NYC Rats are like no other creature in the world. I don’t know why there has been no documentary on them. Call them what you will, these guys have a gritty and tenacious soul. They’re streetwise on an a very high level. Almost everybody in the city has crossed paths with them in an intimate capacity.
Rats in New York City have owned the subway for decades. Look down into the tracks and there goes one doing his thing, exploring every last nook and cranny for something he can use. When the train comes, they always have a place to go at the last second. Rats are not restricted to the tracks. They will come right up on the platform if they have some business to handle. I’ve never seen one afraid of me. They always have a sharp and incredible focus. We’re just distractions for the most part. I witnessed the ultimate example of this recently on the C-Train platform right in the middle of the day. Two Rats were chasing each other up on the platform. Eventually, they stopped and decided to make love right in front of me. The heart wants what it wants. Sometimes passion needs to be expressed at the moment.
Then there’s that time the news broke the story that rats had taken over a KFC on 3rd street, right near the Blue Note Jazz Club. They had film footage. Rats overran the joint and were throwing a party. You could see some serving drinks while some were sleeping. Some Rats were in lounge chairs. Some were working out doing push-ups and chin-ups. They had aerobics going down. Some were even practicing Yoga.
When I was living in the former Hells Kitchen, I enjoyed riding my bike down to Battery Park after midnite when the park would be mostly deserted. The only people left would be stray jogging addicts, leftovers from Lovers Lane, drug dealers, and fisherman who would never catch anything. Who would eat a fish from that skanky river? Once I got to the park, I liked to sit on a bench and look at the river and meditate on the big picture. I was doing just this one night when I was surprised to find a rat sitting on the bench next to me seemingly doing the same exact thing.
Rat: “Nice night tonight huh?”
Me: (shocked) “You can talk? Aren’t you supposed to be waiting for me to drop some trash so you can get your grub on?”
Rat: “Whatever man. You think I enjoy eating garbage? Can’t I live too? I don’t get to enjoy life either? Come on man, We have to learn to share with one another. I have a family. I have stuff to do. Can’t I take a break?”
Me: “Well, hey, I suppose it’s hard for everybody these days. Taking a pause down here at night kind of cools me out. You too?”
Rat: “Yeah man, I feel like I have to look for stuff 24/7. I can never stop. I don’t sleep right. Looking out at the water and the full moon helps bring me back. My name is Scruts (Screw-oots), short for Scrutiny, cause I leave no stone unturned.”
Me: “Cool man. My name is Matt. I’m sometimes called Cuica or Mattack.”
Scruts: “What do those nicknames represent?”
Cuica: “Well, I created them myself and mostly use them online. I play the cuica drum and try to stay on the attack in pursuit of what I believe in.”
Scruts: “Let me guess. You believe in getting as much money as possible not matter what happens to anybody else. The same way you see us chasing your crumbs, you chase that dollar.”
Cuica: “Well Scruts, that’s not me. I only ever chase the dollar to survive. I’ve never had enough to have that Wall Street lifestyle. I feel that the city has been completely consumed by the pursuit of money as if it were a holy crusade. We’re adrift in an abyss of consumerism. Don’t you agree?”
Scruts: (sigh) “Well we might have some common ground on that one. Your crazy mayor Ghouliani turned Times Square into Disneyland. Then it was time for your mayor Doomberg to erect his skyscrapers in every last corner and crevice. Seems to us that all of that was for rich people to get more money that they don’t need. Honestly, it didn’t affect us all that much though. You humans still spend most of your time wasting everything. All that changed for us was what you decided was no longer of use to you.”
Cuica: “Well, you’ve got me on the ropes on that one. I’m a member of a different group that lives week to week. I might bounce from the city pretty soon even though I’ve been here on and off for twenty-five years. The rent is too damn high.”
Scruts: “We don’t have any rent or own any property. We all have the same job, which is cleaning up after you. You guys have this view of us as some disgusting vermin but were deeper than that. You know my son plays the piano?”
Matt: “Oh yeah? I’ll have to hear him sometime! I’m a musician myself you know. You can look me up online. Do you have a Facebook?”
Scruts: “My wife is hopped up on that digital dope. I’m not into that shit. She’s always liking this and liking that. I told her the other day I would like it if she helped me out sometimes. Come to think of it though, don’t you bring your horn down here and blow sometimes? I’m in this area quite a bit, so I’m sure I’ll hear you again. You always have a different instrument with you.”
Matt: “So you’re a family man Scruts? How’s married life treating you? I just got married myself.”
Scruts: “I got married too early, but I’m staying true. Most of my friends cheat on their wives. I hope you waited to get married. I have drama happening in my family. My other son has been having some drama with a Pigeon that he got involved with.”
Scruts: “Man, that’s cold. Rats with wings right? That’s not funny man.”
At this point, a shadow stumbled up to us that became a person and asked us if we wanted to buy a used mattress. You could smell the crack.
Cuica: “Scruts, it was nice rolling with you man, I’m out.”
Scruts: “Likewise. Tell people were not crazy! Peace.”
The next day I was walking on second Avenue around noon. The sun was blinding. Coming towards me I saw the fattest Rat I have ever seen. He waddled past me ignoring me completely. Was he on his way to work?
“NYC Rats, I thought.
They’re really something else.”
Special thanks to Roy Campbell Jr, Sabir Mateen, and Ras Moshe, who helped me formulate several ideas during this piece.