other grandchildren. I thought of all the
people skirting the Terror Rat and leaving its bucolic potential
ripe to infect a child.
hated rats, too.
that changed when I turned the corner on St. Marks Place onto
2nd Avenue to see the Red Sox lose to the Yankees.
sat Jake and Sheetee.
were almost directly across from STOMP where some 24 hours
earlier I had kicked the body of a dead rat into the gutter,
and vowed to eradicate all the rats I could in the East Village.
I saw Sheetee lovingly caressing Jake, a homeless guy whose
only friend it appeared it was rat...but not any rat.
said he and Sheetee had a 'father daughter relationship'
for only a week but it looked like it had been from
the rat's birth
was clean and friendly. I thought it was a big mouse at first,
and then Jake corrected me and told me Sheetee was a rat.
I asked how he came to train her and how old she was. They
had been 'father and daughter', he said, for only a week,
but their relationship looked like it had been from birth.
this," Jake said pointing to the bandage on his left
shoulder, "The Ninth Precinct did this to me."
knew what he mean. Jake was part of the street people group
who live where they can, eat what they can find left by others,
and get as much money as they can panhandle. He was younger
than most of the street people, but the tattoos covering his
body suggested he had been on roads less traveled for most
of his life.
I asked what Sheetee's name was, Jake told me it was S-H-I-_.
I asked him how he came by that name, and he told me that
the rat had done that on him in Tompkins Square Park, his
long have you had her," I asked. He told me she had been
with him a week.
she's so loving...how'd you train her to be so docile...rats
are instinctively afraid of humans..."
thinks I'm her mother," Jake said as Sheetee crawled
over his face and around his neck, down his arm and back up
to his neck.
if I refer to her as Sheetee, it's the diminutive of the name
you gave her."
told me Sheetee thought he was her mother
let me take pictures. He didn't ask for any money.
told him about the Anti-Rat meeting on Thursday on Bowery
Street, and suggested he come with Sheetee and protest that
not all rats are bad rats. He laughed. Thursday was an eternity
away to a homeless man.
started home to watch the game. I thought about Jake and his
pet rat. A New York City rat had befriended a homeless man
for some bizarre reasons. The rules of nature had twisted,
and in the process, made me stop and wonder if I should consider
all rats bad, evil, corrupt, not worthy of life.
wondered how many people think all Muslims are Terrorists,
or all Republicans are capitalistic pigs who will eat their
children rather than part with a buck, or, how many Republicans
think all Democrats are geek-necked, liberal egg suckers?
there is the dark hole of prejudice where all blacks are niggers
and all hispanics are spics and all white people are honkies
and all asians are chinks and all police are pigs, and George
Bush works for Halliburton.
have kicked a number of rats in my life, forgetting that by
blackballing everyone or everything about a person, place
or thing I eclipse any miracles that might happen, shut down
the possibility that there might be hope for the world to
unite under common beliefs while retaining individual differences.
hard to change your opinion of rats when you grow up
hard to change one's opinion of a rat when you grow up hating
them and blinding yourself to the fact that all rats aren't
necessarily bad or evil or corrupt. After watching Sheetee
for a good ten minutes, I almost could see my grand kids playing
with her--as long as she was bathed and de-fleaed.
played with mice all day, and hampsters...why not a rat.
thought about the Red Sox. They had become rats to me. Evil.
Corrupt humans trying to destroy New York's faith and belief
in the Yankees. Ugly Red Sox.
thought about Terrorism in general. Fear, Intimidation and
Complacency all conspire to blind us. Complacency is the worst,
for we just give up on the possibility that some rats can
be good and start to bury any rat we see.
I wondered if the rat that died in front of STOMP might have
been Sheetee's mother...or maybe her father...or even her
grandmother or grandfather?
had I kicked?
had I written off as an ugly, worthless old rat?
I am a Sentinel of Vigilance, I need to think through hating
rats and wonder if a Sheetee might be giving love to a guy
from the streets that no one else is willing to love. Maybe
the guy isn't just another "street person" who comes
and goes and the world passes by.
Nature showed a feral rat can become a loving friend
if there is love inside and outside
Nature dropped a rat into Jake's lap, and showed anyone interested
that a feral rat can become a loving friend in virtually no
time, if there is love inside the outside.
at Jake's outsides, it might be hard to see a mother or a
father. You might also find it hard to imagine that Jake was
bubbling with so much love from some part of his inner self
that a rat cast aside every instinct of Fear of humans to
consider Jake his mother, his friend, his Sentinel of Vigilance.
is full of surprises.
again I learned to take a step back and look for the
bit of good in the bad
learned a lot last night.
learned that kicking a rat is only the beginning of a long
lesson in Vigilance. And that one needs to stop and wonder
if we who hate and erase all good in the bad, might need to
take a step back and look for the little bit of good in all
we might find a loving rat and hope for us all.