Tag Archives: Rats

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








A Rat Meets the Business End of a Bowling Pin

I heard this story from my parents:

They had my oldest brother Ralph as a baby and lived in an apartment on Simpson Street in the South Bronx.

Rich’s grandparents in the foreground and his parents in the background.

There was a hole in the wall where the baby slept and there were rats in the building.

My parents complained time and time again to the landlord to repair the hole but it was never done.

Rich’s parents

They heard the rats moving around in the walls and feared one would come into the room and bite the baby.

My dad took it upon himself to try filling the hole with steel wool and stuff but one night they found the rat had chewed through and come into the room and was trying to get to my brother in the crib.

This was no regular rodent.

It was huge.

They screamed and beat the rat away from the crib with a broom.

My dad held off the creature with the broom but the crazy animal refused to flee.

My mom ran down to her parents’ apartment to get help.

My grandfather came up and into the room carrying a bowling pin —  a real bowling pin!

The rat stood no chance against Rich’s grandfather.

He went after the rat and started beating it with the bowling pin.

The rat went crazy and charged at him and grandpa kept beating him.

The vicious rodent just kept attacking and it was beat down by grandpa until it was a bloody mess.

It kept coming.

It wouldn’t give up or die.

It must have been rabid.

My grandpa finally beat it to death, a gore-fest right there in the baby’s room.

A dead bloody rat, my grandpa with a blood-soaked bowling pin, my mom screaming, my dad in his boxers.

What a picture! ?!#@$%!


Oh Rats! A Subway Stare-Down That I Lost


Needless to say my parents started looking for a new place to live.

Who’s a True New Yawker? We Put Ourselves to the Test

In this episode of About Men Radio, Chris and Pedro debate the finer points of country vs. city living.

The discussion is not exactly the opening credits of “Green Acres,” but let’s just say that Chris was more the Eddie Albert character in this talk and Pedro identified more strongly with Eva Gabor.

(Well, that’s also because he looks better in a dress than Chris does, but that’s a conversation for another time…)

This was all set into motion when Chris wrote a blog post about how he eschewed his once native Bronx ways and embraced life in the woods.

I Am Happy to Be an Inmate in the Green Prison

Pedro took umbrage to this — his exact words were “I take umbrage to this!” — and off to the races they went.

If you are a native New Yawker, a wannabe native, a visitor to the city or never ever been here, you will enjoy the banter.

Listen to the quiz Chris gives Pedro to test his bona fides as a true New Yorker.

And just remember: I’m walkin’ he-ayah!


Oh Rats! A Subway Stare-Down That I Lost

What creature would roam underground, scurrying from point to point through an intricate network of tunnels — dank, dirty and dingy — tirelessly trudging in claustrophobic surroundings?

I know them as New Yorkers. And they rule the subways.

For a long time I was one of them. Today I fondly think back of my days underground — and over ground when on the El — from the safety and sunshine of Florida.

But there is another New York inhabitant that is the true ruler of the subway, especially its tunnels.

This New Yorker has many cousins in fields, landfills and building basements and is an abomination born of the darkest of crevices – The Subway Rat!

This monstrosity is no ordinary rat. Its above-ground cousin shares similar disgusting traits, such as its almost cat-like size, hideous teeth and fur and voracious appetite. Did I mention it’s as big as a freaking cat?!

The New York Subway Rat has all those traits and exponentially raises it a few degrees.

Many New Yorkers never get to see one of these monsters.

They are the fortunate ones.

I am a New Yorker who faced one and lived to tell the tail…um…tale.

My commute back in the late ’80s was on the No. 6 train from Parkchester in the Bronx to the Garment District near Seventh Avenue. (No self-respecting New Yorker ever called it Fashion Avenue.) But the No. 6 doesn’t go to Seventh Avenue in the Garment District.

I would get off at the 42nd Street Station and then take the Shuttle to the West Side.

I would always go to the first car, not because I wanted to watch the passage through the tunnels from the front door, though I often did.

My principal reason for taking that spot was logistical.

The 42nd Street Station back then had a supervisors’ booth that had long been abandoned.

But the structure was still there and at the mouth of the tunnel, it jutted into the platform forming an inverted “U” from the front tunnel entrance. To either side of the “U” there was a narrow walkway that went right up to the tunnel’s mouth.

Since this walkway was always empty, no one would stand there to wait for the train and I could exit from the first car onto the platform without bumping into anyone waiting to come in.

It saved me a few milliseconds, and if you know a New Yorker’s morning commute, every fraction of a second mattered.

For months I exited the car without ever looking. Until one day…

Sniffing around this secluded platform, at the height of morning rush hour, just inches away from where I was about to plant my first step was a Subway Rat.


He was this big: I am holding my hands out at least three feet apart!

I froze mid-step.

Average rodents will typically scurry away when confronted by a human. But this is Subterraneous Verminus Rodentus we are talking about here.

This — this thing — stopped sniffing the ground, swiveled and stood on its freaking hind legs!


I was still frozen mid-step, and five cars away there was probably a conductor watching this exchange and wondering who would win, and more important how quickly, because he needed to get the train moving and close the freaking doors!

This New York Subway Rat knew who was boss. He was!

After a brief stare-down, it lowered itself and slowly, deliberately, walked to the tunnel and out of sight.

I exited the train, turned left and got the hell out of there.

I lived to tell the tale. But often I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t froze and if I had quickly used my soccer skills to kick that bigger-than-a-football-size vermin into the subway car before the doors closed.

Oh the pandemonium that would have created!

But I’m certain the rat would have landed on its feet, killed some passengers and slowly walked off the train and into its subterranean realm.

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