Wednesday, June 09, 2004


I thought I had the best New York City rat story ever, until I read this story about the New York City rat whacker. It brought back fond memories of my first trip to the big city, just after my college graduation. I was wandering down the sidewalks of Manhattan, enraptured by the city, gaping around like and looking up at the tops of the building like the tourist I was, when the sound of people screaming penetrated my reverie. I became aware of a commotion at the street crossing in front of me; people jumping out of the way, shrieking, running, stumbling. Then a big fat gunmetal gray rat appeared, crossing the street along with everyone else. The rat was crossing on the "Walk" signal, obeying all the laws for pedestrians as far as I could see. The rat hopped or crawled, I don't remember which, from the street onto the sidewalk where I was standing. Staying well out of his path, I stepped back to watch, along with a small crowd. The rat browsed down the street, window shopping, sniffing along the sidewalk. He paused at the door of a Burger King, nosing about. A seedy rat-faced old man in a dirty fedora was standing on the sidewalk, back to the door. The old man looked down at the rat, then looked to his left, then to his right, as if checking to see if anyone was watching him . . . as if there wasn't a small crowd standing right in front of him, watching the whole show. You knew what the old man was thinking. Sure enough, the old man reached behind him and opened the restaurant door, just long enough to admit the rat, who rushed inside. Within seconds screams emanated from inside the Burger King and people started streaming outside.

Two stockbroker-looking guys in suits and ties were standing in front of me watching the show. One of them started to laugh.

"Aw, man, that was just fuckin' wrong," said the other one. The next thing I knew they were shoving one another.

"What a great city!" I thought.

The first rats I ever saw were dead ones. I was 10 or 12 or so, and my family lived on Lake Murray in Columbia, in an area that back then was still fairly rural. Towards the end of our road there was a handful of lakefront summer cottages, mostly one storey cinder block affairs that hadn't been used for years. Few people lived there year round. Now, of course, that land is occupied by showy stucco McMansions and their SUV-driving owners, but when I was a kid it was pretty quiet there, so that my sister and me and our friend from down the road were able to go "exploring" in the vacant cottages. We didn't steal anything, but we would crawl in through the windows, and poke around in the musty interiors and play. In one of the houses we saw what we thought were two small dessicated dead dogs lying on the concrete floor amid a pile of old newspapers and magazines. Upon closer inspection the dead dogs turned out to be dead giant rats. Their insides had seemingly crumbled away, but the rat skins and heads remained, spread out on the floor. They were like rat area rugs.

Years later, after my NYC rat encounter, I was eating lunch in a cafe in Kerkyra, Corfu, overlooking the bay. A rat crawled up the rocks from the water and underneath my chair. I stood on the chair and screamed.

I went to NYC a couple of years ago. The newspapers and the local television news carried stories about a housing project infested with giant rats, rats the size of house cats, the residents said.

I've never seen a rat where I live in Murrells Inlet or Myrtle Beach (knock on wood). But when I was in Columbia, South Carolina, on Memorial Day weekend visiting my mom and dad, Mom, while discussing her many snake sightings, mentioned that she and Dad had seen a rat in the the backyard. In fact Dad had shot it with a .22. My parents' house is on a couple of acres with some wooded areas. When I was growing up, before the stucco McMansions started marching inexorably down our road towards the lake, the property was surrounded by woods. I never saw any rats then, other than the two dead ones in the house down the road.

So I was hoping that the rat Dad shot was a fluke - a rat who'd lost his way, perhaps, and stumbled onto our property by mistake. But on Saturday we were all outside talking in the shade. Just a few feet away from the house. I heard rustling in the little flower bed behind me. There was mowed lawn all around. Really, not the kind of place you'd expect to see a rat hanging out. "What's that?" I said. "Did you hear that?" Nobody else heard anything. We resumed talking. There was that rustling noise again. We saw the flowers move. Dad got a stick and started poking in the flowers. Nothing. I was peering down in the flower bed, seeing nothing but flowers. It was a small bed. No rat could possibly be hiding down there. Then the rustling again. Louder and more assertive this time.

"Maybe it's a lizard," Mom said.

"Yeah, Godzilla," I said.

Dad got the rake.

Dad started thrusting the rake vigorously into the flowers. A plump gray rat shot out of the stalks and across the lawn. Naturally, I shrieked and jumped.

The rat got away. When I went out later, I went to Home Depot to pick up some rat traps for my parents. I had to ask a man working there where the rat traps were.

"Mouse traps?" he said. "No, rat traps," I said. "They're for my parents," I explained. That sounded kind of funny. "For my parents . . . to use," I added. "I don't have rats."

Rat traps are much bigger than mouse traps. Home Depot only had two left. Maybe the Columbia area had a bumper crop of rats this year.

Back home, I told Dad he and Mom should get a cat or two. He hates cats as much as John Ashcroft and Acidman, so I didn't really expect to sell him on this. No cat, he said.

"What happened to the hawks?" I said. "You've had hawks out here. Aren't hawks supposed to eat rats?"

"Yeah, and so are snakes," said Dad. "Nobody's doing their god-damn job."

I told Dad about the two dead giant rats my sister and I had seen when we were kids. "How old were you when you were doing that?" he asked, "that" meaning "breaking into houses."

"Old enough to know better," I said. "What, 21?" he said.

My parents' rat did not reappear until I was getting in my car Sunday afternoon to drive home. I spied the rat, or a rat, sitting out in the open, in the grass across from the garage. OK, he was on the septic tank drainfield, but it's not what you might think. It just looks like lawn, honest. Anyway, the rat was sitting between two clusters of daylilies. He appeared to be grazing. I ran into the house to tell Dad. "Paw, git the gun!" Maybe I didn't use those exact words.

The rat looked so peaceable sitting there in the grass that I almost felt bad for ratting him out, so to speak, but damn it, he's a damn nasty rat and he shouldn't have been trespassing so close to the house. I drove off before Dad came back out with the gun. Mom told me later that the rat got away.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?