Opposite side parking rules in New York produce strange bedfellows—neighbors, even. They call you on the cell to tell you the traffic cops are approaching, “better get here and move that thing.” You stand around and shoot the breeze with them as you look for the return of that NYPD vehicle, to ticket your car because you’ve seen the street cleaner pass through and moved it to the nice clean curb, the place you’re not officially allowed until 10:00.
I’ve paid about $1500 in parking tickets over the last four years, since my move with a vehicle to New York. Not exactly on time, though, I’ve twice paid fines and fees to the Sheriff of New York to get my car out of the tow pound over in the Bronx, where you’ll see more high fences and everyday despair than in any dystopian landscape you’ve ever experienced at the movies. It’s brightly lit, it looks like the moon will when we turn it into a concentration camp, but with cellphone access so you can update your car insurance—all bleached craters, Quonset huts, concertina wire, plexiglass, and bureaucratic diligence. It’s an open air debtor’s prison.
So I’ll put my total contribution to the city’s revenues at about $2500. Not that I’m complaining. The streets are clean.
On Thursday I moved the car at 9:40 because I needed to be over on the upper East Side by 10:30, and it’s a ten-minute walk to the 4-5-6 train on Lexington and 125th. But Greg Foster the Rat Man was already on the sidewalk, touting “Prometheus,” the new Ridley Scott movie—“I pronounce that right?” he keeps asking—so I stuck around longer than I should’ve.
“You remember that Alien shit, right, all spidery and crawling and the baby alien come outa you chest and run away, well this motherfucker is full grown when he comes out yo ass, you just explode and there he is, about this tall”—Greg climbs onto the wrought iron bars on the first floor window of Victory Renaissance at 118 West 123rd to convey the height of this monster—“and he’s not runnin. I’m a see it again, some crazy shit there, you know what I mean?”
So have you talked to the Public Health people lately, I ask.
“Yeh, they comin’ back every 60 days, so that’s the 5th of July, gonna check on the poison they laid down, we gonna talk about traps and shit.”
Did the block meeting vote to give you money for traps, I ask, I had to leave early that night.
“Nah, that’s some old shit there, you know the people on the 124 give me 60 bucks for traps, you seen what I did that night, twenty-six of the filthy motherfuckers in one night, people here on the 123 know they got no rat problem but they forget it’s me done that, I’m the man solve this problem . . . But shit, I’m over that, not gonna ask again.”
That’s mystifying, I say, what’s the downside of paying for traps, and how much are we talking, anyway?
“Well the ‘downside,’ I like that—yeh, the ‘downside’ of not payin’ for the traps is that these filthy motherfuckers come back and start spreadin’ disease, maybe bite somebody, some little baby you know . . .” He pauses to look up and down the street.
I ask, you mean rabies?
“No, no, more than that shit, that’s for the movies.”
Ah disease, the plague, I say, the modern Decameron, the rats take over, run the world, start a Center for Disease Dissemination.
Greg looks at me suspiciously, as if I’ve just said something pornographic, and he’s right, I still have visions of Alpha Rats organizing the street-level sex trade and directing drug traffic from underground couches, meanwhile humping whatever passes through. It’s a 19th-century vision worthy of Monk Hall, or a 20th-century scene straight from pulp fiction, comic books, romances, and music videos, but it’s Greg’s fault in any case, I don’t normally think in these terms.
“Dis-ease, yeh, lemme tell you ‘bout the disease these filthy motherfuckers bring to the table, they got 60 in they blood and three in they mouth, so they bite you and you could die, if you a little kid maybe, but I throw away the traps that got blood on ‘em, if you get they blood on yo hand, look here on my arm, you see that color, you get a rash, these are filthy motherfuckers, you know what I’m sayin’?”
I was just reading about all the micro-organisms we carry, I say, billions of them, us humans I mean, how we’re hosts to all this bacteria and shit, in our mouths too, we’re kind of filthy animals, we just don’t know it, but then I guess the rats don’t either.
Greg looks at me closely, he is of course more suspicious now, because he doesn’t want anybody nearby who’s willing to compare rats and humans on the grounds that they’re equally dirty creatures. I deflect his suspicion by defining the difference.
I say, Well, the rats don’t know it because they’re operating on instinct, it wouldn’t occur to them that they’re dirty, they’re just doing what their genes programmed them to do, but us, we’re different, we’re so conscious of the filth we love—like shit, hell, anything excremental—that we go out of our way to deny that we do, you know, love it.
“Fuck that shit. You good, I press the buzzer if they come back.”