Tag Archives: garbage

Rats?! Oh, Hell No!

I was walking along Eighth Avenue on a Sunday night, headed to Penn Station after work when a woman coming in the opposite direction cast her eyes to the sidewalk, scooted to a stop Fred Flintstone-braking style and said loudly: “Oh hell no!”

I looked where she was looking and said in return: “Oh yeah. Believe it.”

The object of our conversation was a few feet away and about 10 inches long: Rattus norvegicus, better known as the brown rat.

I was as skeeved out as she was but just did a better job of hiding it.

It’s a ritual of mine on Sunday nights that I walk by the garbage from restaurants and cafes that is piled high for Monday morning pick-up.

I scan the sidewalk for rats coming up from the sewer grates (and God only knows where else) and swarm the garbage.

I cringe as I see tourists and other unsuspecting pedestrians walk right near the piles and I want to scream out a warning!

I hug the walls of the buildings near these hot spots and sprint like an Olympian or walk waaaay the hell out into the street.

I figure I will take my chances with an oncoming cab.

In a case of if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them, I recently read a book by Robert Sullivan called “Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants.”

It was a deep dive into the history of rats, their behaviors and their environment, especially in Manhattan.

Gotta say, it was interesting in a “Oh hell no!” kind of way.

For instance, did you know:

  • Male and female rats may have sex 20 times a day and a female can produce 12 litters of 20 rats a year. Shudder!
  • 26 percent of all electric cable breaks and 18 percent of phone cable disruptions are caused by rats.
  • 25 percent of all fires of unknown origin are caused by rats.

The author staked out an alleyway in Lower Manhattan at night for a year, sometimes wearing night-vision goggles, to see firsthand how they acted. He also interviewed exterminators and sanitation workers.

He also described the shrieking noises they make when they fight for food and the pecking order that comes with being the biggest and baddest in a colony of them.

I read the book with a blend of disgust and awe.

As a “Publisher’s Weekly” review described it: “This book is a must pickup for every city dweller, even if you feel like you need to wash your hands when you put it down.”

Before my weekly ritual avoiding contact with rats, I had lived a largely rat-free existence.

Mice? Yes, living in the woods/country will lend itself to that.

But rats? No.

The closest near-encounter I had was in 1986, when I was an intern reporting for New York Newsday.

For one assignment I shadowed the Department of Health’s rat patrol.

That led me to a vacant lot in Upper Manhattan, ankle deep in garbage, rotting food and debris. I distinctly remember thinking I wanted to see a rat but at the same time I really didn’t want to see one.

I found the article I wrote. In it, I quoted a veteran, a guy named George Laws.

The story described how a nearby resident said she saw rats every night.

“They’re that big,” she told Laws excitedly, pointing to her two-foot-long pet dog.

Laws, who had been exterminating for 28 years, shook his head and replied, “If I see a rat that big, I’ll leave New York myself.”


Oh Rats! A Subway Stare-Down That I Lost








When Our Dog Ate the Thanksgiving Turkey Thermometer


Thanksgiving is a time for gathering of loved ones and sharing what we are thankful for.

In my family it also includes being thankful for our pets. That brings to mind something that happened to our special dog, Smokey.

He was part of our family for 14 years, helped raise four kids and was always ready for a treat.

During one particular Thanksgiving, our feast was done and the clean-up was in full swing.

As I finished stripping the turkey carcass of all the remnants of meat, I removed the used pop-up thermometer from the bird.

Smokey was right there in the kitchen, waiting for any stray morsels to drop on the floor, even though he already had some turkey leftovers.

I casually tossed the thermometer toward the open garbage can in the middle of the kitchen.

At that moment, everything switched to slow motion just like in the movies when something crazy is about to happen.

The garbage can was only arm’s length away but as I watched the thermometer go end over end toward the huge opening of the can, Smokey was also watching it with great intensity.

I noticed the trajectory was not headed to the center of the can.

It happened so fast, I was frozen and couldn’t move as it hit the top edge of the can and bounced and missed going in.

The thermometer landed on the floor and before I could grab it, Smokey was on top of it.

He swallowed it in one gulp.

Holy crap!

I could not believe he just ate that thing.

It has a sharp point on one end that could puncture his intestines or get lodged in his gut.

What the hell was I going to do on the evening of Thanksgiving with my crazy dog?

Of course Smokey looked at me funny as I was shouting. Now all he was doing was just waiting for me to drop something else.

I got out the phone book and started calling the nearby veterinary offices and I found one with after-hours service.

I left a message and I was astonished when someone called back in a few minutes.

I told him what happened and we had a little laugh but he calmed me down and said just to keep an eye on him, keep him well fed and watered, and hopefully it would pass in a few days.

The doctor said if he seemed sick or in pain then I would need to bring him in to be checked.

I thanked him for his time and advice and went back to cleaning up, but this time I kicked the dog out of the kitchen, much to his disappointment and protest.

In the following days I had the job of checking Smokey’s bowel movements — what a joy!

But this all came to an end when he puked up the thermometer a few days later.

I was so glad it never left his stomach and he was able to bring it back up.

After this experience, I try not to use pop-up thermometers and I’ve been practicing my garbage tosses.


A Very Good Dog

Marking Labor Day by Recalling the Worst Job in the World

A recent survey listed the worst job in the country, and for the third year in a row, newspaper reporter was at the top — or the bottom, depending on your view — of the list.

As someone who has been in that career for 30 years, I take that kind of news personally.

Yes, the industry has been battered by layoffs and eroding readership and swamped by technological advances, but worst job? No way!

No, that particular title goes to a job I had in high school working for Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips in the Bronx.

I was a fry cook, dining room clean-up staffer and eventually a manager.

There was nothing quite like working with superheated peanut oil, splattered batter and garbage to teach you lessons in humility — and a career path to stay away from!

I would go home at midnight on Fridays — our busiest day of the week — with the stench of oil in my nostrils and a combination of oil and batter matted to my hair. Wearing the cap as part of the uniform did nothing to help.

At the end of each shift, we would run the used oil through a contraption that was part vacuum and part filtering machine.

You would line up the machine beneath the frying vat, open a valve, and the oil, which was still hot, would gush into a holding tank, go through various filters and be discharged through a hose back into the vat.

Peanut oil was very expensive, the owner would constantly remind us, so you would try to extend its life by filtering out the fried crud.

One night as I was running the machine, I felt something burning my toes.

My right shoe was positioned beneath the big metal box of the machine that held the oil.

I looked down and the corner of the box had sprung a small leak, allowing the oil to dribble onto my shoes, burn through them and onto my foot!

That was bad but dealing with the garbage was the worst.

If you worked the shift before the garbage was collected, it meant you had to drag the heavy, dripping, smelly bags to the curb.

And that meant you had to enter a room – yes, a room about the size of a small bedroom – filled floor to ceiling with garbage accumulated over the week.

The room was not vented, but for a drain on the floor. It attracted roaches and waterbugs the size of the ants in “Them!”

I would be so skeeved out!

Clearing the room was easy to start since you could grab the bags closest to the door, but then as the pile thinned, you had to step deeper and deeper into the room.

I would hold my breath and dash in to get the remaining bags.


But you know, upon reflection, I look around me and see jobs that are far worse. Take for instance the sites in New York City.

There are those people who stand with signs or pamphleting for tour buses and nightclubs in all kinds of miserable heat and cold. Or people who work in sewers.


What was the worst job you had? Share your stories.

Write me at amr@aboutmenshow.com and let’s be miserable together.

Related posts:

Hush Puppies Are Up!

A Bank Job: My Work as a Teller in the Bronx

Summer Jobs: Give Me One With Everything

Strangest Summer Jobs: Part One

Bear: Another Wildlife Visitor to Our House

I swear to God, I am running at home something of a cross between “Animal House” and an episode of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”

You will recall the freaky intruder we had with a bat invading the house. (“I’m Batman”) And that all unfolded while I was on the way back from work from New York City and could do nothing about it.

That was a walk in the woods compared to what happened while my wife and I were visiting her daughter in the San Francisco area.

My cellphone rings while we are visiting Alacatraz and it’s my oldest son, who just graduated from college.

He opens the conversation with “Hypothetically….”

Let me interrupt the narrative here to say that nothing good ever follows an opening like that. And, of course, there is never anything hypothetical about what is to come next.

“Hypothetically,” he says, “what should we do if we had a visit from a bear?”

He proceeds to tell me that the door to the large shed that houses our garbage cans was open and he could see garbage strewn about.

(Take a close look at the bite marks on that Hershey syrup bottle!)



He called public safety, which arrived and assured him that the bruin was gone.

But the thing that kills me is that for 10 years I have preached to the boys about the importance of keeping the lids on the cans securely attached and making sure the garbage bags go INTO the cans. What a concept!

So here I am, 3,000 miles away, trying to coach him through the steps of what to do, which led to this exchange:



My concern is that once a bear is imprinted on a site as a source of food, it will make repeat visits. (Each of the houses adjoining us had been broken into by bears repeatedly.)

Like lamb’s blood marked on thresholds during the first Passover, Michael essentially opened up a fire hose of ammonia (said to repel bears) on the door, the doorway, the footing outside the shed, the doorknob, etc.

That led to this text message:


Yeah, agreed. But it beats the smell of bear scat and rotting garbage.

Where’s the Kaboom?

In an earlier blog post I referenced an incident of some hilarity that took place when my buddy Pedro and I were emptying my then-girlfriend’s apartment on Staten Island about 30 years ago.

We were working long into the night/early into the morning to get the task done so by the next day, I think it’s safe to say were both a little punchy and perhaps not each thinking very clearly.

I was busy sorting through books and other possessions, when Pedro came into the living room with an armload of spray and aerosol cans.

Him: “What should I do with these?”

Me: (Distracted and not paying enough attention, with a dismissive wave of my hand): “Oh, just throw them away.”

So he did.

I should pause to mention here that this was 30 years ago and that the apartment building at the time still burned its trash using an incinerator. Burning garbage was a common practice back in the day before concerns about the ash and pollution caused buildings to convert to trash compactors.

Within a few minutes, Pedro returned, as a white as the Easter Bunny.

“Dude!” (I’m not sure if we called each other “dude” back then but literary license allows me here…) “I threw that shit down the shaft and there was like this fireball! The force of the fire caused the garbage door to blow back open!”

This was really a rather remarkable feat considering that the blowback rose all the way up to the SIXTH FREAKIN’ FLOOR where we were.

Ever seen the “Wheep Wow” baking scene from the “Little Rascals”? Yeah it was a bit like that.

I went out to the hallway, and sure enough, there was soot all around the incinerator door. I assured him that yes, holy Christ!, there did appear to be an explosion of some kind, but that the worst was behind us and not to worry.

And then we heard the sirens. The unmistakable sound of FDNY fire truck sirens. Getting very, very close.

Since we were up on the top floor of the building, immediately over our heads was the roof. In short order, we could hear the crunching of footsteps on the roof’s gravel and the crackle of the firefighters’ two-way radios.

You know how when you are drunk, you react in ways that make no sense? Well, in our state of panic and punchiness, we decided we needed to be very quiet and not call attention to our presence in the apartment, lest we get in trouble. Not that that made any sense since it’s unlikely they would have heard us but that was our remedy at the moment.

The firefighters eventually left and we returned to our work.

As for the remaining cleansers and aerosol cans, I cannot say for certain what we did with them, but after nearly getting his eyebrows singed, I’m pretty sure Pedro didn’t chuck anymore down the incinerator.