The Rat Man and the NYC Department of Health

I leave my apartment to do routine errands at 11:45—buy beer, also happiness, isn’t that what consumer culture is for?—and I spot the Rat Man across the street, looking alarmingly composed, a still life in real time.  Greg! I shout, Holy Shit!

I hurry over and explain what happened just the other day: My god, this huge fucking rat, never seen one so big—at this point I spread my hands like Sonny’s wife at the wedding—and the guy I complain to tells me to go back where I came from, I couldn’t even tell you where that is, so what the fuck, I thought 123 was clean!

Greg Foster the Rat Man from Victory Renaissance Apartments at 118 West 123rd Street looks at me as if I’m a child, and in this classroom, I am.

“That’s a fuckin’ Alpha Rat you seen, they bigger than all the rest, they bite you in the ass if they feel like it.  Don’t you see what happened here”—he gestures toward the empty lot where the building collapsed at 110 West 123rd—“they habitat now gone, they movin’ and they tryin’ to find new places on this block, my block.”

An Alpha Rat?

“Yeah, yeah, you seen the runners, I call ‘em runners, they big and mean but they nowhere near big and mean as these Alpha motherfuckers, they just wait for whatever comes back to the nest and they eat it, they take it, you know what I’m sayin’, or they fuck it, and they get fatter”—at this moment, images of large rats reclining on underground sofas enter my head, I can see a music video in the making—“but I killed the runners last year, shut ‘em down, and those big lazy motherfuckers came out wonderin’ what happened to the business, and then I killed them too, I’m the ATF ‘round here, I’m the rat police, cleaned this block.

“But look, this building fell down, how many fucking rats were in that basement you think, maybe a hundred, maybe more, and so now these Alphas are out lookin’ for new places to live, that’s what you seen, some big old motherfucker checkin’ it out.”

Goddamn, that’s depressing, so you gotta start over?

“Nah, today the Department of Health came by, we took a tour of the 124 and came back here, thinkin’ how to keep these motherfuckers ‘confined,’ that’s the word they use, I showed ‘em my traps and they showed me the poison they gonna set out”—Greg gestures toward the warning signs on the plywood that closes off the empty lots—“but we agree on this, we say these fuckin’ vermin, they a problem all over again.”

They gonna pay for the traps?

“Them traps, that’s a story, I was buyin’ ‘em for $4.50 on the 125, and then I find ‘em for $1.97 apiece at Home Depot in the fucking Bronx, less than half the price.  I aksed the block association for some reimbursement, no answer, and now where do we meet with the garden covered in shit?  On they conscience now, you see what I mean?  Not gonna beg.

“Looks like the Department of Health gonna cover this for now.  I’m a consult with them when they come around, they look me up here and we gonna inspect the ‘results.’  Which is cool.  Rats are not healthy, they fuckin’ vermin.”

Well, I’ll attend the next block association meeting, I’ll second any motion you make.  We’ll buy you lots of traps.

“Awright now.  I let you know when.”


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