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GROUND ZERO PLUS 1115 DAYS,--New York, NY, Friday, October 1, 2004--Civilization is haunted by its own thirst to advance--at least that's the message from rattlesnakes and rats from coast to coast.

Both are Terrorizing and being Terrorized by each other's Darwinian drives to command the land clashing with the same demands of humans.

I'm a veteran of both victims in the battlefield of humans versus rats and rattlesnakes.

Rancho Mission Viejo story began nearly 100 years ago
The story of Rancho Mission Viejo began nearly 100 years ago when partners Richard O'Neill, Sr. and James Flood bought Rancho Santa Margarita y las Flores in northern San Diego County (now Camp Pendleton) and its adjoining Rancho Mission Viejo and Rancho Trabuco in southern Orange County. Collectively spanning more than 200,000 acres and stretching from Aliso Creek (near El Toro Road) south to Oceanside, the combined properties were acclaimed by many as "the greatest of all California 'ranchos.'"

Over three decades ago a new development was being carved out of sagebrush in burgeoning Orange County, California. Its name was Mission Viego, a former Spanish land grant of 52,000 acres known then as Rancho Mission Viejo plus additional land that in 1907 fell into the hands of an Irish cattleman named Richard O'Neill and James Flood ("stolen from" is the Spanish version) and was the pristine Southern California land that was ultimately sold to Phillip Morris.

Phillip Morris, as most tobacco companies, had the foresight to expand profits from tobacco leaves into real estate, insuring investors the stock would be solid even when people started dropping like flies from lung cancer.

When the bulldozers began carving into the Mission Viejo earth where rabbits, coyotes and rattlesnakes once lived the drama of simple survival--i.e. you only ate what you killed and left the rest for someone else to eat--the rattlesnakes became confused. Their former habitat was being subdivided. Explosions blew away rocks, giant bull dozers raped the earth of vegitation where the snakes hid in wait for a mouse or rabbit. In one fell swoop, their land was denuded--a kind of microcopic ravaging of the rain forests, only this was knee-high sage close enough to the ocean to not require air-conditioning.

Richard O'Neill
Richard O'Neill

Tens of thousands of male, femal and baby rattlesnakes slithered about in hysteria as giant D-4 dozers dropped their iron scaples and sliced off the skin of the earth, eliminating thousands upon thousands of years of Snake Villages and lairs where generations upon generations of rattlers had been born and bred.

Confused, the snakes sought refuge in mail boxes, garages, cars and even inside living and bedrooms in the houses that began sprouting up in Mission Viego. The old was being replaced with the new. A couple of bricks around the foundation of a house became a new home for a family of rattlers.

The cool concrete of a garage floor was relaxing to a six-foot rattler, and the water heater, dark and yet warm, provided a perfect place for mother rattler to lay some eggs and breed her new brood.

There was only one catch. Human beings aren't akin to living with rattle snakes, even if they disenfranchised the reptiles from their own homes. Few citizens of Mission Viejo walked around protesting the Rights of the Rattlers.

"Skin 'Em...Skin 'Em..." came the chorous rather than the old saw: "Snakes Have Rights Too!"

Parents, frightened their children might be snagged by the fangs of a rattler when chasing a ball in the front yard, roared for rattler elimination. Snake wranglers were brought from afar (Montana) to rid the reptilian threat from the community. As soon as one batch was attacked, a new legion would appear. Mission Viejo was being built in sections, so once the heavy equipment began stripping the soil for housing pads, a new army of rattlers vermiculated their way to homes of the humans, appearing in vast numbers on lawns and in back yards, swimming pools, garages, mail boxes.

Rattlesnakes were everywhere - even in mailboxes
Rattlesnakes were everywhere - even in mailboxes

People were more worried about the rattlers getting their kids on the way to school than they were neighborhood perverts. The "Don't Tread On Me" logo of the rattlesnake from the Revolutionary War was put aside in favor of: "Get The Hell Outta Here" signs.

Eventually, as concrete covered sage, as sewer rivers replaced water tables, as mouse traps killed breakfast, lunch and desert, and as animal control units lassoed and bagged snake after snake, the threat waned.

Mission Viego finally shed its title as Rattler Viejo. Its prices soared, and the majority of people forgot to remember they had shoved the snakes out to make place for their children's safety. After all, who is more important--a baby rattler or a human baby?

That was the West Coast side of the story.

Now, the East Coast side. In this chapter, the rattlers are replaced by rats.

New York City, at least the immediate community of the East Village around Second Avenue and Third Street, is the center of another exodus of vermin for similar reasons as the rattlers faced in Mission Viejo.

A new voluptuous building is being constructed at Astor Place
A new voluptuous building, a "sculpture for living", is being constructed at Astor Place

A new, voluptuous building is soaring up in the heart of the East Village, where apartments begin around $1,000,000. To many residents, this towering symbol of opulence signals the end of the boehemian nature of the East Village, a precursor that it is going to convert from the "revolutionary sagebrush" into a land of rich and famous people seeking association with the "earth people."

In many ways, the East Village is the last nipple on Manhattan's list of "most desired living places." Originally, immigrants filled the community, and its most famous of all location--a block or so from the towering new apartment high-rise--is Bowery Street.

"The Bowery" was a place where drunks and rats slept side by side
"The Bowery" was a place where drunks and rats slept side by side

"The Bowery," as it is noted in historic legacy, was a place where drunks and rats slept side by side, both marginalized by society, living in the sewers and ruts and cracks and crevices of the shadows of uptown and downtown.

But now that's on the way out.

Civilization has decided to erect a monolith of prosperity, and in the process, ripped out the viscera of the East Village in the process. Giant cranes drive pilings deep into the earth that has been scooped out next to Cooper Union where a large parking lot once stood.

Beneath the earth, where the rats live and have bred for countless decades, the vermin's homes are endangered. Their "property rights" are being challenged by progress. Like the rattlers in Mission Viejo, they have become DP's, displaced persons, or better put, DV's, displaced vermin.

In Mission Viejo, I didn't get a chance to participate in the "Rid The Rattlers" groups, for I purchased a home there after the rattlers had been tucked into oblivion, their skins wrapped around cowboy boots, pressed into belts and headbands, and their rattles sold at auction.

But last night in the East Village I did get to attend the Rid The Rat Meeting held at a community center at 331 Bowery.

Residents voiced their concerns about the influx of rats
Residents voiced their concerns about the influx of rats

In attendence were local community politicians and represenatives from the mayor's office and the sanitation department.

Residents were upset about the influx of rats.

Many reasons were proffered about the rats. One of them, of course, was the increased building in the East Village. Others included that garbage is put in plastic bags, an easy chomp or two by the incisors of a rat to feast on that which waits inside.

Steel garbage containers in large living complexs were also the targets of discussion, since metal garbage containers are only a suggestion and not a law, a requirement. Many proposed the community force legislation to require metal containers with metal lids and to completely empty the trash from the bins so rats won't breed underneath the compacted garbage.

Then there was the feeding of pigeons. Signs around the East Village are blunt about the seemingly harmless act of feeding pigeons. Signs bark out the message: "Feed A Pigeon--Breed a Rat!"

I learned feeding pigeons promotes rats
I learned feeding pigeons promotes rats

It seems the joy of feeding pigeons also attracts rats. What the pigeons don't eat, the rats do, and when they know there are hoards of people throwing food into their mouths, they aren't eager to move on. I was surprised to hear that the fine for feeding pigeons is $100!

In other words, the people were saying, "handouts promote rats."

The turnout was slim last night for a couple of reasons. One, the weather wasn't that good--rainy, cool and not a nice night to tromp about. The other was that it was the Yankees last home game, and a chance for them to break several records by winning their division.

Rats or the Yankees! Not a hard choice for many.

Michele Tosic from the Mayor's Office reported
Michele Tosic (center), assistant director for community relations for the City's Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene

I shot pictures and got the card of Michele Tosic, assistant director for community relations for the City of New York's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

I also talked with a woman who had her two-year-old child with her and was concerned about the welfare of her little one. Rats and kids don't get along.

I walked away from the meeting wondering not so much about whether the rats would be elimininated because I knew that would never happen. Unlike rattlesnakes, rats are symbiotic partners with humans. They thrive off human waste.

The more people pressing, jamming, pushing to live in New York City or other metropolitian areas, the more rats there will be. One cannot exist without the other, even if humans would prefer this axiomatic fact not to be possible.

As long as humans throw away anything that can be eaten, the rats will be there to gobble it up, even if they have to evolve teeth that can eat through steel.

I applauded the City of New York for showing up, and showing concern. The mother and child were the highlights of the evening.

The City Officials gave the mom the most attention
The City Officials gave the mom the most attention

Rats are little furry Terrorists to a mother. They can sneak in when a mom isn't looking and bite a child, or, drop some waste infected with some disease.

Of all the people there, the City officials gave the mom the most attention. She was holding in her arms the future of New York City and the world--a child. The rats were to her Osama bin Laden.

I wondered if the U.S. government thought of Terrorism as rats, and huddled all its resources around a frightened mother, and worked to assauge her fears for her children as the primary motive for all actions against Terrorism, if the war on Terrorism might be won a lot faster without all the politics that seem to muck up the waters.

There was little politic-ing regarding the concern of the City and the mother last night. Everyone had their pens out and were noting the mother's concern, for the child she held in her arms was more of an exclamation of necessity than any ranting or raving, any screams or shouts that other citizens might emit during the discussions.

There is no easy solution to ridding rats from the City of New York.

Sanitation Department  and Health Department representatives and city officials collaborated on how to help the mother protect her child from rats
Officer Priester (left), the representative from the Health Department and the three city officials with input from the audience collaborated on how to help the mother protect her child from rats

But, there was a primary decision made last night by City officials, the representative from the City Department of Public Health and Officer Priester from the New York Department of Sanitation. That was to help the mother protect her child, and do it now.

That made me feel good.

I know the War On Terrorism is an endless one. But, any one Terrorist can be found and rooted out, and prosecuted, and made an example of.

I hope the rats who threaten the mother take heed of this when the City wipes out their Rat Terrorism Nests around the mother and child's building.

One rat at a time--One Terrorist at a time.

One Rat At A Time -- One Terrorist At A Time!!
One Rat At A Time -- One Terrorist At A Time!!

Maybe, when we fight Terrorism to protect the children, we'll achieve something far greater than trying to fight it to win votes.

Last night the City got one big vote...from a mother.

Look out rats!


Go To September 29 Story: "A Close Call Of Legal Terrorism"




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